Tag Archives: writing

A Writer in the Making

Second grade was important for me in a way I didn’t recognize until now. Until I went back and surveyed all of the available artifacts. What did I find? The usual—pictures, school journals, classroom projects.

SecondGradeArt

Me with my art hanging in the school

But while going through all of these things, I noticed something that was so present that I suddenly recognized second grade was the year it would become so important to me that I’d never let that something go:

Stories.

I remember that second grade was the year that chapter books became a thing for me. It started with my teacher reading The Boxcar Children aloud to my class, reading a chapter every day or so until we had finished the book. I loved it. I loved the characters and I loved the adventure. I loved that they were out on their own and had to come up with creative solutions to just get by and care for each other. And when it was over THERE WERE MORE BOOKS AFTER IT! More stories following these characters that I had already become attached to.

Not only that, but I took their stories into my own hands. My friends and I spent a good span of time that year playing Boxcar Children at recess under the shade of a giant tree near our elementary school. We would plan how to survive on our own, making salads out of grass and dandelions and heeding warnings from whichever one of us was playing Watch, the children’s dog. We got to engage in the Boxcar Children’s story and take it to new places.

I soon latched on to a different way of taking stories to new places: writing.

I really enjoyed writing in my school journal. I wrote about vacations and what I was going to be for Halloween. (I know this will come as a surprise, but that year I was a cat.)

SecondGradeHalloween

I gushed about movies I had seen (Nightmare Before Christmas and Toy Story, to name a couple) and books I had read (Stinky Cheese Man FOREVER). I also started to tell stories like this gem written in my school journal in December 1996:

“I have a story to tell you. Rudolf Gets Lost. Christmas Eve. Rudolf got lost. He started to cry. I can’t find my way home. I’m lost. Then he heard something. Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas. Hi Rudolph said Comet. Welcome home Rudolph. HO HO HO. I was so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so scared. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

Brilliant, no?

In the second half of second grade, my storytelling became more and more refined. My journal entries got longer and more articulate. Most importantly, we started writing stories as projects for class. But they weren’t just stories—they were BOOKS. We would write a story on notebook paper and then it would go to the class’s para-pro who would take it to the library, type it up, print it out, punch holes in it, and bind it with those plastic circular spines. We would then get our book back so we could draw illustrations on each page. At the very end of the process, we would share our books with the class.

So, not only could I read books but now I could make my own?! This was earth-shattering to me and I immediately fell in love. I was a fanfic prodigy. I wrote stories about Garfield, about characters from Tiny Toons, about characters from my favorite books. My books were almost always about animals, and I would often make an appearance too, usually has a hero providing a safe haven to the animals in my story. According to the autobiographical blurb in the last book I “published” in second grade, I was the author of the following titles:

  • See Kitty, which was a play off of the See Spot Run and involved charming sequences such as this one.
  • All About Me, an autobiography, of course
  • Garfield’s Christmas, I’ll let you check that one out for yourself
  • The Cool Cats, which was about a group of cats who decided they could bully other animals into giving them food if they dressed like they were “cool” (i.e., in leather jackets, sunglasses, etc.), but they eventually get kidnapped by Elmira.
  • Cats, a book where I wrote down all of the “facts” I knew about cats.
  • Tux and the Skunk, a story about a penguin who runs away from home and has a bad run-in with a weird, mutant skunk (but is eventually saved by me, naturally).

As you can see, almost every one of those books was about a cat of some kind, and even the one’s that weren’t about cats featured cameos from my cat Snickers because I LIKE CATS, OKAY.

But my point is this: I took this writing thing and I RAN with it.

By the end of the school year, my stories were longer and more intricate than most others in my class. They included dialogue, exposition, character development. Looking back, even I’m impressed.

This was the start of something. I hadn’t started calling myself a writer, but I was right on the cusp. After second grade, I started saying I wanted to be an author when I grew up. And I haven’t stopped making stories my mission ever since.

But truth be told, I have gone off track.

Take this blog post. I was supposed to write it in February. I sat down on at least four different occasions before now and nothing happened. No words appeared on the blank page in front of me. I didn’t know what story to tell.

When did writing get to be so scary? When did I start caring so desperately about whether what I was writing was good? What even is “good?” What is the trick to overcoming this bizarre paralysis that has turned me from a lover of stories into someone who spends more time worrying about things I haven’t even written yet than actually writing them?

Growing up is weird and hard.

As a kid, I didn’t think before I wrote. I just WROTE. I didn’t fret over whether I had a plan for the plot or the ending. I didn’t worry about showing it to other people. The idea of my work being “good” never really crossed my mind. I wrote because I liked to tell stories. I would get a funny idea and I would just let it guide me. No questions, no anxiety, no pressure.

No one tells you that growing up makes all of that a million times more challenging. No one tells you that growing up can mean losing track of that quirky creativity you didn’t realize eventually takes effort to maintain. No one tells you that growing up causes the word “good” to morph into a strange monster scarier than any that used to hide in your closet or under your bed, and one that will relentlessly lurk in the shadows and never leave you alone. Is this idea good? Is this piece of writing good?

Am I even good?

It’s crippling. And I still don’t understand it. Or how to fight it. But I’m trying.

Which is part of why this blog and this writing project exist. I am trying to figure out how to keep room in my life for creativity amongst my real-life adult endeavors and responsibilities. I am trying to create space to let my imagination stretch its legs and build up its strength again. I am trying to make this happen without also inviting in pressure and self-judgment.

And I am letting eight-year-old me be my guide. She created so many stories. No worries. No anxiety. No judgment. She did that. Me. I did that. And I can find that again. No matter how much I have ignored, suppressed, or forgotten it, that drive to write and create and tell stories is still part of me. I am not here to give up.

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The Official Archives of My Life

Have I mentioned yet that I am a hopeless pack rat? I feel like this needs to be touched on before moving on with my other posts. Part of my pack rat nature probably comes from my mom, who I swear kept every drawing and significant piece of art/schoolwork from my elementary school career (after which I started to learn to hoard things myself). I also liked to collect things when I was a kid. I had a keychain collection, a rock/seashell collection, a sticker collection, and a stuffed animal collection (the largest and most prized of the bunch), just to name a few. Sure, they were cool things to have, but part of my desire to keep these things was because they reminded me of people, trips, events, feelings, etc. In addition to collecting, I’ve also been known to hold on to strange or seemingly insignificant items simply because of the invisible memories they were wrapped in. A boy once gave me a box of chocolate for Valentine’s Day. I ate the chocolate and kept the box for YEARS. I once went to a Backstreet Boys concert. The glowstick my sister bought me at the concert eventually lost its glow, but I still kept it in a drawer in my room for YEARS. I once tied a piece of yarn around my wrist as a bracelet and never took it off until it finally frayed and broke. Instead of throwing out the sad piece of yarn, I kept it and had it for YEARS.

Although I’m a pack rat, I’m at least an ORGANIZED pack rat. A few years ago I went through all of my keepsakes and performed a major purge. All of the things I couldn’t bear to part with were then neatly cataloged chronologically in several giant plastic filing containers with folders labeled by year (I’M NOT OBSESSIVE YOU’RE OBSESSIVE). I even parted with the the chocolate box, glowstick, and raggedy piece of yarn I mentioned before. Don’t get me wrong. I am not cured. I am just more organized now. I still harbor serious pack rat tendencies. Name a roller derby game you have seen me skate in and I can probably dig out the program. That thoughtful Christmas card you sent me five years ago? I have it around here somewhere. And don’t even get me started on my hoarding of potential crafting materials (“I can’t get rid of all these bottle caps—what if I need them for a project later?!”).

Then there are the journals. I began writing in a tiny pink diary complete with lock and key when I was about nine years old (although my journaling may have pre-dated that age since I have found some mysterious and un-dated entries in various notebooks). When I first started writing, partially inspired by Harriet the Spy and Amelia, it was sporadic and often an outlet for really positive or really negative feelings or events. My writing became more steady, although usually in spurts during which I would write regularly for a while and then write nothing for a while, proceeding to cycle between the two. There was even a period of my life where I wrote diligently every day.

Writing every day is what led me to be addicted to the remembering, something that I still feel in my bones to this day. Do you know how cool it is to look at something your wrote a decade or more ago? Do you know how fun it can be to relive one of your favorite days as a kid? Or how touching it can be to see word-for-word your seemingly ancient reaction to heartbreak? Do you know how satisfying it is to get into an argument with someone and be able to pull out a journal, turn to a page, and say “HERE, LOOK, I TOLD YOU SO” (I’ll tell you: it’s very satisfying. Ha!).

But seriously. You get to look back on so many of the experiences that turned you into the person you are now. And you get to remember the tiny details that most people forget when their memories become hazy and leeched of specificity. You get to know so much—simply because you wrote it down. I think that’s pretty cool.

All of my journals from the past to the present!

All of my journals from the past to the present!

My rainbow of volumes has become my most treasured possession. I always say that if I lost all of my possessions in a horrible accident, my journals would be the one thing I would never get over losing.

I have never really shared my journals. Maybe a line or two here or there, but that’s it. And if I had a dollar for every time someone asked if they could read them (*cough*Dad*cough*), I’d have a good pile of cash. But they were always for me. 

In preparation for this project I have dug out the Official Archives of My Life (which includes all of the still-existing items listed above and more). When I look at all the things that have been deemed important enough to keep, most of it is paper in some form: journals (obviously), letters, essays, drawings, ticket stubs, etc. And luck you, I plan on sharing some of those things with you. Yes, even parts of my journals, which is a huge divergence from my usually fierce protectiveness of their contents. (After all, what good would this fun, embarrassing, scary writing project be without a little vulnerability?) There will also be photos stolen from my parents’ albums, projects dug out from under beds, and even some adventures into my Online Record (aka, my LiveJournal—eek!).

Consider this a short preface to the rest of the project. The many items in my stash will serve as tasty supplements to the memories I recount here. And they’ll probably be the funniest parts of the whole thing.

Enjoy!

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Old Schooled!

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. I can only think of making one resolution in my entire life that actually ended up meaning something to me in the long run (but we’ll talk about that another day). This year I DO want to do something for the new year. It’s not exactly a resolution, but rather a New Year’s project. A writing project.

Because here’s the thing. IT’S 2016. That’s craziness. You know what I was doing ten years ago? GETTING READY TO GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL. Ten years ago. ONE DECADE AGO. Mind blowing.

Me graduating high school in 2006!

Me graduating high school in 2006!

2016, specifically, is a year that I’ve been thinking about, if only sporadically and fleetingly, for quite a while. Three words: Ten. Year. Reunion.

Now, with Facebook and other social media keeping people who went to school together so up-to-date on each other’s lives, I’m aware that reunions aren’t as big of a thing anymore. But that hasn’t stopped my high school friends and I from talking about it. At first it seemed like a far-off event. Then it seemed like it was sneaking around the corner. And now, all of a sudden, it’s here. The year that supposedly hosts my ten-year high school reunion.

Although I’m not particularly excited by the idea of a reunion (I mean, I might go if I’m allowed to wear my roller skates), the fact that 2016 is here (IS THIS REAL LIFE?!) has gotten me thinking. Not just about high school, but about school in general. School was such a huge part of my life for a very long time, and my experiences during those years helped to make me who I am.

So instead of the year 2016 being host to a tribute to the class of 2006, my plan is create a writing project that makes it a tribute to my entire grade 1-12 experience. This blog. Twelve months. Twelve grades. Countless strange, funny, insightful, and potentially embarrassing stories and memories to uncover. Not only will I be writing about things I remember from those years, but I will also be sharing the precious artifacts that my mother and I have obsessively kept, diligently documenting my academic, artistic, and personal endeavors. Trust me, the hopeless spelling and my earnest attempts at drawing should alone be enough to entertain.

This project is mean to be an opportunity to hone my craft (not to be confused with The Craft).

I am really looking forward to this project. I have not tended to my personal writing as much as I know should. It is such a passion of mine, but one that I’ve time and again dropped off my priority list as life has left me “too busy,” “too drained,” and “too unmotivated.” By committing to this project, I am committing to doing away with those excuses (and the many others I’ve invented).

This project is meant to be an exercise in imperfection.

Past me was not perfect. I was self-centered, insecure, overly guarded, and a terrible speller. Some of those things are still true, or weave in and out of still being true. Sharing these imperfections with the world seems like an interesting way to come to terms with them in a way I wasn’t able to when I was younger. Not only that, but I need to learn to embrace the imperfections in my writing. One of the reasons I have let my writing languish is because I expect too much of it. When I was a kid, my writing was spontaneous. I didn’t worry about where a story would go or how it would end. I would just write. Now, I dwell on an idea for ages before even putting a single word to the page. And rarely do I ever feel confident enough in an idea to turn it into a finished piece. And even once it’s complete, no number of revisions is ever enough to make it feel “ready.” These are roadblocks that often keep me from writing, and they’re ones I’ve built myself. Not everything I write needs to be a masterpiece. Not everything I allow others to read needs to be flawless. Sometimes you learn through writing, and the imperfections don’t matter. But if you don’t write at all, you gain nothing.

This project is meant to be an adventure in self-discovery.

If there’s one thing I know about reflecting on the past, it’s that you learn a lot about your present. What made you who you are? Do the things that mattered then still matter now? How have you changed? While there are many things I remember about my childhood and adolescence, there are a lot I have forgotten. Some of what I will find will be joyful, but I also know some of it will be dark. I hope to share a little of both of those.

I plan on posting at least twice a month, starting with 1st grade now in January. Follow my blog to get updates on when my new posts get published. I hope you stick with me throughout 2016. My first post should be out in another week or so. Prepare to get OLD SCHOOLED!

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