Thursday, February 18, 2010

Early Writing "Success"

Sometime during my fourth grade year, my class got to spend a few hours with an honest-to-goodness writer. He lead the class, getting our young minds motivated with metaphors and similes. We learned all about poetry; sometimes it rhymes, sometimes it doesn't. He encouraged us to be silly, to be brave, to write beautifully, or to write badly. It was all part of the process.
I already liked to write. That same year, I wrote a short story that won a prize in my class. The year before, I wrote short stories and knock-knock jokes, and was given a chance to laminate them and have them available for my classmates to check out at the school library.

The day the writer-in-residence came to visit our school, I wrote six or more poems. I remember one in particular I was quite proud of. I thought it painted a picture with words, just like the writer told us to do. Those words have since left my memory, although I feel nostalgia for rainbows, sherbet, and blooming flowers when I think of that missing poem.

Months later, I found out that some of the poems written by the students that day were going to be published in a book. I was very excited to find out that a poem of mine would be included.

Even more time passed, an eternity to me at the time, and the book was finally available. I flipped to the index and found my name among the five students from my school who had poems in the book.

"Tina Haapala, 30"

I flipped to page 30, eager to see which of my poems the writers deemed worthy of publication in an honest to goodness BOOK. My heart flipped a little as I started to read the words. But my excitement faded, and suddenly I felt a little embarrassed. THIS was the poem that was chosen? They read all of my poems, including the lyrical landscape of the rainbow sherbet poem, and THIS is what they chose?!

I hardly remember writing it. I can only assume it was written when we were given the direction to "be silly".
Always the good student, I followed directions. I was silly. And then, reading those words months later, I felt like I had just slipped on a banana peel.
I hid my disappointment; I didn't want anyone to think I was ungrateful. Doesn't every writer want to be published?

For now, I can just laugh at the nine year old responsible for the following poem, originally published in "Sun, Snow, Rain, You Name it" by the Wyoming Council on the Arts in 1983:

He had a name which was the same as yours
He never had famine;that's what I heard.
He had to remember, but he had a naked finger!
No string to remember, for Pete's sake.
He licked a lollipop and forgot--
He had to remember, but he had a naked finger.
No string to remember, for Pete's sake.
He couldn't eat sugar!!
So he died and in his will
he gave a nickel to everyone on Mars!

So, that was my first, and only, published poem (sigh).

To be a little easier on myself, I think if a fourth grader showed me this poem now, I would say it was pretty good. When a child hands you his art project, you praise him for his use of color and imagination, even if you don't know if it's supposed to be a horse or a house. But even back then, I was my worst critic. Some things don't change.

Getting published as an adult, a whole quarter century later, was a better experience. I was excited to see my name in print, my story on the pages. But, there's still a little part of me that thinks-- oh, maybe I should've said it this way, maybe I should've left out that. I guess it's just part of the process. I look forward to regretting more word choices, once I see them in print.

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