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Monday, October 18, 2004
Bedtime looms, but, inspired by LitBlitz's Question of the Day, a quick story about when I realized I wanted to be a writer.
I started to learn English just before my seventh birthday. I will always remember being plunked down in a grade one class, first period, and they hit me with Itsy Bitsy Spider. I was bewildered: I had just learned German and now had to learn another new language. And eye-hand coordination has never been my strength, even though I'm of Romanian gymnast stock.
The teacher kept repeating spider over and over again, as if by mere repetition I would learn this bizarre new English word. I nodded that I understood. I was scared to death. Itsy bitsy I never figured out.
I failed grade one.
Yet, I was of a literary bent and, as my parents believed in the old adage that little children should not be seen and not heard, they would lock me in the car while they went shopping. I can't recall if they left the windows open a crack, but I do remember that my parents always said a good Finnish sauna never hurt anyone.
Trapped in the car for hours, I tried bringing toys to ease the boredom. My hobby was My Little Pony dioramas. Car interiors proved to limit the extent of my dioramas. So I switched to drawing. I needed something to act as a table. Atlases filled this specialty niche.
At some point, I opened the underlying book and discovered that I could read this mysterious script. The road to English took me through Dick and Jane textbooks - I was one of the last of my generation to have learned from this classic tome - as well as obscure bits of grammatical trivia like the sentence that made me cry: "There are ten monkeys in the tree." There were Mr. Men books and C. S. Lewis books by the gallon. Dr. Seuss I never figured out.
Prison time in the mall parking lot turned into a boon offered only to the constipated. I zipped through novel after novel.
Around this period in my life, I began to crave paper. My father found a stack at a flea market for only one dollar. This paper was like antique zigzag computer printout paper, without the holes on the sides and smaller than the standard size. It turned canary yellow if I left it in the sun.
Still, my addiction to paper went unchecked.
We lived in poor neighbourhood, and the other street urchins and I tramped over to the townhouse neighbourhood for the dumpsters. There I found another motherload of paper.
Now I was ready for action. My first story was a comic book starring Trigger the Tiger and Leo the Lion as they search for hot dates in the jungle. There was definitely a goth bat princess in there somewhere. I can't remember her name.
Trigger and Leo went on to many adventures, concluding in their first epic adventure told in full comic book format. Desert Dummies, as I named this Asterix/Tintin copycat, saw Trigger, the stupid one, pull the aristocratic Leo off a Cairo tour bus and into the Sahara. They walk into a Bedouin tent where they shamelessly flirted with the sheik's numerous daughters. This was back when there was no Islam in my universe. The sheik, furious that the two felines took advantage of his generosity, gave chase. Trigger and Leo escaped and had many adventures.
I threw Desert Dummies out at seventeen when I moved.
Short stories by the dozens. Panda bears raiding Chinese hen houses. A series about thirteen sheer evil black cats with names like Deathtrap and Necrophilia. My grade five teacher, Ms. Perry, never corrected my misunderstanding of the latter word.
There were novels in me, too. One dead-end novella about seven young girls who lived in the woods, inside a luxurious stump. Choose-Your-Own-Adventures. The puzzled porn I tried to write at the prodding of my teenage cousin (now a respectable executive). My grade five magnum opus was a forty-pager about marshmallows. Ms. Perry told us we had to write a story about marshmallows and we had the weekend to do it.
By Monday morning I had the story of a young girl succumbing to her marshmallow addiction. My heroine bought the last bag of green - mouldy - marshmallows from the corner store. She wakes up on the peanut butter beach of a deserted island. Wandering into the jungle, she finds a leopard, the stately Jasper, losing a game of poker to three hyaenas. My heroine and Jasper live quite happily until a hyaena invasion takes place. Oddly enough my hyaena villains were guilty of over-developing the once-idyllic island. The story ends when, as Jasper and the heroine are about to be hung for treason, the girl wakes up back in her bed.
That Monday morning, on the school bus, I revealed that my story was forty pages. Minor fame in the playground. After lunch, I knew Ms. Perry couldn't wait to call me up for my story. I was her favourite student - she was very literary and loved my flood of stories. A few tales of the origin of marshmallows and it was my turn. As I walked to the centre of the reading circle, the class said, "Uh oh!"
In elementary school, teasing is a sign of popularity. I smiled to my adoring crowd.
Ms. Perry, on the other hand, flew to protect me.
"You are all so rude!" She yelled at the class. She told them how they must never treat anyone like that again and how they should respect every body's effort in writing because writers are very vulnerable to criticism.
I only got five pages into my story when Ms. Perry stopped me and asked how many more pages I'd written.
I went on to a lacklustre career as a teen angst hobbit poet.
For the next school year, Ms. Perry moved to the Yukon and I transferred to a new school when school boundaries changed.
Ms. Perry wrote me a letter before she left. She told me that, if I keep it up, I'll become a great Canadian writer one day. I keep meaning to write that novel that will make me a great Canadian writer so I can track down Ms. Perry and make her proud.
Damn, the quick story about when I realized I wanted to be a writer turned out to be a long story.
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