Our brand new, 1976 Champion trailer backed up to a heavily wooded ravine where my brother and I spent most of our time playing. The trailer park was filled with a lot of hippies, college students and hippie college students. For the most part, everybody was pretty friendly, particularly the stoners, and it wasn’t a bad place to live. Our super-awesome babysitter, Suzanne, lived right next door and my mom’s friend Pragati would come over and cook Indian food for us while my mom helped her study.
One night, Pragati brought over her boyfriend. He was a psych student who was interested in the effects of divorce on children and this dude (can’t remember his name, but there was a major Tom Selleck mustache going on) wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing about my feelings. Well, I wasn’t interested in writing about my feelings, but even at the tender age of 8, I had trouble saying “no” to people. I’m sure no one here is shocked. The next day, Tom-Selleck-Mustache-Guy brought me my very first blue book – you know, the kind you use for essay tests in high school and college – and told me to write about my feelings and encouraged me to draw pictures if I wanted to. He went on ad nauseum about how it was okay to express my sadness and anger and how important it was to do that.
I sat outside under our picnic table (yes, I avoided the sun even then) carefully wrote my name on the cover, then I drew pictures of all the animals, trees and flowers in the ravine where I would have rather have been playing. After I filled in every available space on the cover, I opened the booklet to the lined pages and tried to write about my feelings. After about five minutes, I realized I didn’t want to write about my feelings. My feelings were fine. We were all happier after the split and it seemed stupid to pretend otherwise. I’m not saying that I didn’t miss my dad, but even as a kid, I could see that the whole divorce thing was a good idea. But this guy expected me to be crushed, in fact, it seemed like he not only expected me to be crushed but wanted me to feel that way. Jerk. Who knows – maybe he was writing a thesis paper and I was his subject.
So, I took my pencil and wrote. I wrote a story about a beautiful witch who lived in the deep forest in a small, stone cottage. She had a lot of pets – cats, dogs, cows, horses, mice, unicorns, deer, foxes and bears. She held lovely magical tea parties for the local children (who apparently lived in the forest…) and grew flowers and pumpkins in her garden. Unfortunately, a man with a mustache came to the witch’s little house in the woods and asked about her feelings. Her pet bears ate him.
Now, I’m not saying this is the moment when I knew I wanted to be a writer, but it was the moment I realized that written words made a difference. Tom-Selleck-Mustache-Guy went away and left me and my feelings alone. I knew then that there was power – a kind of magic – in stories, and I knew that I wanted to experience that kind of magic whether I was reading or writing it.