Friday, March 15, 2013

A trail of tears: My writing journey

I had a thing for puppets. And cows. Especially cow puppets. I made this one myself, hand stitching each delicate eyeball and hoof. I even added a miniature quilt for my puppet to hold. The extra work paid off. This puppet won honorable mention at the Arizona State Fair. I was a big deal.

As aspiring writers, we all strive to get our work out there, for people to see and appreciate. It's the ultimate goal. But what we don't think about while we're toiling over laptops, writing numerous eyerolls and awkward glances is what happens when our work gets out there. Probably because we don't want to think about it. I speak from experience when I say it's not always as glamorous as an honoroble mention ribbon at a state fair.

In the sixth grade, I decided to run for class historian. My parents had given me a Polaroid camera and I loved taking pictures. I thought it would be fun to use my expert camera skills to capture the 6th grade experience. But I knew to win, I needed to be different. I needed a stellar speech with lights, fireworks and dancing bears.

I did not have dancing bears.I had puppetry skills.

I stitched two new puppets, a ferret and something else I can't remember, but I am certain it had nothing to do with ferrets. Once my two actors were complete, I wrote them a miniature play, in which they discussed why I would make a wonderful historian.

I stepped up to the podium, coated in sweat, clinging to my furry friends for support. The beginning was shaky, but when everyone started laughing, my confidence swelled. They loved it! As I stepped down from the stage, glowing with pride, I pulled my puppets from my hands and suddenly realized, my little ferret had been on backwards the entire time.

I did not win historian.

Fast forward to middle school. As an English assignment, we had to write a two minute speech. Again, I put my creative gears in motion, coming up with the brilliant idea of writing a speech about procrastination and incorporating a diagram with a cow. (See the cow obsession!) My teacher loved it. Too much. She wanted me to present my wondrous speech to the entire school.

This was me.

As you can see, I was voted 3rd Most Intelligent Girl in the entire school, aka 3rd Biggest Female Nerd. I only achieved this title because I let everyone copy my homework, and I only let them copy my homework because I wanted to live to see high school. As fabulous as my four-inch thick glasses and bad perm were, I was not popular. I did not want to stand up in front of the entire school to present my speech, especially since the trauma from my failed puppet show still gnawed at my psyche.

I had no choice. My teacher would not back down, likely thinking she was helping me by forcing me to overcome my fear of performance. Since I was not the kind of kid to go against a teacher, I did it. And my expectations of disaster were confirmed when everyone in the gym started "booing."

I ran out of the gym with tears staining my thick glasses, and called my mom to pick me up. Only later did I find out they had been "mooing." (Damn me and my cows!) But it was too late. The damage had been done. I would never expose myself to a crowd that large again. Not even if a firing squad were perched at my back.

So in high school I decided to step back from writing and sewing puppets in order to pursue a loftier goal: popularity. Apart from a small arrest for curfew and a case of mono, it was successful. I had friends. I had cheerleader friends and skater friends and student council friends and most importantly, I was friends with the school bully. No one would ever laugh at me again. Abandoning my future had all been worth it!

Until I went to college and all of my "friends" disappeared.

No problem. I would make new friends. I had done it before, and it had been harder. I'd had to change a reputation of "dork" into "cool girl." At a University of 46,000 students, I was no one. I could easily convince a select group of people I was "cool."

And that worked too. I made a group of good friends, and with those friends, my confidence slowly began to return. I was able to bury the tragedy of the backwards ferret puppet deep into the recesses of my brain. That had been someone else's failure.

As I was flipping through the University newspaper between classes, I saw a writing contest in one of the folds. The topic was "Why I Love ASU." As soon as I saw it, I smiled. I did love ASU, and after years of straight 'A' papers, I had become skilled at writing exactly what people wanted to hear.

The prize was $250 at the campus bookstore. Basically a semester's worth of books. With my new friends, the forgotten failures, and the desperation of being broke, I decided to enter. I wrote a fantastic piece of crap about loving ASU because of its diversity. How everyone could be accepted regardless of race, color, or preference. How it was a veritable utopia, an island of perfection in an otherwise imperfect society.

I was not surprised when I received the call that I had won.

When I went to the State Press office to collect my gift card, they asked if they could take a photo to print with my essay. I agreed, thinking it would be one of those blurry, two-inch, black and white pictures that they normally posted with their articles. I smiled for the picture and then went to the bookstore with my $250, not thinking about it again until the next issue came out.

When I flipped to my essay, I didn't even see the words. They were buried somewhere behind the half page of my face. I guess they were short on advertisers and thought my crappy picture was as good as anything else to fill the white space. As I folded the paper and tucked it in my bag, I told myself not to worry about it. No one read the school paper.

But they did. And they read my essay.

First, I received an anonymous hate letter in my campus mailbox. She was offended I had taken in upon myself to speak about diversity when I was a priveledged white kid. I wished she had signed it so I could've told her it was all a load of crap. But sadly, it didn't end with the one letter.

I went to a frat party that weekend and everyone recognized me. "Hey aren't you that girl who wrote that article?" Yes. Yes, I was. In a school of almost 50,000 people where to remain anonymous, all you had to do was keep your head down and go to class, I had effectively given myself a reputation: The snotty white girl who thought she knew everything about being downtrodden.

I figured in a few months, no one would remember it, but I swear to you, up until graduation, at least five or six times a year someone would come up to me and say, "Hey didn't you have your picture in the paper?"

I was, at that time, a "real" writer. I had gotten paid for something I had written. And hated it. It took me quite some time to go back to writing, but now I have no fears. One of my first rejections on my first novel included the line, "There's too much wrong with it to go into detail." I laughed. Was that all she had?

My journey here was long and embarrassing, but I'm grateful for it now. Each step built up my armor. Reject me all you want because one day I'll be accepted. I'll be published, and thankfully, my book won't have enough page space for a full size photo.


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Anonymous said...

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