The Write Stuff

I have a lot of stories about why I became a writer, like one involving my encouraging second grade teacher, and one from when I got called to the counselor’s office in seventh grade. Guess which one I’m going to tell you?

I used to write awesome crap-poetry all of the time. I’d show my poems to my junior high cafeteria posse, and they seemed to really like passing them around while we talked about our feelings or whatever. I was really shy, but those friends were part of the select tribe of people who knew that I was funny, so when no one else was around I’d tell them jokes and they’d laugh. They asked me to write a short story about them, so I did.

In the story I made all of my friends superheroes, and based their powers on inside jokes or things that they had done… like one time at a slumber party, Michelle jumped down an entire flight of stairs without hurting herself, so her power was that she could jump from buildings and squish people. Christina did karate, so she could kick. Liz could eat an entire army and their weapons (this one is not a huge stretch because Liz has the most superhuman metabolism I’ve ever seen).

But here’s the thing: we needed an enemy.

Our friend Kelly had recently befriended this girl named Brianne. We all thought Brianne, sucked so we were against this from the beginning. But like a lot of junior high girl who discover new friends, she started copying off of Brianne. Her clothes, her attitude, everything – she had turned into a clone. As you all know, “copying” is the cardinal sin of junior high girls so we were absolutely livid about this development.

Brianne had created a monster, so I figured this was the perfect antagonist for my story – I made Brianne a mad scientist (named “Dr. Brianne”), who built a giant robot (named “Kelly”) to aid her in an evil quest to steal all of our boyfriends.

The final battle involved Liz eating a bunch of lunches (again, the euge) and we used the trays to build a giant flight of stairs for Michelle to jump off and squish the robot. I guess you kind of had to be at the slumber party to understand, but that jump was incredible. She went on to become a varsity cheerleader. Anyway…

My big mistake, I think, was that I kept their original names. That and I gave the enemies a bunch of horrible attributes, like acne and a clubfoot or something Twelve like that.

I passed it out to all of my friends. They laughed. They cried. They cried laughing. Then they passed it around to all of their friends.

Then THEY passed it out to all of THEIR friends. And so on and so on, until one day someone passed it to Kelly.

Next thing you know, I’m sitting in Social Studies and my name gets called over the intercom, demanding that I report to the counselor’s office ASAP.

Kelly was really upset about the story, and to be honest looking back I feel like a dick because Kelly is really awesome when she isn’t being Brianne. But at the time, I think I just felt misunderstood because I really hadn’t intended for her to be the target. I squirmed and glared and daydreamed for an hour, while we discussed friendship and tolerance and appropriate topics to write about.

At the end of the meeting, Kelly and I hugged and did some fake “call me” stuff, and the counselor opened the door for us to leave. Kelly cast me a glare and headed back to class, but just as I was leaving the counselor grabbed me and pulled me back into the room.

“You know,” she said, checking outside the door to make sure no one could hear, “you shouldn’t use real names when you write stories like this. It can get you in trouble.”

“But,” she continued, with twinkling eyes and a secretive smile, holding my story between us, “This is really, really good.”

I looked at her suspiciously, wondering why she was telling me this… we had, after all, made so much “progress” just moments ago.

“I mean, the dialogue is smart, the story is interesting and original, and… and it’s funny. It’s really funny! Are these your friends?” She asked, pointing to my detailed illustrations.

I nodded.

She laughed, clapped her hand over her mouth, then handed my masterpiece back to me. “Well, it’s okay to write about your friends if it’s something nice and fun… and I want you to keep writing, okay? Promise you’ll keep writing? Just… be a little more careful about what it is and who sees it from now on.”

I’m sure a lot of people have felt the same way I did when I realized that I had that kind of power: I had spent so many years in an inhibited state that this response was thrilling and a little scary, like the first time you say “fuck” when you’re a kid and everyone around you gasps. It just makes you want to do it again, only louder.

I left her office with my head held a little higher. I walked down the hall with a brand new swagger, clutching my work in my hand a little harder than I used to.

I was GOOD. I was INTERESTING. And, most importantly, I was CONTROVERSIAL.

That conversation inspired me to sign up for eighth grade journalism… I ended up becoming the feature editor of the school paper. Later, our teacher handpicked me to be the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine. Out of everything I accomplished during those years of my life, the lit magazine is what I’m most proud of.

I did write a sequel to the story with fake names, but it totally blew. Isn’t that always the case?

I suppose that was my first real lesson about writing… and here I am today, writing for a living and writing for fun, and getting louder and louder every time.

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