May 08, 2014

Short Story: My Brief Flirtation with the Devil

I've been getting a certain question quite a bit lately, especially since I attended #NESCBWI14 (which was fab! you should go!). That question is: When did you start writing?

Typically, I answer that while I did study literature in college (along with product design), I didn't really start writing with the aim of producing a novel until about three years ago. But the more I think about that, the more I realize it's a total lie. I've been creating fiction all my life. I just forgot about those moments somehow--or maybe, I didn't recognize what I was trying to do at the time.

Take second grade, for example.

In second grade, I had a rather uptight teacher whose name I can't recall, so let's just call her Mrs. Prim N. Proper. *snort-laugh*

Anywho, Mrs. Proper gave us a pretty great assignment at one point during the year: we were to create a poetry collection. Meaning, not just one poem, but SEVERAL. I recall scribbling in my spiral-bound, wide-ruled notebook for ages that week. Every day brought a new idea, a new subject to explore. I wrote about flowers (I think it was spring outside, and in NC, that means thousands of daffodils). I wrote about my dog. Horses. The typical subjects.

But then one day, I had this crazy idea.

What if (see! I should have KNOWN)...what if there was a man whose face was painted on? What if he was like, made of fabric like a doll? I thought about how horrible that would be. I imagined him with a smooth, shiny face as pale as paper, yet made of cloth. A fabric a lot like satin, which I'd read about so often in Vanity Fair (Yes, I read it in second grade. Major nerd alert).

I rattled off a couple of different versions of this man's story, but the short of it is that his face gets wet, and tragedy ensues. I thought it very touching and sad. I think I even cried as I illustrated the final page, which I placed at the very back of my poetry collection. This poem was my shining star. My great achievement. I thought for sure it would knock Mrs. Proper's socks right off.

When it came time to present our poetry collections, I of course chose to read this particular poem to the class. I handed the book to my teacher, who glanced at the page to make sure it didn't contain any kind of blasphemy. As her eyes hit the page, she sucked in a breath. Her cheeks reddened. And I thought to myself, "Wow! My poem is so good, she's going to cry!"

But of course, that's not what happened.

Instead, Mrs. Proper adjusted her narrow, frameless glasses and stared at me with a look that could only be described as disappointed.

"Why would you write this?" she demanded.

As you can imagine, I had no answer.

She stubbed her finger at the paper, jabbing at the title, which I'd lettered so neatly across the page. "Tell me why you would write this, Melanie."

I looked at the words. I said them aloud. And her face miraculously softened.

"Oh," she said. "I see."

She grabbed an eraser from her desk and instructed me to fix my title. "Satin is spelled with an 'i'," she said, "Not an 'a'."

That's right. I'd turned in a poem titled "Satan-faced Man" to my proper southern baptist teacher. But honestly, even after correcting my paper, I still wasn't sure what I'd done wrong.

It wasn't until more than a decade later, when my mother forced me to purge my old papers from her storage space, that I found the poem and realized the significance of the mistake I'd made. What was just a simple spelling error for me was surely the talk of Mrs. Proper's Sunday table. Which just goes to show, you never know what tiny detail will define you. For a few seconds in the spring of second grade, I was a heathen poet of the highest order.

Short Stories feature my random anecdotes and ramblings, sometimes tied to writing and other times to life at large. If you're an author interested in sharing a short story of your own, please do get in touch!

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