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Sometimes I feel like I live in an entirely different world than the one I grew up in. One thing I am greatly thankful for is that there wasn’t the sensitivity to threats of violence or stupid immature outbursts when I was a kid and teen. I think about how common it was when I was a kid to joke about “blowing up the school” when you were mad, or how easily we threw around the “I’m going to kill you!” threat. Of course, we didn’t really mean it, to us, it was just a way to express frustration…but if kid me were to make those comments today in school, I would likely be taken away in handcuffs.
I also think about a stupid reaction I had as a teenager to a betrayal by someone I had a huge crush on. This person I had a crush on had been sort of leading me on and making me think that we might have a future together. We worked together at Burger King, and he was a few years older than me, but probably not much more grown up. When I found out that he had been lying to me and was secretly in a romantic relationship with someone else we worked with, I was SUPER PISSED. Both of these people I worked with had pretty much lied right to my face about their relationship numerous times and one day at work I simply went off.
Everyone else was gossiping about their affair and I was pulled into the conversation. Several knew how I had felt about him and asked if I planned to do anything. Being someone who was viciously angry and has always had a dark sense of humor, I said maybe I should go set their house on fire with them inside. Then I remembered that the girl had a daughter and I corrected myself by saying I would make sure I got the little girl out first. It was a dark joke. Clearly not something I intended to do, just a way to let off steam. I have often thought though that if that were to happen in our world’s current climate, I seriously could have been arrested for making terrorism threats.
It is these memories I revisit when I see stories about kids getting expelled or investigated for making pretend guns out of Pop-Tarts, shouting something in anger, or making pretend shooting motions with their fingers. I think of how stupid and immature I used to be and how I lacked the wisdom to see the potential consequences of a rash, snide comment or playful dark humor. I certainly understand our world’s over-sensitivity to these things today, but I can’t help but think of how naively innocent I once was when I would foolishly spout off without thinking it through.
So I’ve decided to try to post a writing prompt every Saturday. Hopefully I won’t fall off the wagon too many times trying to do so!
Today’s Prompt: What memories from your own childhood would you most like to relive?
My response: I know it sounds corny, but the memories I would most like to relive are just ordinary days filled with happy ordinary moments. Eating cinnamon toast made by my mom while I sit and watch My Little Pony and play with my own pony toy collection (how I wish I had kept those toys!). Playing on the trampoline in our screened in front porch. Watching Nickelodeon back when it was the bomb. Coming home on the last day of school with my backpack full of goodies from the teacher and an entire summer spread out in front of me like a magical adventure. Camping out in my Smurf sleeping bag with my sister, telling scary stories and then being unable to sleep. Family picnics and midnight fishing trips with my dad. Those are the things I miss the most and would love the chance to revisit.
One of my favorite recent art works I created…fitting for how I felt about art back in elementary school.
I almost never became an artist. When I was in elementary school I hated art. I was convinced I was the worst artist in the world and in a report card of all A’s, art was often my only B and once I even got a C. So why was elementary art so awful? Simple, because of my teacher.
I won’t say that my art teacher was a horrible person, she was just not encouraging, at least to me. She often yelled at me because I wanted to “copy” things rather than come up with my own ideas. She thought that we should all just dream up a picture and put it on paper. I couldn’t do that very well. Perhaps because of my Asperger’s Syndrome (which I didn’t know I had at the time). In fact, I still can’t normally create art just from the imagination (with the exception of some abstract work). The way I work is to see something that grabs my eye – a picture, a person, a scene – and then I take that idea and I draw it the way I see it. It always turns out far different than the original idea, but I do need that original seed of an idea to start with.
I remember clearly one time when we were supposed to be freely drawing from our imagination in class. I sat there stumped as usual, with no idea what to draw. Then I looked at a friend next to me who was drawing a picture of two girls on top of the world. I liked the idea, so with my friend’s permission I did my own version of it. When class was over and we turned in our pictures, the girl and I both had to stay after class because the teacher wanted to know who “cheated” off whom. I remember thinking, “Cheated?! Who cheated?”. She scolded us both and told us to never do it again.
This teacher also often commented how I was “not the great artist your older sister is!” One time she even told me that and made me stand in the corner because I wasn’t “trying hard enough”. Craft time was hell too because I didn’t have the best coordination and my crafts often looked a mess. Again, I would either get yelled at or just get a big disappointed sigh. I got the message loud and clear, again and again. I was no good. I had no talent.
So how did I finally rediscover my artistic side? Well, that I owe to another teacher, someone entirely different. When I got to middle school, my art teacher encouraged me. She showed me how to draw certain things if I didn’t know how. She helped me come up with ideas if I was stumped. She told me how good things looked and encouraged me to try new things without yelling at me if they turned out poorly. In her class I never got a B or a C – all A’s. And I’ve enjoyed art ever since.
Today was my first official elementary school author visit. I must admit I was sweating this one big time. I kept worrying that I would get in front of everyone and just bomb it. I am a nervous public speaker anyway, so I was terrified by the thought of getting up in front of people I don’t even know and talking about my new picture book, “Ode to Icky”. Certain thoughts kept whirling around in my head: What if no one likes my book? What if I got up in front of them all and couldn’t think of anything else to say besides “um”? And worst of all, what if I made such a bad impression that they never invited me back?
Now I can say with a big sigh of relief that I was honestly worried for NOTHING!!! The author visit went great today! I spoke to three different classrooms, and all three seemed absolutely enthralled by me and the book. Both teachers and students told me they “loved my book”, and I even overheard one kid going around telling all his friends what an “awesome, funny book” I had written. By the time I left I had kids asking me to autograph their homework, their arms and just about any other surface they could provide! It made me feel like royalty!
By the time it was over I had learned a few things.
1. I underestimated how much kids really love to talk to authors. I thought most kids thought books were kind of boring and would think the same about the authors who write them. Boy was I wrong!
2. Kids ask really funny, amusing questions, but they also occasionally come up with an insight that I didn’t even have about my book. The things they notice are amazing. For instance, I really had never noticed that the illustrator had drawn the characters without tongues, but one kid sure did and wanted to know why they didn’t have tongues.
3. I worry way too much about the small stuff, like making sure I have the perfect pen to sign my books with or wearing just the right outfit. But my audience doesn’t really care too much about those things, they just want some attention from someone that they feel they can look up to. It makes me so proud to know that I am someone they consider worth emulating!
I know many of my fellow authors are also bibliophiles. We not only like to write books, but we love to sift through book bins at thrift stores and garage sales, and you may occasionally even catch us sniffing a book just to get that book lover’s high. When you are an author, it seems you just naturally accumulate books. Not only are books pleasurable and full of fond memories, but they also have helped shape us into the writers that we have become.
As a children’s writer, I think it is no surprise that I collect children’s books. I do collect some new books, especially those written by my favorite authors or those who star beloved characters, but my real treasures are the the antique children’s books that I have rescued and sometimes nursed back to health. My absolute favorites are the ones from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Their innocent prose combined with the old-fashioned illustrations make me feel like I have entered a Norman Rockwell painting.
I do have one literary obsession though that I do wonder about. I am a sucker for literature textbooks, particularly those from the early elementary grades. I have one large bookshelf full of pretty much nothing but textbooks. Luckily, this obsession only applies to literature. I’m not sure where I would find the room if I felt that I had to collect Science, Social Studies, Music, Art and Mathematics textbooks as well.
The only reason I can come up with for why I love these school guides so much is that they make me feel like I’m a little schoolgirl again and that makes me deliriously happy for some strange reason. Am I the only one with this odd fetish? Just curious.