A couple of months ago I was given the opportunity to guest blog on Restaurant Gal’s site (see Spreading My Seed).
At first it seemed like quite an odd idea. Blogs are such personal places the thought posting on someone else’s was like being asked to share their toothbrush and dressing gown when you’d just popped round for a coffee. Still, once I got past over my initial British reserve, I felt quite honoured, like I’d been trusted with a sacred space.
Today I feel equally honoured that Restaurant Gal has responded to my request for a reciprocal post. Not only does this give my regular readers a chance to experience her warm, engaging and absorbing writing style first hand, but it lets me off the hook of thinking about another post for the weekend.
Outwith the boundary of her own site, Restaurant Gal has moved away from eateries to recalling a formative experience in her early writing years. It was clear from the outset that she was destined for great things and I’m sure in years to come she will look back fondly on this post and see that blogging here was one of the major steps towards fame and fortune…
Read, enjoy, and add her to your favourites if you haven’t done so already
The first time I saw my name in print, I was eight years old, and it was attached to a poem I had written. My brilliant piece of writing had been selected to represent a third grade writing project. I was quite astounded by this, actually, and read and re-read my printed piece that had been mimeographed in lots of a hundred for all the parents and teachers to read.
Today, I only remember the punch line of the poem about a volcano, which is what I am sure won me the honor of being published in the "Babbling Brook" literary journal: "Lava, spilling over, like red hots." That's right, red hots--my preferred candy of the day, the tiny pebbles of cinnamon candies packaged in tiny boxes. Even then, I was a candy freak.
Truth be told, I liked seeing my name in print far more than the poem I had written to get it there. And, more importantly, from that moment on, I fancied myself a "real" writer. Not because I had been published, but because writing was so easy for me, so effortless for me to produce. I lived for the writing assignments in school, because I sure as hell wasn't getting the "new" math or whatever barbaric science they were teaching us at the time.
Throughout fourth and fifth grades, I discovered that I could write about ANY subject and get away with seeming like I knew something about it. It was heady and scary at the same time. By age 10, I felt like I might be living a lie because I convinced my teacher that my extraordinary short story about rocks should count toward the earth science block I was failing. Turns out, I was just that good at two things--writing and sales.
By sixth grade, I had an honest-to-God great teacher--the teacher who changes your life and who I will name if I ever become famous. I had the teacher we are all lucky to have once in our school lifetimes, and we know them when we are with them. And this beautiful young teacher, fresh out of teacher school, loved reading and writing projects. I am quite sure we did a minimal amount of math that year, and absolutely no science, but we read and read and read, and then she inspired us to write every single day in our stapled-together journals.
What we really learned from her was how to write from our hearts. And I have never forgotten that lesson.
By the end of the year, this incredible teacher challenged us all to enter a national writing contest. The national contest gave a prompt for a short story, which we would then complete. Classes would vote for winners, schools would send those winners on to regional contests, and regional winners would go on to finals. Which was all an unimaginable reality away from the Tuesday assignment that our teacher handed out and told us we had to complete by Friday.
I dove right into it, of course. I got two things about this--I would be judged by my peers, which meant I had to write for my audience; and my teacher had the ultimate vote, which meant whatever I wrote for my peers had to be damn good. This was a lot for a skinny, pre-hormonal, 11-year-old girl wearing braces before anyone else had them to get. But I absolutely got it.
The prompt had some kid driving in a car with his family, and he is snoozing in the back seat, when suddenly, a flash of yellow jolts him awake. "Hey, boys and girls, what happens next?"
I wrote what I knew was drivel, but what I also knew would garner me the most votes from my classmates. I had this poor kid from the prompt trapped in cartoon-land with the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and Huckleberry Hound (I know, this kind of dates me)--the superstars of my era and the pre-cable, four-TV-stations-and-that's-it networks.
The field was narrowed to two stories--one by me and one by a too mature, very beautiful girl named Lisa. Lisa was also a writer beyond anyone's ken, and about 20 years beyond her time. Lisa was, in fact, the real deal that I hoped I might someday be, but that I was faking for now. Yeah, I knew that, even at age 11.
Our teacher read our stories aloud to the class that Monday. Laughter, pounding on desks, a standing ovation was the reaction to my story. Silence, puzzlement, and a few yawns met Lisa's. Except that I was astounded by Lisa's story, mesmerized and completely taken in by the description of broken bits of yellow glass on a beach and a young boy's struggle to fit the pieces together as he mended the broken parts his life. My throat literally ached by the end of Lisa's tale.
And in the end, when the votes were counted, my story garnered 24 votes, and Lisa's got one--from me. This did not make me some kind of great selfless kid. I simply voted for the best story.
I don't know that she ever knew I voted for her. I don't think she ever knew that I knew what a talented writer she was. I don't know what she does with her life, or if it involves this incredible writing talent she had when she was 11-years-old.
I do know that my crazy-cartoon-capers piece never made it beyond the regional contest. I have no idea what story ultimately won the national award.
Here's what I do know: Every now and then, when one of my blog stories seems to write itself, when I have mined an honest chamber of my heart to tell it, I know I am getting close to the talent that Lisa had, so many decades before.
I hope Lisa is still writing. I hope I can continue to try to catch up with her.