I started so young. While my grade school friends play school teacher and/or hospital nurse, I imagine myself writer and editor. My fantasy job involves dissecting letters to the editor out of American Girl Magazine, and re-writing the boring bits. My PRETEND years of education and experience lead me to believe I can best any official editor’s work.
I re-write whole pages that in my estimation beg for glorious doses of sharp humor, and often, a slap or two of satirical edging. I must admit that at the time, I am flagrantly under the influence of Dr Seuss, Mother Goose, Little Lulu comics, and Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. (The latter due to my older brother being in total control of selecting us kids’ home library offerings.)
Thankfully, whatever I write then never sees the light of day. But, two great things come out of that period. I receive my first lock-and-key diary as a holiday gift, which sets off a lifelong appetite for journaling; and I get my first paying gig at twelve when entering a writing contest for adults (what do I, a mere youngin’, know about fine print). Like a slew of other entrants far older and wiser, I am to write a commercial for a company that hope to market a new-fangled invention: frozen fish sticks.
(Hard to fathom kids existed lifetimes without such delicacies on the Friday school lunch plate. And like that, in just two jerks of a fishing line, these sticks become an overnight sensation. But I digress.)
Like many inexperienced anglers, I look to write my story from the perspective of a small fish and her aquatic family. First, I scribble dialogue that could be straight out of Leave It to Beaver and the Cleaver family living room. Too dull. So, then I model these fish after my own family members and other bottom-feeders I’ve studied over the long ten years of my life, marrying human quirks and foibles to the fish in question.
Better. Still not a winner. Finally, I garnish every bite of fishly interaction with fun, in a way no grown up could/would. And, now I’m truly getting somewhere. Mostly to the submittal deadline, so ready or not, off it goes.
Weeks and months pass, and I forget about those fish. But low and behold, I win the writing contest. I pocket a check for $50, and my story gets shortened to a snippet featured on local radio-television for six months or so. Suddenly, forsaking nurse- and teacher-play pays off in spades. My dream fires are stoked, and I see the light, fishy though it is. Flying under the radar, with no child labor laws to hold me back, I sprout REAL writer wings.
Fast forward. It’s sixty years later and I’m old enough to warn my kids and grandkids that once I slide off to the other side of the veil between earth and the rest of heaven, they’d be wise to cast away all my possessions, old and used up as they are, and fight over one thing only: my collection of journals—shelf after shelf of them. It is the kitty at the center of the game board I leave behind. I assure the family that one day, generations from now, any pearls showered across those pages will be worth weighty gold. Or just a few bit-coins, depending on the economy at the time. I remind the youngsters that life (and afterlife too, I suppose) always involves a gamble.