Courtesy of Page After Page’s writing exercise.
In fourth grade, I wrote a story. I wrote it on a yellow Steno notebook, sitting against a beam in the basement of my grandparents home, with a pencil. It took me a few days, and it took up 18 pages of the notebook. When In I got home, I got on our CompuServe desktop and typed it out, slowly, with four fingers. The title was–are you ready for it?– “Mary Story.”
I know. Be jealous. It was a tale of sweet, gentle, blonde Mary who had a crippled mother and had just moved into a town full of rough and rowdy children. They didn’t like Mary– or rather, didn’t understand her. She liked sewing, and reading, and walking in nature, and cleaning. She especially liked John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.
I was 8.
In the end, Mary’s gentle ways convince the town children that not only was she fun to be around, but that her flower-picking, shelf-dusting, and homework-doing ways were far superior to playing tag and getting muddy.
“Mary Story” reveals a lot about my 4th grade notions of femininity and virtue, but it was also exhilarating to write. I had gotten completely lost in joy during the days of its creation, my pencil moving without consciousness, the words feeling like delicious soup, pouring steaming hot into a clean bowl. From that moment on, I began entertaining notions of being a writer.
Around that time I picked up playing the flute, and discovered that not all art-making felt the same. Playing the flute was frustrating, and boring, and difficult. I kept a practice log but cried each time I checked the clock and found I still had 20 minutes of my mandated daily 30 to go. The only note I thought sounded okay was my B flat, which had been the first note I learned.
Fast-forward to high school, and I was still writing, and playing the flute, and now singing and acting. Singing felt a bit like writing in that I could forget time when doing it. I worked at making my performances better, but the work rarely felt like a drudge. I could trill my voice through the runs of “Poor Wandering One” and “Phantom of the Opera” and when I hit a rough spot, simply go back and let my voice open up the troublesome note so it could float like a clear red balloon.