Several times author friends of mine have mentioned that most writers love to write from childhood. I’ve thought about that, measuring myself against their stories of delightful hours spent writing with stubby pencils and wide-ruled paper. If a writer is one who loved words from childhood, then I do qualify; I devoured every sort of book from the moment I could read. Still I was not drawn to write. In fact, I only wrote creatively for school assignments.
Perhaps I can rationalize this with remembering the embarrassment I often felt in English classes. After I turned in an assignment, my teachers would write (in bright red sharply articulated characters) that the paper, although well written, did not fulfill the terms of the task. I was left with the contradiction between what I felt about those documents and the teachers’ judgments of them. Looking back, I see that entire stories populated my mind, and I could only capture a tiny portion of those imaginary tales in a one- or two-page assignment.
Now, from the place of adulthood, I realize that I was writing chapters from a book instead of paragraphs of an essay. While writing those school papers, I imagined the potential of the story, but the teacher saw only the deficiency: my papers did not fit the expectations of the assignment. For example, if the instructions were to write about my summer vacation — again — with a mischievous attitude, I just wanted to introduce the characters who were jumping, playing, and living in my mind into the frequently mind-numbingly tedious homework. During a typical summer, my vacation had been a lot of fun (typically consisting of the great combination of sand, sun and water), but it was nothing compared to the stories of brave men and women launching themselves into space to find the solution for some post-war disaster, and then, returning to save the planet. Certainly, I could write the one-page paper on the ubiquitous topic, but heroic chronicles wanted to explode out of my mind and onto paper.
Eventually I would finally give in and wrote the blasted piece (my breath erupting in sighs), and the grade would be an “A.” After all, I did know how to structure the sentences and check verb and noun tenses. But not one of those teachers suggested I learn about creative writing or creating a plot. How much harder it must be to suggest such a thing in this age of proficiency tests and state-mandated achievements.
Thus, my writing was placed into the trunk along with all of those other things that children are told they shouldn’t do because they must do something else. However, my creativity was not stunted. I found acceptable outlets for that creative drive. In the basement, I painted for hours, experimenting with concepts I read in books. At the same time, I studied music, singing and practicing piano until my parents yelled at me to go to bed. And I loved both of those art forms.
However, many decades later I find odd bits of legendary tales flowing from my fingers. I type them into the computer knowing that someday I will finish them and someday they might even be published. Because I am no longer a child, I can be satisfied with transcribing parts of the characters’ stories. I can be patient, waiting for the stories to puzzle themselves together. Because I know that, the characters can be tolerant of my slow pace — well, for a while! But I am the lucky one. I rediscovered the joy of word crafting, of carving a character out of phrases and punctuation, of experimenting with words and sentences.
Still I wonder what happens to all of the other children who are taught (to quote Harry Chapin’s song) “green leaves are green.” What happens to the ghetto boy who loves the sound of the cello but never has a chance to see or touch one? The world may be a poorer place without his music. Does he miss what he never had? Or does he succeed at shifting his attitude to one that accepts the music of his peers?
What about the girl who is told she has to choose between studying sculpture and having an allowance? If she chooses the money so that she can go to movies and hang out with her friends, is she contented with that decision? Is she satisfied or does she find herself at the age of fifty craving the feel of clay in her hands?
What happens to the child who wants to be a concert pianist but sets it aside to become a lawyer to please his parents? Does he learn to be proud of being a lawyer? Does he learn to be happy with what he has become?
At the bookstore I see so many titles that focus on working to be happy with what you have, and I understand the premise. After all, a person will never be joyful if she is always looking for that greener pasture, that relationship that might-have-been, that perfect job, and so forth.
Yet, what happens to the soul of a person who never tries to reach her childhood dream?