On Books, and How I learned to Hate Myself

September 15, 2020

In elementary school, I was in a special program for gifted kids – a group of adorable little nerds who were much more inclined to read the encyclopedia than play street football after class. We met every other week with an advisor to work on fun projects that would challenge us outside of the normal, boring curriculum (a word I knew how to spell at age eight, hence my presence in this little cabal). The final project of school year was my favorite. Each student was to write and illustrate their own original story, and then bind it all together in a handmade book. The project was to happen in three phases: Story first, then illustrations, and we’d design the cover and bind it all with twine.

I thought I had just been given the powers of a god. MAKE my own BOOK?! Typically I would wait until a few days before the next group meeting to start working on an assignment, but this time I wanted to get to work right away. For the next two evenings, I toiled over my literary debut – the story of a town mischief maker that would put slime in everyone’s shoes as they slept. My pencil raced, spilling out the first and last draft of my novella upon the special blue-green stationery I picked out for the finished project. I knew this one wouldn’t need a rewrite.

At the end of the story, I didn’t know if I wanted my character to have learned his lesson or change his ways, so I asked my mom to help me. This seemed like the perfect plan. My mother – like your mother, I’m sure – is a freaking genius. She could fix cuts, make all my favorite foods, drive a car, and tell my big sister do stuff. If anyone was going to help me with my writer’s block, it was this lady. She had the juice.

On the night before the first draft was due, I sat down with my mother at the kitchen table after dinner. I slid my story across the table to her, then rested my chin on my hands, waiting to hear what she had to say.

She looked at me and said, “Go get your notebook. We need to fix this.”

I did what I was told. When I sat back down at the table, she told me story about a little boy that crept into everyone’s bedrooms and turned their clocks back one hour, as a practical joke. The townspeople woke up and, instead of being cranky, were happy to be up early, get lots of work done and spend more time together, so they decided to do it every year.

Yep. It was the rousing origin story of Daylight Savings Time. She told me to write down every word of it, put my name at the top of the paper, and turn it in the next day. I did.

The following week I wrote my second final draft on some fresh sheets of my favorite blue-green paper. A month later the story was picked as one of the best in the district, and my mom dropped me off at a big room at the convention center to display it with other books from across the state.

I told my mom I was so happy that she helped me. I told myself that I wasn’t good enough.

For about 30 years.

When I think about my journey, I often wonder where that I might be if maybe, at some critical stops along the way, I was taught instead of fixed.

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