Friday, June 10, 2011

I was an infant author

In some ways I am now an authoring toddler, but what I mean by infant author is that in the stories we tell in my family, I see that from even before I could write, I couldn't not write. That may sound weird, but hey, let me tell you a story.

I have very few memories from my early childhood. Interestingly, recent work on memory shows that before the age of 3 or so (depending on the child) the brain has not formed enough memory of memory to start keeping memory. I love this fact. My first actual memory is from when I was two years and nine months old. How do I know? It was the day my baby sister was born. Here's my version of the story:

My mother was being taken away in a BIG red and white car that made noise. I was holding on to her leg as they tried to get her in the car. She was fat. My auntie was trying to help them take my mother away. She grabbed me around the waist and called my name over and over and said other things. And then she pulled me off my mom's leg. So I swung around and punched her to make her let go of me. When she did I had to run after the car, but it was gone.

Here's the version I've been told and that has been (re)told all my life:

My mother went into labor while my father was at work, which apparently is how all the birth stories in my family start. She was having her fourth, was an RN, was unfazed, until she realized that it was happening faster than she was expecting. She called an ambulance. The nearest hospital was about 45 minutes at 1970s ambulance speeds. She took us next door to our auntie--her best friend. And we all waited for the ambulance. When it came my mother hugged each of us in turn, but I refused to let go. I had to  be forcibly removed by my auntie who was trying to calm me and promise my mother would return. As the ambulance pulled away, I punched her in the face and started running after it, crying and begging to be allowed to go along.

I knew this story. But even before this story, according to my mother, I was drawn to the written word. I refused to play with baby toys. I chewed on magazines and flipped through them instead. We had games and blocks and things of the like, but my favorite were the punch cards my father brought from work (for the young'uns out there, that's something they used to program computers back when computers took up entire buildings). I would take these and either draw on them or, more likely, pretend to write on them. My pretend writing took up interesting (I am told) forms. My mother would ask what I had drawn, I would insist I had drawn nothing and then tell her the story I'd "written."

When we moved to the US, I pretended to write by scribbling eternally connected loops of different sizes on notebook paper, bringing it to my mother and asking what I had written.

When I finally learned to write I spent hours practicing my words. I also wrote short stories (one paragraph a piece) for my mom. She has one about a tooth named Honey who goes to Hawaii. I'm not sure why Hawaii, but I remember being very intentional about naming the tooth Honey. I felt it was funny. I would now term it Ironic, but hey, I was 7.

In my 6th grade year, a woman who should never have been allowed to teach--and whom I would have nominated for sterilization if possible--took a book report I had written (I wrote it in the style of a New York Times book review because I was bored with summary), had me read it to the class, and then announced as I stood before them that it was the perfect example of how not to write a book report. EVER. This particular teacher hated my whole family through several years of her career. I stopped voluntarily writing for about 6 years.

In high school I was blessed with Mrs. Fields, whom I talked about in my teacher appreciation post, and who made me want to write again. I became an obsessive journalist (in the non-press meaning of the term). I also starting writing stories again.

My high school graduation came around the time of the Supreme Court decision banning prayer in high school graduations. The fight was raging in the local paper. My father, who had been giving me topics to write polemic essays on each week for at least two years, asked me to respond to a "letter to the editor." The Niagara Gazette is a Gannett publication, meaning (both then and now) that most "letters to the editor" were excerpted to about three sentences (if not three words). It was all I expected, but I poured the essay practice my father had been giving me into this one piece. It got published in full--with a guest editor byline. I still have a laminated copy.

In college, when bored and unable to think of a story, I would sit at the typewriter at work (yes, a typewriter) and practice by typing out the lyrics to my favorite songs, parsing them, finding ways to recombine them. I wrote because the physical urge would not be quelled otherwise.

My writing history from that point is unnecessary here. I am a writer. I was, apparently, born one. A writer from infancy. In fancy. I write because writing is stronger than the jones for a cigarette, or the next hit of heroin. It's my next hit of heroine--and I have to have it.

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