This summer has been a hard one for me when it comes to writing. I'm having a hard time connecting emotionally to my current project. I know that translates into the stale words I'm putting down on paper. Slapping myself to remember first drafts are supposed to suck has stopped working.
But then something happened.
I started remembering all those magic moments I had as a kid reading my favorite stories. The first time I read Bridge to Terabithia is a memory I hope I never lose. The way real, heartfelt sobs tore at my chest as my very first character died. Up until then, all my books had happy endings where everyone finds their lost puppy. But that didn't happen. Katherine Paterson created these amazing characters that were real for me. And at an age where I'd yet to experience the loss of so much as a goldfish, her book opened me to emotions that were new, and painful, and life changing. Even though it hurt, I wanted more.
Books can take us to the deepest parts of our soul we didn't even know existed. But they can also soar us to an elation we didn't know to hope for.
And that's the second memory. The one I can still picture in my head the way it happened almost 30 years ago.
In kindergarten, my teacher (Mrs. Green) had a huge bookshelf filled with books. I'd never seen that many outside a library and I lived in a house of book lovers. Mrs. Green had one rule. You could take home a book to read, but you had to pass the reading test first.
The reading test was nothing more than pages filled with columns of words. Each week, volunteer moms would come in and we all took turns reading as many words on the list as we knew. When we got a word right, they would cut it out and stick it in our envelope. The test was done when we read all the words.
I couldn't wait to take home a book, so I worked as hard as I could. One week, I only had half a page left. I was blowing through words before the haggled mom volunteer could point to them. Until I came to the last word on the page: Halloween.
Stupid dirty rotten word that doesn't follow the rules. I missed it. I'm sure the volunteer mom felt awful, because there was no holding back the tears once I realized I wouldn't be taking home a book that day. And the tears didn't stop there. That night, they fell again when I told the story of the evil nine-letter word that stood defiantly between me and bound paper nirvana.
Disappointment can cut like a knife when you're six, but it's also easily dismissed. And dismissed it was when the next week I shouted out Halloween with pride and half-skipped, half-ran to the bookshelf.
I wish I could remember what book I took home, but it doesn't really matter. What I hold on to is that magic of holding that first book and knowing I got to read it. That unmistakable anticipation of opening a book and diving in, no matter the words inside are. The infinite possibilities stranded between two covers just waiting for me to discover them.
That's the magic I found in remembering these special moments of literary wonder. The pure joy I felt long before I realized the agonizing effort that goes into producing books. Books I flew through as if the library would disappear before I could get to them all.
The magic made it okay that I wasn't in love with my characters yet.
Because I'm in love with books.
I'm in love with all their wonder and enchantment, all their painful blows and joyous exclamations. The thought of not having a new book to read brings me actual physical pain. And so I write. I write for me. I wrote for the next child in the hope that they can experience the hurt and sweetness, and like me, ask for more.