Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Ghostly Story Comes Back to Haunt Me

Do you remember when you learned to read?  I remember being read to, and then sometime after that, I remember reading on my own. What happened in the middle is a little fuzzy. I remember, as a grade schooler, wanting to create stories that spoke to the lunacy of modern life, that illuminated what we've come to call the human condition (not really; I wanted to write funny things about my classmates).

One of my first creations, around 1st or 2nd grade, was a picture book about a snowball fight with my neighbor. I believe it was aptly titled, "The Snowball Fight," and the last page featured an illustration of two mugs of steaming hot chocolate. Alas, that book has gone out of print.

Later, I took to short stories, including this piece, which was quite popular in its day (approximately 1985): "The Drastic Days of the Gluebottle." Here's the premise: a ghostly glue bottle haunts an evil little boy. The boy, after refusing to learn any of the important life lessons from the glue bottle, is trapped alive in a coffin with him for eternity.





Yes, this is the original story. My mom kept all my school papers. This story now resides in a nostalgic file folder in my office of very old, embarrassing writing. Backstory: I did not get along very well with this particular little boy, who shall remain anonymous. I had the misfortune of sitting directly behind him, but this gave me an advantage. I threatened him once with a squirt of Elmer's down the back of his shirt collar, and after that he pretty much left me alone. I wrote the story for spite, which, for many writers, is as fun (and profitable!) a reason to write as any.

My drawing abilities have not improved one bit since grade school. (Note: the shaky writing of "gluebottle" indicates this story is super scary.) My story writing abilities, I believe (I hope!) have gotten better, but still, each year when I look back over my work, I'm hoping to see improvement.  I read things I wrote just ten years ago (not to mention 30 years ago), and I'm embarrassed. This is a wonderful thing, to be embarrassed by one's old work. It means I'm getting better, which brings me to part two of this post, my volunteer service at my daughter's elementary school.

Mondays, I sit on a wee, white bench and listen to kindergartners read, offering assistance with unfamiliar words, plus lots of praise, and a cookie for a job well done. There are 23 kids in the class, at very different strages of the reading/writing game. They're working so hard, and it's such a challenge, to do something we as adults don't even think about.

To any parent, the language acquisition process is an amazing thing to witness, but to a writer, it's just mind-blowing. I remember when my daughter, and later her brother, learned to make their first sounds...the da da da that eventually led to "daddy." My daughter's first word? "Didee" (translation-kitty). My son's? "Hi." It was a thrill for me to follow them around and hear what word they'd say next, to hear the crazy way they'd string words together or mix up words. At mealtime, my daughter always used to say, "I'm huggy."

And now she's a studious almost-six year old, reading and writing, turning her bedside lamp back on when she thinks I'm not looking to get a few more pages in before sleep. Yup, she's hooked on phonics, just like her dear old mom. Here's something she wrote last fall after a gymnastics class. (Translation: "How can you do that? Look at me.") Got to love the eyelashed "look" and the girl doing a handstand.


Will she be penning stories about her classmates someday? Who knows? I can't say I would actually advise anyone to be a fiction writer unless they absolutely cannot think of anything else they'd be good at (especially since I'd like her someday to be self-sufficient, capable of paying her own mortgage, eating, etc.). But I do hope she'll always retain the joy of devouring a good book.

I've spent the past few years struggling to write a novel, learning so much along the way, but often becoming frustrated with myself for not learning it better and, most of all, faster. It's good to look back, at my daughter's work and my own and remember where we all, writers or not, begin.



 

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for this lovely reminder that we all start at the same place with words, and writing.

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  2. I have a copy of my 'first' short story, and yeah, it's embarrassing. Scooby-doo meets Stephen King, and everybody dies. Yikes.

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    1. Jeff,
      We've got major Scooby-Doo fans at our house. We'd probably enjoy that story!

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  3. My son used to call lights "Ha." We'd walk through a supermarket, and he'd point up and say, "Ha. Ha." And I'd say, "Yes, it's a light. And that's a light." He's now reasonably well-spoken. The writing part...we're working on that.

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  4. The word "Look" always gives me happy chills. Even now, decades later, I remember being so proud and thrilled I could read. Simple word, simple pleasure; powerful memory.

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  5. Wonderful post. Thank you for the reminder to be patient with myself and my individual writing development :)

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    1. My pleasure, Angie. Now, if I could get better at practicing what I preach;)

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  6. What a great post. I also have stories from when I was 7 or so written about candy mansions and Betty Brown Bikini Bear and the trip to the Beach, to name a few. I knew then I wanted to be a writer. Nothing else. My youngest is also in kindergarten and I have to say I cried the first time he read that little book to me. I had no idea!
    My first novel just sold, a middle grade historical fantasy, and will be out this December. It has been a long road of rejections and self-doubt. But, I persevered, and the seven year old me is jumping up and down. Please feel free to friend me on FB, Twitter, or visit my site www.jaimiengle.com. If I can help encourage you in any way, it would be my pleasure. It seems are paths are similar.
    Best of luck in all that you do. Being a mommy is the best job in the whole world!

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  7. My first 'book' was about ten pages with an eery resemblance to the plot of the movie Star Wars, except with a guy named Jim instead of Luke Skywalker. I've been plagiarizing ever since.

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    1. I think I would have preferred Star Wars with a guy named Jim, anyone but Mark Hamill...

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  8. In grade school, I penned a story about how the Catskill Mountain range got its name. The premise involved cats being catapulted onto the mountain. No mention of its Borscht Belt notoriety.

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    1. Lauren, I've read a dozen books to my four year old so far today, and yours is the best premise among them. Time to pull that story out and brush it off!

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