In a class full 30 fidgety, morphing 11-year-olds Ms. Gagliardo instructed us to begin breaking our classroom into about 5 groups. She chose the groupings regionally so that folks sitting near each other could just turn their desks inward to their circle rather than be unseated and move to someone else’s desk. “Okay – go!” sounding the begining of the dragging and shifting of desks into 5 distinct circles. The honk of the desk legs against the linoleum, the giggling, the brief conversation and shuffling of papers came to a halt with her 3 ruler taps on the desk. “Alright… settle down class.” We all refocused our energies to the front of the room, some of us turning in our seats, others craning their necks to hear what our assignment was. “Your task with your group is to write a short story. You each have to participate in writing it. You all must be characters in your stories. This is a group effort and everyone should want to be involved. It can be on any subject at all as long as it meets the requirements. She passed out a listing of the standards we were to follow. X amount of pages, on looseleaf paper, written legibly, a cover page, etcetera. I looked around at my group. I wasn’t going to get along well with them. Mostly the popular kids. And I was still very much a loner / nerd / black girl in a school full of whites and latinx. No one seemed interested in the assignment. But I sat there brimming with ideas. “I have a few suggestions,” I peeped. No one heard or acknowledged. “Why don’t we all try writing a page or two tonight and come back tomorrow and see what we came up with and get behind the best idea?” They glanced over at me and it was met with shrugs and the over all “ion’tcare” attitude like “yeah, we’ll do that.” Great.
I got home that afternoon, ate my dinner, completed my chores and tutored my tutee from the neighborhood who was in the 3rd grade. Then sat silently at the dining room table with a fresh pack of blue lined looseleaf, brand new blue Bic Cristal rollerball pen and my thoughts. Daddy was out with his friends, Mom was at work. Grandma was in the kitchen and Dominic was in our room. This should be just enough for me to get what I really need – silence and opportunity. I uncapped the pen and pulled 4 sheets of looseleaf out from the pack. I never liked writing on a single sheet laying flat against the desk. Something about the feeling of pressing against the other sheets underneath made the writing experience real for me. It was making a literal impression and it felt complete. There was this electricity that flowed through me. An intensity I’d never felt before coursing through my fingertips and the front of my brain… I just wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote until something interrupted me. Even then, through the lens of my memory – I recall looking up and looking through that person. Hazy blue fluorescent light interrupted by their presence. A muffled request they were making. My semi-dismissal and/ or agreement and then returning to the clarity of the page in front of me. Keeping in mind the regulations sheet the teacher had handed out, I wrote feverishly until the alarm was sounded that it was time to wash up for bed.
I quickly reviewed what I’d written. A murder mystery. Each of my group members were characters in the story and I made myself the unsuspecting heroine. But it was only part one. I could feel I hadn’t birthed all of this story yet. There was so much more I needed to get onto paper. 32 pages from my 11-year-old brain that wasn’t anywhere NEAR wanting to go to sleep. But there was no combating orders given. I stayed up in bed for an additional hour talking to my brother across the room about the excitement I felt. He sympathized and talked about how he loved telling a good story. Gave me a few pointers on mine and we drifted off to sleep.
I arrived to class the next day overly excited to see what everyone else had written and to share my writings as well. We pulled our desks into the circle and I waited. I didn’t want to seem too eager. “Okay – let’s see what everyone wrote!” I said with controlled excitement. No one had anything. More shrugs. More I-got-nothins. More apathy. I pushed past it. “Well, I wrote a little something – I know we only said one page, but I tried to get as much of the writing out as I could. I passed around the written-wrinkled stapled packet of my thoughts to the group. Sometimes two would flip through the pages together. Jose (my wild crush at the time) looked up at one point and said: “You wrote all this last night?” I nodded. “This is cool. I like it.” Well, that sent me over the moon in more ways than one. Then the general consensus was that I should keep writing and the group take the credit for it. WHILE – I – HATED that philosophy – this time, I didn’t care. I just wanted the chance to write some more and get the thoughts out to completion.
A week or so later “Murder At The Hilton” – a 4 part mystery series was borne of my writings. I’d drawn different covers for each “part”, edited for clarity and comprehension and truly basked in the overwhelming sensation of pride that surged through me as I presented my… I mean… our story. It got an A+ for the group. And that feeling never left me.
I went on to keep writing for what seemed like fun. Not so short stories in High School about first loves and love lost, in college establishing my journal of regular thoughts in black and white marble notebooks – “Volumes from the School of Hard Knocks”. Then finally with the revolution of technology, I could journal from anywhere. Blogging became my four-sheets-of-looseleaf-and-bic-rollerball-pen-pressure joy. It was a sweet release – an uncluttering of my mind full of words and thoughts that would just scramble about in my brain until I gave them freedom onto the page. Then there was space for more and new thinking. It remains true today. Obvs.
All along, folks have been saying – “Girl you need to write something! Your writing is amazing!” And I’d take it with a grain of salt. I’m not sure why I never wanted to believe them too much. Maybe it’s because I’ve read other authors bring subjects to life in a way I could never think was possible for me to accomplish.
“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” – Iyanla Vanzant
I remained abusive to my talents. Keeping them for only me to enjoy – maybe the occasional browser who would read my blog.
Lately, as a result of the horrors at fifteen forty, I have been reassessing my passions. Yes, coding and building working sites was a great passion once. Less now. Designing something beautiful that elicited reactions from observers – also a great passion once. Less now. But writing. It’s always been one of my first loves. My go-to when I’m sad, happy, tired, encumbered. In the last few months, I’ve gotten validation from people I NEVER thought would tell me my writing was “good,” even. But I’ve heard words from them recently like “incredible” “transformative” “engaging”. Me? My writing? Did all that to you?
Yeah. Yup. Cause it does it to me regularly. Why not? My favorite piece of praise from an author I admire:
“Real talk. You have a gift. I’m reading this super acclaimed fiction book called Homecoming and the author has NOTHING on your storytelling skills. Your posts read like a cross between family movies and poetry. I’m already best friends in my head with your younger self, Nell Carter, Darrius and Kevin Forbes because you bring them to life like characters in a favorite book that gets made into a movie that’s actually almost as good. For real.”
Okay, Multi-verse. I hear you. Not sure why that day in 2016 where you woke me out of sleep screaming “WRITE!!!!!!! WRITE!!!!!” nonstop in the most harrowing voice for what seemed like hours wasn’t the wake up call enough. I sat there shaking for an hour…but I still didn’t know where to start. (God – I can still hear it screaming and it brings tears to my eyes.) Something about hearing my husband last week, sorting through his feelings about us and all we’d been through then saying to me… “Yeah… there were pictures and video… but it was your WRITING that left the indelible mark on my brain. I read through everything and I was there. Living it. Experiencing it. I couldn’t get away from your words.” That… shifted something unexpected in me.
Maybe it doesn’t matter what I write about … as long as I begin.
Wish me luck.