The Beginning

1. I decided to celebrate my 10th birthday by writing a screenplay starring my friends, which my mother would direct and film. I remember her seriousness in managing my project as she silenced our giggles with, "Quiet on the set! Action!" The screenplay was called "Princess Elizabeth IV's New Life." I did not cast myself as the princess; taking on two minor parts as maid and gypsy was more my style. The next year, I wrote the sequel. This burst of creativity may have been inspired by the release of the film adaptation Little Women and My Girl 2 in 1994. I loved the image of Jo scribbling away in the attic, the wax dripping down the candle, her only light; and Vada flying to California to write an investigative piece about the mother she never knew. Jo March and Vada Sultenfuss wanted to grow up to become writers, and so did I. 

2. I had my first anxiety attack when I was 11. I was sitting in a dark classroom with my fellow sixth-graders as we watched a VHS tape (or was it a laser disk?) explaining the Big Bang Theory. I saw the blue and green Earth spinning on the screen, surrounded by a vast universe, and my heart clenched. The image suggested to me the idea of eternal loneliness, which I equated with eternal nothingness. I imagined my body dead, my spirit floating out in space, alone, and I began to cry. My teacher quietly asked if I was alright. I nodded yes, and the feeling passed. But it arose again at home in the middle of a hectic evening. My mom sat down with me on the couch and asked me what was wrong. I tried my best to explain to her in my small words my fear of mortality and the eternal loss of the people I loved. She told me to wait a moment and returned with a book in her hands. She turned to the last page and read aloud. They were the words C.S. Lewis chose to end The Chronicles of Narnia. From my perspective as a child, Lewis's promise that the story continues somehow was all the comfort I needed. As an adult, what stays with me about this experience is that my mother, a school librarian, helped me in that moment of fear with the greatest tool at her disposal: a book. The warmth and comfort I felt from words was palpable. 

3. When my father was incarcerated the following year and sentenced to 20 years, my writing outside of school assignments became mostly epistolary. I'd been pen pals with cousins and friends, but with the rise of the internet age, their handwritten notes written in glitter ink and folded into tight squares fell away and only my father's sprawling pages of black ink remained. Because he was required to serve his time in a state in which we didn't live and phone calls were expensive, he depended on letters for communication. At the age of 12 I could not yet comprehend that I would end up writing him the story of my life.