(This picture doesn't have too much to do with writing. Not too much.)
I was in fourth grade when I got my first lesson in what it would be like to be a writer, and in some sick way, I loved it. It started when the meanest fourth grade teacher ever gave us a writing assignment. I’m not sure if the assignment was specifically to write a story or not, but I wrote one and it was awesome. Reading the story aloud to the class, I felt like a king. And then I cried like a little girl.
This teacher’s first name was Maxine and we knew it because she had vanity plates on her Cadillac that said, “MAXX.” I’m not sure how old she was, but picture a middle-aged, gray-haired, real estate lady. Hair, makeup, and all that nasty perfume.
My story was simple. A boy who was a thinly disguised version of myself—nothing has changed—was walking through the woods with his trusty collie. Pretty soon they found a cave. The boy and his dog loved caves, and the dog got so excited that he took a steaming poop right there. They scrambled up this shaley incline to the mouth of the cave. A chilling wind (or other foreshadowing scariness) came out of the cave. Of course the boy charged straight into the cave, not heeding the warning of the cave wind—again, nothing has changed. The dog was a little more apprehensive, but like always, he followed the boy.
They’d been in the cave for few minutes, going deeper and looking for arrowheads and shit, when they heard this terrible, screechy laugh-scream that somehow had a really shitty, old lady, Texas accent. And the smell of old lady perfume. And maybe some Aqua Net.
I was reading the story in front of the class and at this point, some of the smarter kids were starting to see where I was going. The rest of the kids seemed to be enjoying my story, whether or not they’d caught on yet. My little ten-year-old self was thinking, Hell yeah, I could get used to all this attention. They’re laughing at the right spots. They are all paying attention. They love it. THEY LOVE ME!!!
I continued reading: “Holy crap! What was that noise?” the boy said. His dog scooted behind the boy and cowered. Then they heard a flapping noise, like sheets hung on lines to dry in gusty wind. Bat wings. The evil old bat flew into view from the back of the cave. Just in case the dumber kids didn’t get it, I described the bat as having silver hair on her head that looked like a mushroom cloud. I described the old lady perfume again.
The old bat said, “I am Maxx, the meanest old bat in the land, and you and your stupid dog are doomed to write lines on the cave wall for eternity.”
Everyone in my class knew that I never got recess because I was always writing one hundred lines of something on the board. A hundred lines of “I will not roll my eyes.” A hundred lines of “I won’t talk in class.” A hundred lines of “I’m a dumbass, shitty student.” Whatever. You might think I was not a good or well-behaved student, but I’d never been in trouble for anything before that year, and at the time, I didn’t know what the fuck rolling your eyes meant. I definitely wasn’t the kind of kid to do it…mostly.
Anyway, as soon as I got that line out about the old bat Maxx making me write lines, the actual Maxx got up and charged me. The kids were still laughing and I was in the strange limbo between elation and terror. Nothing has changed. She snatched my story out of my hand and ripped it into a thousand pieces. (Remember, there were no PCs or flash drives back, so getting my story shredded seriously sucked.) Then it got ugly and I blacked out. I don’t remember what she said at all, except that it was mean as fuck and I was crying. I remember walking to the principal’s office and my dad coming to get me. I remember that he wasn’t mad. Maybe a little proud. He bought me ice cream and told me I could ride my bike the rest of the afternoon. He said I didn’t have to do my homework that night. He knew the story. He knew both of the stories.
Now that I’ve written this down, I am sure that that was the moment I became a writer. It was so traumatic that I’m pretty sure I didn’t write another story until high school.
* * *
At sixteen, the writing really got going. I was sure I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore and it didn’t matter if I could never yell, “DID YOU ORDER THE CODE RED?” in a courtroom. My creative writing teacher was really cool. Our first conversation went like this: “Um, Mrs. White, can I…um…you know…use cuss words and stuff in my story?”
“You can write whatever is true to the characters and the story, honey.” I love it when older women call me honey, and I was so excited about saying "fuck" a million times in front of my class that I could barely stand it.
“What about sexual stuff?”
"Try not to make it too pornographic, but the same rule applies. Be true to the characters and the story.”
My stories were all first-person-narrated by this guy named Sinjin. Sinjin was, of course, I thinly veiled version of me. He drove a 1985 Buick Regal Somerset, which he bragged about constantly. I was making a joke about my shitty car, but I’m sure some people actually thought I was bragging. This hasn’t changed either. Anyway, Sinjin would usually start off doing stuff that I would be doing in real life, and then crazy shit would ensue. Sinjin would be hanging out at home, playing his guitar, or jacking off, or whatever when he would get a call from a particularly hot lady from church. She was in her mid-thirties and recently divorced. She would tell me—I mean Sinjin—all about the divorce on the phone and then ask if he could mow her lawn or clean her pool or fix the toilet. That part had actually happened. Then I—Sinjin would go over to her house in his pimp Buick and start to mow the lawn. After a few minutes she would come out with lemonade or a coke or something and start talking to him about her ex-husband. How he left her for another woman. How he never paid attention to her and never told her she was pretty. Sinjin would tell her that she was very pretty and that he couldn’t believe that guy was such a retard. Sinjin may or may not get a boner and she may or may not notice. Sinjin may or may not awkwardly put his hand on her forearm or shoulder. Most likely after that, she would show him her titties or change into a bikini and lay out by the pool. Sinjin would finish the lawn, drive home listening to Alice In Chains, and beat off. My imagination would only let me go so far in those days.
Since then, it has been some twisted version of fourth grade and junior year in high school. I write half-true stories. (Sometimes I do crazy-ass shit just to have something to write about.) I read them in front of people. The people laugh. I feel great, and then for some reason, I go home crying. And all of it usually has to do with girls.
I couldn’t stop being a writer if I tried.