My parents invested in an encyclopedia set not long after they married. As a bonus to that purchase they also received “The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls,” a set of nine red volumes of stories, folk and fairy tales, poems, nursery rhymes, songs, history, crafts, and science.
Mom read to us often from those books. I recall sitting on her lap or beside her as the words that accompanied simple line drawings came to life. Occasionally an illustration filled an entire page with bright colors and the words faded into the background as I imagined myself into the story.
Even on days when my mother didn’t have time to read, I still looked through the books, drinking in the drawings, remembering stories and poems, planning which ones I wanted her to read next. We wore those books ragged, until the bindings broke down and pages tore and went missing. To this day I love Aesop’s tales and the simple rhymes of early childhood.
A decade ago, while perusing shelves at a small local used bookstore, I ran across a complete and unsullied set of these books. You can only imagine my stunned and delighted response. If they had cost ten times as much as I paid I would have still bought them. As it was, they were a steal. I consider those volumes some of my dearest friends and most cherished possessions. They serve as a link to my tender childhood years and a witness to my love of all things written.
A love of reading and anything to do with words settled securely as the foundation of who I would become because of the time my mother spent reading to me. Her willingness to let me rifle through those pages without worry over how gentle I was or how pristine they might look on the shelf, also planted a seed of familiarity and comfort with the written word.
Occasionally as a young’un I’d see a child’s printing set for sale somewhere and my coveting genes kicked in. I craved the opportunity to hand print a book, letter by letter, word by word with a black stamp pad and alphabet stamps. Obviously I had no concept of what such an ominous task would require. Coming up with the money for this desired prize never happened, so a self-stamped, self-published book stayed a distant, unreachable dream.
I adored attending school, learning new things, from early kindergarten, “we walk on the right side of the hallway,” and onward from there. I also adored my teachers as they held the keys to knowledge whose doors I so very much wanted to pass through.
In first grade our teacher gave an assignment that I ran with. “Write about other things you can do with a pencil beside writing.” I filled my page rapidly with idea after idea of uses for a simple pencil. I felt as if I’d invented some clever, never before conjured ideas. The next day our teacher read my little essay to the class. Such pride never before filled a child’s heart as mine did that day. Then the teacher told me I had “a very creative mind” and that she “expected great things” from me.
In response I threw my all into writing assignments and anything requiring even a modicum of creativity. This lasted well beyond first grade.
Writing became so ingrained in me that when I hit those confusing years between twelve and eighteen I turned to the written word to make sense of it all. I filled notebook after notebook with whatever was cruising through my head. And at that age, one’s head spins at incredible speeds. My journals became my best friend, my confidant, my therapist, and my outlet for stress of all kinds. I’m not sure how other kids survive their teen years, but I got through mine using a number two pencil and reams and reams of paper.
Then in college one professor in particular praised my writing with abandon and kindness. This professor encouraged me to put a few more years behind me and then write like mad. I’m afraid I put a few too many decades behind me before I let myself go crazy with my writing. Those decades can fill volumes though, if I’m only brave enough and creative enough to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
Five years ago I sat next to a young woman at a volunteer day. She struck up a conversation with me that led us to learn that we both loved writing. She suggested we form a writer’s group. I thought it sounded like a glorious plan. She had the chutzpah to follow through and find a couple of other women to join us. We four started writing five years ago last month, and haven’t stopped.
All these experiences have taught me something about myself that I hardly dare think out loud and yet I’m about to say it here, in public.
I am a writer.
I owe thanks to a mother who read to me, a set of wonder filled books, a teacher’s praise, a strange but effective coping mechanism, a professor’s encouragement and my writer’s group. Thanks to such a convergence I proudly refer to myself as a writer.
I write so that I know what I’m really thinking. I write so that others can see things through a slightly different lens. I write so that someone can say, “ah, that is exactly how I have felt.”
Mostly, I write because I simply can’t help myself.
“Everyone has talent. What’s rare is the courage to follow it to the dark places where it leads.” ~Erica Jong