I was in fifth grade when I was first able to write down a story. I’d only been able to read for two years before this, so it is remarkable that I was even able to write. When I was in first grade (there was no Kindergarten or pre-school) reading was a nightmare which I dreaded. Second grade was no easier. There were a lot of letters and words that looked the same, or similar (b – d, q – p; no – on, saw – was, bed – bad, etc.), and the period didn’t exist (for a time, I even drew little stop signs on the periods, so I would see them and stop reading). The squiggly lines on the page made no sense.
After second grade, due to an aunt of mine, I walked a mile down the empty country road to the home of a ritured school teacher where she taught me phonics one on one. At first, I thought she was crazy, but she was nice, I was the only one there, and I learned that certain squiggles represented certain sounds and when I could match the squiggles and sounds – I was able to read! It was magic! That experience opened the world to me.
By fifth grade I had enough practice that I enjoyed reading and I had discovered that books could take me away from my abusive home life. That school year I read fifty books. There was a college sponsored reading program that was promoted. If you read twenty-five books, you could get a certificate with a gold star. Because I read fifty, I logically thought I should get two. Nope. I never understood why not. I had read twice as many books, I should get two stars.
This fifth grade story was not the first story I had created, though. That probably happened when I was three. I was the first of my generation on both sides of my family, so when I was little there was no one to play with. My sister was born when I was two, but it would take a while before she would be able to play with me. She is not in this memory, so I don’t think she was able to play yet, or not yet born.
One significant memory I have is very probably from time before she was born. There was no one to play with and my mother sent me away from her. She wanted to read the newspaper instead of interact with me. I knew the words of newspapers made stories. I decided then that I wanted to write stories so I would be important too. I was very lonely.
The first story came about when my father’s family had gathered for Sunday dinner at his parent’s. This was very common during my childhood. Dinner was over so I had a full tummy. With no one to play with, I went down to the basement. My grandparents had a bed down there where they slept in winter to be close to the heat of the wood burning furnace. In winter, they shut off the upstairs of the house and didn’t even try to heat it. Heating the house took a lot of wood, and with less wood to cut, Granpa could spent time doing other, more constructive things.
My Granparents had helped some friends of the famly move from their home in nearby Topeka to Colorado. Some of the less important stuff was stored in my grandparent’s basement. Some of that included comic books. I could not read, but I could look at pictures and follow the stories. My favorite comic consisted of characters who were bugs and lived in human castoffs. A house was an upturned, broken coffee cup, etc. I was looking at this comic when I fell asleep.
While asleep, I dreamed. The dream was about the bug characters. When I woke up, I wanted the dream story to continue. When I realized that would not just “happen,” I decided to make it happen. I continued the dream story consciously in my mind. That was the first story I created. When I tired of that story, I began another which had no connection to the comic.
I continued making these stories as I went to sleep every night until, probably, I left home for college. As with many things, I don’t remember when I stopt. For many years, after my sister was big enough to be a companion, I would tell her a story at night too, until she fell asleep. Her story was a different one from the one I was telling to myself. I kept track of two, unrelated stories, at the same time for ten years or so, until I moved to a separate bedroom.
In fifth grade, I somehow came into possession of a small, spiral notebook; one that fit into my shirt pocket. During several recesses, I wrote my story. I still have it. I was so excited to finally write a story down. At home I was forbidden to write. My role there was to do whatever work my mother didn’t want to do. This began when I was two and a half and she demanded that I give my baby sister her bottle. That was a struggle in itself at that age. This was continually added to so that by 13 I was put in charge of the house, my two younger brothers, meals for us and our father, the chickens, the large vegetable gardens, plus various dogs and cats, while mom attended summer school out of town. When she returned, dad put me on a tractor to farm with him – and it’s not possible to write while you’re driving a tractor! I tried!!
This fifth grade story was about myself being king of an island and being the boss, ordering the other inhabitants around. Years later, when I read it, I sadly realized how much it reflected the abuse I was receiving.
I wasn’t able to write down another story until eighth grade. After fifth grade there was no more recess time, so no more time to write. I don’t know how I managed to steal time in eighth grade, but I did. The story was based on a vocabulary story in our spelling book. In that story, two boys find an old, vacant house. I was so excited, I wanted to know more. That was also the setting of my story, but my story was longer and the boys actually went inside the house. I think I described what they found there. I gave it to my teacher, hoping for an encouraging word. He never mentioned it, and I never saw that story again. That hurt.
In high school, I began to scrape bits of time here and there and wrote my first poems. I think it was my junior year when I showed one to a teacher. She was so impressed, she gave me an extremely high grade and returned it. I never expected a grade, I just wanted to show someone I was intelligent and could create something original.
Enrolling for my senior year, the publications teacher, who had also taught English classes (one I had been in), nearly begged me to enroll in the journalism class to write the school newsletter, but I had no confidence and could not see myself in that position. Only popular students had that kind of role in school, and that was certainly not me.
We had a drama class that year, which I took. For our final project I wrote a play making use of the sets already on hand backstage, imagining specific students for specific parts. There was no dialogue, but a Greek chorus recited poetry to describe the action. The teacher wanted to produce it, but again, I had no confidence and could not accept the idea. We were to pick up our final projects the Monday after school was out, but I was not able to do that, and I never saw the script again. I have no idea what grade was on it.
That year, the journalism class decided to produce a literary “magazine.” A friend of mine was in the class, so I submitted four poems. Two were accepted and published. I was astonished. A few students who rode the bus with me actually congratulated me. That was unbelievable. I still have my copy of that little publication. Decades later, when we re-connected, I was able to tell that friend how much that acceptance meant to me. She had no idea, but was glad.
In college, more of my poems were published in the school literary journals and a few notices of events were published in college and town newspapers. Since then, my work has been published in many English speaking countries, even before the internet, as well as some other languages in other countries. I have also been quoted and cited. My work has appeared in over fifty anthologies and more than a hundred other places, in print and online. Now, any search on the internet for my name (with and without my middle initial) will produce lots of stuff. It still amazes me. For this seemingly impossible result, my unending gratitude goes to the aunt who suggested the tutoring and Hattie Warner, the retired teacher who took her time that summer to teach me. Together, they gave me a life.
I have lately become comfortable to state, in my author biographies, that I’ve accomplished all this in spite of my abusive childhood embellished by dyslexia/ADHD/cyclothymia/PTSD and an anxiety disorder (I panic very well, and easily). But, I can write – as you have just read!