When I participated in an artist development program last fall, we had to answer this question: How did you get started in your creative field?
If I had to tell it like a story, it would begin, “There once was a little girl who loved making shit up.” Blessed with a wild imagination, a hyperactive vocabulary and the ability to tell lies spin fantastic yarns, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t putting those ideas to paper.
My parents strongly encouraged me and my siblings to read and there was never a shortage of material to consume. It wasn’t one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” edicts either. My mother devoured Archie and Harvey comics, pop culture magazines like Ebony and People and kept a dense collection of novels in her bedroom that I occasionally swiped from the shelves. My father enjoyed newspapers, hunting, fishing and sports magazines and had a gorgeous collection of National Audubon Society books that I lovingly flipped through as often as possible.
My first “book” (pictured here) was an assignment for my third grade Creative Writing class. Do kids even get that class anymore? Centered around a group of smart, plucky kids who try to discover the whereabouts of a missing panda bear, I was thrilled to get an A and high praise from my classmates. I was so lucky to have an excellent teacher, Ms. Gish, who used SRA’s to expand our reading levels and asked us for story time book recommendations.
Fourth grade brought a wicked case of chicken pox that confined me to bed. After a few days my mother, sick of me whining about not having anything to read and tired of making trips to the library, gave me the best present ever: a typewriter. It was a tiny manual kids version, brown with white keys and an attached cover. She showed me how to load the ribbon, gave me a sheaf of paper and said, “Write your own stories.” For the next two weeks, I didn’t even care that every part of me itched like mad. Writing was so much faster with this magical device, the distance my ideas traveled from my brain to the page blissfully shortened. I was in heaven! Occasionally, my mother would shove my younger siblings into my room for chicken pox exposure. Glad for the captive audience, they served as my first focus group.
Over the years, the typewriters changed from manual to electric and were soon replaced by word processors and personal computers, but I never stopped cranking out short stories, novels, articles, essays, plays and poetry. I read voraciously, finding inspiration in books by Judy Blume, Paul Zindel, Norma Kline, Christopher Pike, Francine Pascal, Mildred D. Taylor and Lois Lowry.
Eventually–as it happens to many of us–my life became complicated and unbalanced, passion falling to the wayside. Suddenly, earning a living and keeping homelessness at bay seemed more important than my childhood imaginings. However, throughout it all, I kept journals with scraps of stories scribbled in the margins. Despite my best efforts to convince myself that it was a pipe dream, the urge to create refused to go away and now I’m so glad I ignored that annoying inner voice saying it was a waste of time.
Writing is one of my oldest and dearest friends and I’m thrilled that we’re reacquainted.