Yesterday on Twitter, @Kelsye asked the question, “When did you decide you were a writer?”
It’s a wonderful question and it got me thinking about my own story. I started writing when I was in 4th grade, although my parents will say I was telling “stories” long before that. (Okay, they’d actually tell you they were lies, but looking back, it’s semantics really.) In my mind’s eye I can still see the manila file folder, the college ruled paper, a green pen, and the sloppily scrawled words: “They Call Her Carrot Top”.
deep, brilliant prose about a young girl bullied at school because she had bright red hair. Carrot Top had to face these bullies every day with bravery, but when she came home, there were tears. There was a lack of understanding as to why this was happening to her. She had a family who loved her and offered her comfort, but Carrot Top knew she still had to go to school and it terrified her.
It probably won’t surprise you to find out that Carrot Top was me. The title or the plot may not be the stuff of Hemingway, but it was my story. For the first time I realized the power of words in my own life. Not only what was being said to me, but that I could use words to describe what I was feeling. That story was born out of a horrible school experience, which included bullying, exclusion and general cattiness applied to girls grades 4th through womanhood. Putting words on paper made me see the power I had to take the sting out of what happened to me, even for a brief moment. While I couldn’t exactly control my real life story at the time, I could control the stories of my characters and make them win in the end. Which was incredibly powerful, because at the time I wasn’t sure if I would win, let alone when.
Justina Chen says:
Stories are how we pass culture on to the next generation, this is how we overcome and forgive. It’s how we face challenge and turn tragedy into triumph.
I knew this – experienced it – when I was writing at the tender age of 9. However, as I’ve grown older, many times I’ve asked the question: am I really a writer? Do I have the dedication it takes? Do I have the courage needed to not only tell the stories of those around me, but the difficulty of my own story? Do I really believe what I tell other people – that we must own our own stories – the messiness, the wins, the love, the brokenness – before someone else tells them for us?
Deep down I do. Deep within me, there is still a piece of that heartbroken 4th grader who wants to understand what this life is about and why things happen. She is looking at 31 year-old me; still that odd mixture of curiosity and apprehension. She is the reminder that fear didn’t stop what happened, it only dictated her response. I get the feeling she wants to see what I’ve learned.
And so, I write.