I’m going to turn forty in exactly four months. I don’t feel forty. I probably don’t act forty. I don’t know how this happened. It seems like I turned 25, I did a few things, and then I was forty. (Well, not quite yet, but when you’re 39 2/3 you start to tell people you’re forty.)
I’ve been wondering how to commemorate this milestone in this journal. What I’ve decided is to post forty posts about the last forty years. Forty autobiographical fragments. Not necessarily one from each year since 1968, and not necessarily in chronological order, though I will roughly date them as I go so they can be re-organized later. I’ll start soon and post 2-3 a week until the big day gets here.
I guess there’s no better way to begin this than the fateful day my second grade teacher at Lakenheath Elementary School, Miss Round, asked the class to write and illustrate their own stories. I loved books, but it had never occurred to me I could make my own!
I penciled a fable called “The Toad Who Told Lies.” It was about a dishonest amphibian. The toad looked more like the shmoo of cartoons. Few people could read the story without being profoundly moved by the scene where the toad tells a squirrel or a mole or something that the rabbit’s hole stinks, and the rabbit feebly defends himself with the memorable speech, “no it doesn’t.” I don’t remember how the story ended, but I think the toad is either confronted by the friends he’s maligned or is eaten by a snake. Many writers, I think, are driven by a profound sense of justice.
Miss Round was very impressed and read the story to the class, who gave me rare and (I think) sincere compliments. I beamed the shameless way I still do when I get any recognition as a writer–the way I did when my sixth grade teacher chose my story to be turned into a play, the way I did when friends read the zines I put together in high school, the way I did when I saw my own columns in the student newspaper in college, the way I did when I sold my first story, and the way I do when I tell anyone about my book. I basically realized that writing stories made me profoundly happy and than I was good at it. I’ve had other jobs since, and even other aspirations, but at that moment I knew I was a writer and always would be.
The story itself, sadly, is lost to the years. I’ve ransacked my mother’s house looking for it. I hope yet to find its yellowing pages and remind myself how it ends.
When: Fall 1975 (age 7)
Where: Lakenheath Air Force Base, England