In the process of moving and going through old boxes, I found a medal I’d won my eighth grade year for “Excellence in English,” and I thought, Just when was it I knew I wanted to be a writer?
Paper had always been such a part of my life. Before I was old enough to draw, I spent hours cutting it up. (I believe snowflakes were my favorite creation.) Once, while my dad was asleep, I cut up every paper in the house, causing him to throw my red Roger Rabbit scissors against the Butano heater in our Spanish apartment, breaking them.
As my brain developed, I began to illustrate the stories in my imagination, my fascination centering around the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (especially the Hanging Gardens of Babylon). Then, my third grade teacher, Ms. Cahoon, had us keep journals. I always wrote about my summers in Poplar Bluff; I was never interested in keeping a diary (I preferred to write creative nonfiction without the gushy stuff.) I didn’t like writing about my feelings, save through the medium of poetry, so that no one could read this or that and say for sure, “That’s Sarah.”
Through poetry, I could reveal everything in plain sight.
I don’t know when it is that we know what we want to be–whether it’ll be in athletics, academics, or the arts. I only remember my parents’ encouragement, never their pressuring me to be interested in any one thing (though my dad would only help me with history homework because it interested in him; if it was math or science, I was on my own). Mom and Dad simply exposed me to what they could afford to; lucky for them, I was always drawn to books, such as the Berenstain Bears, Encyclopedia Brown, The Baby-Sitters Club series, and any books by Roald Dahl, as well as all the Newbery Medal award winners. Books were my way out of poverty (literally and figuratively). For years, I fancied myself as Francie Nolan from the movie, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; I could write lies that weren’t lies because they were stories.
I am so grateful that my parents just let me be (I call it the Libertarian approach), which is why most of my daughter’s playtime is unstructured. I see how she ignores the television (thank God) unless there’s music, during which she is immediately transfixed. Maybe that’s why I enjoy singing to her so much (though it does get a bit daunting trying to come up with a different melody for every nursery rhyme).
When she starts kindergarten, I’ll enroll her in piano lessons (as music works every part of the brain). My husband prefers classic instrumental, though I always balk a bit at that, because I’m a writer, so of course, lyrics matter (though I wanted only “Canon” played at my wedding). I see lyrics as telling a story, the melody, making you feel that story. With classical music, there is no story–you just feel.
Poetry, for me, is the flip side of instrumentals.
Everyone should have something–something that encourages mindfulness, something that draws them outside themselves. My craft does that for me; I will lose myself in it, yet I will find more of myself I hadn’t known was there.
Because I know how much fuller my life is with writing, I want my daughter to have an outlet (so far, it’s ripping up paper). Children come to us a blank slate, and it’s our job, as parents, to shape them as if they were clay–to mold them into good human beings–but they’re also seeds that need to be watered with nurture so they can reveal what they are meant to become.