Dec 12 2005

Think Bombs and How I Came to Read and Write

Published by at 5:20 pm under Personal

On Sunday, Holly Lisle decided to drop this think bomb: Public School Nightmare for us on her blog. In its own reality, it’s a fair bit on the scary, unsettling side, really, but thinking about all the alter-realities with their ramifications, details, plots, subplots, and consequences eventually made my brain ache (as if Beginning Spanish wasn’t enough).

I had to put my foil hat back on. I’m happy to report I feel MUCH better now.

But, Holly also asked to hear how we became readers and writers. Here’s my long-winded version (as per usual, this is a living document):

Growing up, I had no family particularly interested in my well being, much less my education. My [birth] mother never read to me. I can remember baking Christmas cookies with grandma, Friday night Bingo and Shock Theater, but not curling up with books; if she ever read with me, those times were few and far between. So beyond the rare, occasional teacher taking an above-average interest, I’ve been my own greatest influence for both, reading and writing. (Which might also explain my lack of enthusiasm for all things mathematical.) :P

My love of reading blossomed from programs such as R.I.F., and from first and second grade teachers who took the time to read whole books aloud during class, who made it a priority for us to explore the library, and who encouraged us to read.

I can’t remember seeking books out on my own until — maybe — the second grade. And then, the ones I recall devouring with a vengeance almost always involved horses. Flip, Flip and the Cows, Flip and the Morning (all by Wesley Dennis), Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, San Domingo: The Medicine Hat Stallion, and Black Gold.

I remember Black Gold with startling clarity; it left me in tears for days. From reading the “About the Author” pages, I discovered that Marguerite Henry based her books on the lives of real animals. Learning that this magnificent horse lay buried somewhere on the infield at a racetrack in Louisiana made the pain of his story — his death — so much more devastating, and that much more real.

I didn’t begin writing by making up or telling stories of my own. However, I did have plenty of adventures. Long ones — sometimes I had fantasies that took months to play out. I did have basic plot elements, though: a hero, a villian, conflict, and resolution.

I was born an only child (Chelsea, my half-sister, came along just before I turned 17) and — due to my mother’s alcoholism — outside of school, I spent most of my childhood very isolated. For companionship, I had a pony; that little black spawn of Satan I’d named Tiger Butch. I had the dogs, including Chunkee, and any number of cats. I also kept company with a host of imaginary friends. Some of them I borrowed from television: Timmy and Lassie, Flicka, Steve Austin, Jaimie Sommers, and — of course — Max, the bionic dog. As well, I befriended an assortment of Saturday morning superheroes. I also invented plenty of my own imaginary friends; many of them have grown into the characters I work with today.

Want to know about my maiden writing endeavor? Okay, brace yourself and get ready to laugh.

My fourth grade teacher assigned weekly spelling words and she required that we practice those words by using each of them in a sentence. Somehow, one week, I managed to fashion all 20 of those practice sentences together into a story about a sailor (I think he turned into a pirate). I accomplished a complete story; it had a beginning, middle, and an end. My teacher, whose name now eludes me, never made a huge fuss, but she knew my fondness for books and for the library. She asked if I understood the relation between the story I’d constructed within my spelling sentences and the stories people wrote and published as books. Up to that point, nope, I’m pretty sure I’d been clueless, but she planted that seed … or helped to germinate it.

That’s it. No great American novel; no great, dawning revelation.

Pretty simple, huh? Yet, from that day forward, I knew I wanted to be a writer, heard it whispering, calling my name throughout the halls of my soul. But too, from that moment on, I’ve been locked in the never-ending, uphill struggle against the odds, against the naysayers, the doomsayers, and sometimes even the silence in my own heart, the absence of my own faith.

I’ve never been praised, canonized, or honored because I’m exceptionally brilliant or talented. I was never put in any class for the delightfully gifted. The classes where I excelled, I did well in them because I worked hard and busted my tail. The classes I did poorly in, I either sucked miserably at them or clashed with their particular teachers and, because of that, I refused to focus, settle down, and apply myself.

So there you have it. That’s how I came to read and write. I cherish the ability to do them both. It’s weird to look back and think maybe these abilities exist only by the sheer force of my will, because I wanted to read and write, and for no other reason. Am I an individual? Do I have a voice of my own? Can I think for myself? I’m not sure. It’s certainly easy to conform — to go with the flow. Could I write or speak my truth and prove I’ve the courage and conviction to stand by those words, even if it meant sitting in jail indefinitely — year after year — for something even as dismal as a contempt of court charge?

I hope so.

Tomorrow maybe I’ll revisit the reasons why I write ( because I’m curious), but — for the moment — I reallyreallyREALLY MUST concentrate on my Spanish I final.

Adios mis amigos. :)

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