Hindsight’s a funny thing. It bubbles up into our stream of consciousness like okra in a Fry Daddy. Unfortunately most of the time it doesn’t taste as good. It’s more like the last piece out – charred beyond recognition. Thankfully, it’s not always burnt bits of floured vegetables. Sometimes it provides the clarity of a destiny playing out right beneath our noses.
I used to read 2 or 3 books a night when I was only in middle school. Granted they were rather short – mainly The Babysitter’s Club and R.L. Stein, but my hunger for more and more books didn’t seem important at the time. I wrote a journal every night. I wrote poetry. I wrote when I was bored. I wrote when I was sad. I wrote because I simply liked filling a blank page with ink and cursive. I didn’t just read Where the Sidewalk ends. I studied it like an archeologist studies the ancient pyramids. I tried to crack the code. Even back then I knew words were never just words. They were so much more. But I assumed everyone knew this. I assumed everyone saw words as pieces of a bigger puzzle. Pieces that could be manipulated and grouped in a way that created something completely original and artistic.
I thought nothing of my personal view of words. I thought nothing of creating seven or eight poems in any given day. It was just an extension of my thoughts. An extension of my emotions. It was nothing special. And I never showed them to anyone. It was just something I did. Like someone brushing their teeth or eating dinner. It was such an integral part of my life, I barely noticed it as something out of the ordinary. Until.
When I look back at the first 36 years of my life, there are several occasions that drift to the surface as moments where my true calling had shown itself even before I knew it. Now looking back, I can see they were tiny gems of a smoldering mine – pressurized by life and the passion of my own spirit. Simmering beneath the surface until it could show itself in earnest.
- Diagramming Sentences
I think we did that in 5th grade? Or maybe it was 6th? My selective memory chose instead to remember my teacher writing out a sentence on the board in chalk (that’s right kids…we had a *gasp* chalkboard back in the day). I opened my trapper keeper. That’s right I said trapper keeper. Be jealous, be VERY jealous. It may have been purple and it could have had a white unicorn and a rainbow. I can still hear the sound of velcro as I tugged on the tab and splayed its contents across my desk. *sighs with nostalgia* But I digress.
To the chagrin of everyone else in the class, we dove into a lesson in diagramming sentences. It was magical. It was nothing short of mind-bending for my young impressionable brain. Not only could I write sentences, but I could DRAW them too!?! And it made so much sense! It was like someone had dusted off a splintered shelves in the back of my mind, sanded them smooth before staining them cherry and filling them with glittering inspiration and golden textbooks lined with diamonds. As I furiously diagrammed every sentence I could get my hands on, I slowly realized no one else was immersed in the fireworks and bottle rocket filled reality I was currently experiencing.
- Shakespearean Savvy
Not only did my 9th grade teacher want us to read and understand Shakespeare, she wanted to torture us further by forcing us to stand before the class in all of our teenage awkward glory and recite it. From memory. I didn’t mind Shakespeare. I didn’t love Shakespeare, but even if I did, standing in front of twenty of my classmates – including one Amanda something-or-another that loved making my life hell by reminding me how short I was EVERY DAY – sounded about as fun as admitting I had a crush on hot-soccer-player Greg and his Adidas wardrobe (which seemed to be the norm for all the soccer players) in front of the whole school. I was not the fearless, take me as I am Kday we all know today. I was dreading it.
Then I went home and chose the part of Romeo and Juliet I would read. The first time I read it out loud was like hearing angels singing. For some odd reason, reading Shakespeare strained my mind, but reading it aloud was like singing at the top of my lungs with zero f*cks given. The way the words rolled off my tongue felt magical and I wanted to recite it over and over. I practiced it so much I can still recite it to this day. And because it was burned into my memory, standing before the class became an after thought. It was easy peasy. From that moment on it’s been a habit of mine to read Shakespearian literature out loud. It’s more beautiful that way and I have to wonder if that’s how Shakespeare had intended it.
- Procrastinating for Progress (disclaimer – I do not condone anything in the next three paragraphs…except sleep. Sleep is awesome.)
During my sophomore year of college, I was doing anything but learning higher education. I was joining a sorority and had made cheerleading. The whole education thing was unfortunately not my top priority. I did my work and went to class – enough to get solid B’s. But I was fully aware I wasn’t expending the amount of energy on my studies as I should. My proclivity to procrastination and a solid ability to take tests well did nothing to help my college’s cause to help me learn something.
As my editor, agent, and PR peeps know – I write best when under pressure. Which happens a lot because procrastination isn’t just something I was blessed with – it also happens to be my superpower. One Thursday in late March, I went to a party at the Sigma Chi house with my sisters. I also had a six page paper due the next day at 9:00am. Of which I had not remotely started. Knowing my better than average writing ability, I came up with a plan. I’d go out to the party. Come back. Write the paper. Sleep for a couple hours. Go to class. Hand in paper. What could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately for my newly forming bad habits and irresponsibility, nothing went wrong. I came back from the party around 1am. Took out my laptop and busted out six pages about something I can’t remember now. I slept for two hours. Went to class and handed it in. A week later I received the paper and the grade it had been awarded. I got a 95.
- Patriot’s Pen
When I was in high school, the idea of being able to pay for college seemed like a pipe dream. A pipe dream I intended on crushing with my little bitty teenage hands as soon as possible. One way I set out to do this was the Patriot’s Pen Essay contest from the VFW. I knew it was a long shot considering it’s a national contest, but I figured I’d give it a try. So I sat down one night and wrote a 500-word essay on ‘What America Means to Me’ in hopes of winning a slice of the money that was up for grabs.
The next day it was submitted and I assumed I’d never hear anything back. I was wrong. My little essay I wrote in the span of an hour made it to the top three in the southern region of the US! I’d won $1K!! I couldn’t believe it. But it still hadn’t sunk in. Not until I was asked to visit the local VFW and read it to the veterans. I was slightly terrified. And by slightly, I was two seconds away from vomiting all over that nice waxed wooden floor as I looked out at the weathered faces of these veterans. Men that had experienced horrors and shared a common bond I would never know about.
And here I was – a little blonde teenager about to read about what America means to me? In front of these men that had sacrificed their lives for America? I felt incredibly humbled and more than a little inept. But I did what I was supposed to do and I stood at the podium and read my essay. When I was done, I looked up and my life was forever changed. I met the eyes of several older gentlemen, clad with WWII caps and a hardness in their eyes to match, and watched as tears slid down their cheeks.
Being the scrappy, fighter that I am, I learned how to use my writing abilities to my advantage.
I’ve used them to escape.
I’ve used them to entertain myself.
I’ve used them to make money.
But I could have never realized they would also be my salvation. A dream soon to be realized. A destiny soon to be fulfilled. I’m a lot of things, but above all else, I’m a writer.