Saturday, September 30, 2006

Words

When I was in third grade we had an in-class poetry contest. I had written mine in about five seconds when my friend Jennifer said, "Amy, you are suuuch a good writer. Can you do a poem for me?" Always wanting to please a friend, I agreed. And it was about gum. And in the end of course, she won the contest. By parents were pissed.

Years later when my sister was in school she had to write an essay about time. I wrote it for her, a hundred stretched out metaphors about time wasting and it's all about timing. She got an A, and her teacher made a big fuss in red loopy letters on the top of the page.

Later in elementary school, I was unfortunate enough to attend a school where classes were tracked in three levels. They were not called "A, B and C" but they should have been. And you were placed in a class based on your lowest common denominator, meaning, if you sucked at math, then you were in the C group for math, and english and history. This did not bode well for the English brains who could not add. I was placed in a remedial English of sorts, which I remember as taking place in the basement of the school like a dungeon for kids who did not know how to spell, who rarely talked in class and instead sat in corners doodling. Mrs. Fleisher - the sweet middle aged type who had endless patience but who clearly wished she was in an AP class somewhere - would test us in vocabulary and for extra credit said we could try to use one of the words in a sentence. Instead, I wove an intricate story of god knows what, using all of the words. She passed the paper back to me the next day and had written, "You're terrific." That always stayed with me, that she had chosen to write "You're terrific" instead of "This is terrific", the first of many times that I believed my penchant for the pen would make me somehow special.

On the inside, I kept a diary frenetically as a child, recording everything from first crushes to deaths of grandparents, all in hot pink, behind locks that I never kept closed. When I ran out of space I used speckled composition books which I should have been filling with homework. I'd write pages and pages of story, usually starring an idealized version of myself named Jessica or Nicolette who always wore a side ponytail, had a dressing table and was allowed to wear eyeliner. These are the things I coveted in the 80s.

On the outside, I fought hard for writer's recognition. I sobbed in the vice president's office in high school when I was not chosen as a yearbook editor, once again burned by our highschool's tracking system where only those in the A classes were considered. I took an advanced honors English class my first semester freshman year in college, only to buckle under the pressure of Shakespeare and my professor's demands that we memorize passages and recite them alone in his office. A boyfriend, upon reading one of my poems had said to a mutual friend, "She's really good", but in the end my strategically woven allusions to love freaked him out.

I used writing for good and for evil. I wrote the perfect birthday card, but could also create a perfectly searing critcism when wronged by a friend. I got away with style over substance on more than one occassion when it came to my term papers. As a young adult, I edited the hell out of break up emails and small public speeches and resignation letters for multitudes of friends. When someone says "Can you look at this for me?", my chest swells with pride.

Once in a while, I scored. My college essay. My sister's wedding speech. Emails to my now husband. All perfectly penned and successful in their intent. Still, I craved further proof that I had something. Enthralled by "Felicity", and having heard that he hired a young writer, I sent J.J. Abrams some pieces that I cringe to think about now, begging him to hire me. Still he left a message for me, telling me I was great. I saved it for years, re-playing what I am sure was condescension that I somehow missed. I got a few things published in major papers - stories that mattered, like my grandmother's death. But I wanted more. I still want more.

In my current job, my boss hates my writing. This is the first time I have experienced this - rejection of the source of my most fundamental pride. I have tried to write as she wants me to for the sake of keeping her happy, but can not muster the fragmented sentences, the bold insinuations, the abandonment of grammar, the artificial affections. It feels sloppy and saccharine and not at all me.

It is hard to exist in a space where you are not doing what you most want to be doing, and where the only talents you dared to believe about yourself are dismissed. I am thankful for my friends, for Gail and Elise and Leslie and others who think I have what it takes. My parents, of course, but they kind of have to say so. Regardless, it's because of them, I continue to hold on to the belief that my words are worth remembering.

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