Tuesday, July 03, 2018
on creative beginnings
I've been thinking the last week or so on the roots of the creative self. What makes us who we are in terms of artists. When I was 4 or 5, long before I started kindergarten and linked the alphabet song my dad had taught me with the strange glyphs over the chalkboard and was able to begin to break the code of that thing called "reading", I suppose I was already a writer. My favorite thing to do was to scavenge paper, my dad's work cast-offs, the blank end pages of books, and fill them with scribbles that in my head approximated the cursive I would eagerly learn in the second grade. But then, my"stories" were untranslatable to anyone but me. I already was developing a paper and pen fetish, and my favorite x-mas present in those weird years where memory is still sketchy, was a totebag filled with notepads, folders and spirals, and pens in a bunch of different colors (which then was really only red, green, black, and blue. )
As I started school, I was impatient over pencils and lined newsprint and wanted the smooth roll of ink on college lined sheets. My mother used to read to us at bedtime, from the same few things-mother goose, a children's bible (even though we weren't exactly religious.) The books were holy, especially before I could read them, and then in a different way after that. The first thing I ever remember being able to "read" was the sign above the Jewel where I waited in the car with my dad for my my mom to shop, that rush of a whole new world coming at me. I was unstoppable then, reading kids books, that grew longer and more complex. Some of my favorites were the glossy Beatrix Potters from the school library. A box sets of illustrated classics, not all of which I remember, but War of the Worlds was my favorite. (and probably one of the reasons this is our upcoming year's Book to Art selection..lol..) I loved Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and waited patiently for the newsprint amazingness of the Scholastic Book order every month.
When I wasn't reading, I probably did a lot more daydreaming than writing, but then again, that is somehow still part of the process. I was still fascinated by notebooks and pens and school supplies, and remember occasionally writing out the outlines of these elaborite gothic family trees and stories well into adulthood. While I bucked a little at learning grammar rules, which I must have picked up intuitively somehow later on, I was good at spelling, a spelling bee champ, and eventually really good at regurgitating facts back out on essay tests while everyone else in classes was freaking out. My reading tastes got more complex, but age 10, my aunt was already delivering grocery sacks full of horror novels she'd bought and read already, ostensibly for my dad, but I usually got to them first. It was then, in a move, I uncovered a copy of Amityville Horrror and spent the first night in our new house reading it cover to cover. (I was already well versed in the movie, my fascination with scary movies happening much, much earlier around the time I was learning to read.)
In junior high, I set off to turn these gothic stories into a young authors book contest attempt, but caved under pressure and turned in a children's counting book instead.It was probably my first experience with caving under a deadline. It would be another year before I started writing poems, probably since I barely knew, outside of Shel Silverstein, that poems were actually an option--something that was still written by people and not some dusty anachronistic form. I tried--wrote all sorts of horrible rhyming verse in the next couple of years, but still felt like a dusty, untouchable thing. Would be, for a good long time after--even though I was still doing writer things--writing passionate edittorials about dolphins and animal rights in the school paper, entering and winning esssay contests rather easily, perfecting my 5 paragraph composition form. These were things that came easily--probably all those horror novels teaching me how to write without me really trying--the very best argument for learning to write by reading.
Poetry was slippery--and not something I would feel I had a hand on for many years after (and sometimes not even now.) But I tried, especially after I turned my attention back to books where it always should have been. I went full-tilt the summer between my freshman and softmore year on submitting work to the kinds of places in the back of Writer's Digest, checked out from the public library, or on occasion, bought with whatever money I'd scraped together from the mall's single bookstore. There was more writing--lit class papers, workshop poems & stories, film reviews for the college paper., but I was splitting attention between lit and theatre for a bit there, so I didn't come back full-force til my final undergrad year. I was getting better, but it would still be a couple years til I was anything like good at it. But I committed in some way in those years, pursued my MA in Lit, came out of that writing better than ever. It would still be a couple years before regular publications, before chapbooks and books, before applying to an MFA, but the seeds were growing even then.