Each week, my writing instructor opens the class by asking a get-to-know you question, like, If you had a superpower, what would it be? Or, What needs to happen during summer for you or else it wouldn’t feel like summer? They are the kind of questions you could give a lot of thought or a little, questions that could have quick answers or profound ones, so early on in the course when she asked us, How did you come to the word? I was a little confused.
As in John 1:1, in the Beginning was the Word, and Word was with God and the Word was God?
Of course not, I shook myself a little. She is talking about words, as in writing. Still, there was such a sacred tone to her voice, I can be forgiven for momentarily thinking she was speaking of Jesus.
Then I wondered, is it sacreligious to speak of writing in such a similar way, to give it the same reverence? How glad was I to finally be in a competitive writing program where my classmates were going to read my full-length manuscript? How excited was I to have a reasonable excuse (akin to graduate school) to spend time putting pen to paper every day? How much did I want to admit that this was the best thing that could have happened for me this summer, to have my hobby treated as work?
I decided to swallow my awkward objection, and instead revel with my classmates as we each shared our answers, our excitement about writing. When it came my time to share, I told my story.
Toward the end of third grade, my family moved to a new town, and I started at a new elementary school. During one of my first week’s there, my classmates and I participated in California Achievement Testing, and one of the tasks was to write a paragraph. I don’t remember the prompt. I don’t remember what I wrote. What I do remember is that sometime later, my teacher must have gotten the results, including a copy of whatever words I had offered, and here’s the thing:
In front of the entire class, she praised my paragraph. My. Paragraph.
I don’t think I knew words could belong to someone before that. Or maybe I didn’t know they could belong to me. I also didn’t know writing was something you could be good at. It was just another school task, like adding numbers, where I tried to write down the right answers. Sitting at my little desk, I felt a little stunned, and then confused when the boy across from me said,
“You know how to write paragraphs? I can’t do that. I hate writing.”
He hated writing? I couldn’t believe it. How could he say such a thing? And yet, hearing him say it made me realize how much I loved writing. I loved journaling and creating stories. Until then, I didn’t know that made me different from some of my peers.
There were other teachers who encouraged me along the way, enough to keep me interested and wondering what I might write in the future. I also loved reading stories, though I was a slow reader. Over the years, I grew disappointed with the number of unread books on my shelves and came to wonder if I was more of a book collector than a reader.
In the meantime, there were plenty of school papers to work on, prompts and styles of every type, and through it all, there were my parents, marking up each and every one, taking turns between them and then (lightly) arguing with each other about syntax, word choice, ordering of ideas, or other stylistic choices. I came to believe that a paper hadn’t been worked at enough until it was completely decimated, until the margins and indeed all white spaces in between lines and anywhere were dripping with ink. Papers were little puzzles that needed to be dissected and transformed into something better, something they previously didn’t know they could be. Papers, words on the page, then breathed new life.
Wow, maybe this really is sacrilegious. Or maybe this is what it means to truly enjoy something.
I hope that boy from third grade has found something that lights him up in the same way. For me, I’m glad I found my words. I’m glad to be in a writing community, and I’m eager to see what happens next when I pick up my pen.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.