During my childhood and in the early stages of my adolescence, my mother recalled a phrase that will never leave my mind. Whenever I felt lost or frustrated, she would bring forth these words, her voice firm with conviction: Put the drama on the page. I swear by it now, though at the time it left me scowling. How could my vexation be softened simply by setting pen to paper?
In grade one, I wrote my first proper story, one with a plot, a host of characters, and a climax. On the top shelf of my cupboard at home, that story sits, accompanied by two crayoned witches on broomsticks. When I realised what I could do with a pen, I was delighted. I devoured books; with my newfound ability, books let me in on their secrets, and I learned that I too could create stories. I could share experiences and thoughts and question the world, all without saying a word. For the first year or so, my hand refused to stick to the margin as I wrote. The words edged a little closer to the right side of the page with each new line, transforming each story into a tornado of grey lead and thought.
Writing is my secret weapon. At school, each new year welcomed a fresh wave of anxiety; I mumbled and stammered my way through presentations and class discussions. Yet once finding the opportunity to place pen to paper, letters joined forces to create pieces that lit up my teachers’ eyes, which then fixed on me with approving curiosity. The more I read, the more ways I learnt to put the drama on the page. I heard writers’ voices in their characters – I laughed out loud at Holden Caulfield‘s cynicism, explored the mathematical mind of Christopher Boone, cried for Lennie Walker. Books assured me that being silent doesn’t mean you can’t be heard.
Speech is intimidating. You cannot approach a person the way you would a page. There is little time to gaze at them, head cocked to one side as you arrange your ideas, trace and retrace your verbal steps. You cannot hammer your finger onto the backspace key, moulding and packaging sentences until they’re ready for sharing. Shyness hides in my throat. It clings to my voice with cold, clammy hands and my words tumble out as they fight against it, an internal battle that chooses Um as the leader and allows I don’t know to end the procession.
Nearing the end of grade one, I told my teacher that when I grew up I wanted to be an author. I still marvel at the confidence that coursed through me as I shared my vision with her. At age seven I only knew and loved children’s fiction, and the term writer seemed far flimsier than the established title of author. I now know that I do not have to publish a book to satisfy the dreams of that quiet kid. Simply, I must write.
Photo credit: Guinevere Shapiro