The other night I spent some time going through childhood photos looking for a picture my publisher had requested. My mom and I drank wine and reminisced over bad hair, bad clothes, and good memories. I came across the above gem, which is a photo of me in fifth grade with my Reflections (an arts contest run by the PTA) trophy. I had just finished reading my winning poem in front of an audience that probably numbered around forty, but felt like four hundred. This past week, I’ve been glued to the #WhyIWrite hashtag, so the memory felt especially apropos.
I wrote winning poems several years running in middle school and somewhere there is a small collection of these nifty trophies. The poems themselves were really little stories, little scenes of the larger goings-on of my imagination; they were the beginnings of my fiction writing. I went on to write plenty of poetry throughout high school, a mortifying amount of it about boys. I had a lot of feelings. The poetry thing didn’t stick, and it’s been many years since I’ve written a poem, which is probably a good thing considering that internet exists and they might not all remain tucked away in notebooks as my childhood poems are.
Seeing this photo, I remember how I nervous I was to read in front that audience: made up chiefly of the parents of other winners, I’d imagine. I also remember being really stoked on that matching shirt, velvet choker, and headband combo I’m rocking. And I’m reminded too that it was always there, the desire to write. It was always the subject I excelled at in school, the thing I most looked forward to. Throughout my childhood, she tells me, my mom would find miniature legal pads (which we for some reason always had boxes of) filled with mysterious dialog and snippets of scenes. As far back as I can remember, there’s been this stream of it—the parallel world that my fiction originates from—going on ceaselessly in my mind alongside my real life. It was only as I grew up that, as all children do, I came to understand that my experiences were not universal. Somewhere on the road to adolescence, others tuned this imaginary world out. I couldn’t tell you exactly where or why because I never did. Those of us who don’t, I suppose, become artists or eccentrics or both.
I’m grateful for the circumstances that allowed me to pursue my writing—the immense privilege of educated, encouraging parents and the resources for books and time to read them, education and time to write them. I often stress with students and clients, the necessity to keep the business of being an author separate from the art of being a writer. The latter is so very personal. The truth is, a great many things that are written ought not to be published, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be written. Because the act itself is beautiful and important; a measure of grace that should be encouraged in all.