This is a story and the story is mine. It may explain why I’m interested in telling stories. It may even explain the title of this blog and why there were certain people in the world who once thought I could never have had a blog or a story published, or perhaps even a job. It’s why I collect (rescue) books, and am interested in how they are made and their histories and why I have written stories about writing and book creation. It’s maybe why, although I’m not an educator, I remain profoundly interested in the profession.
Imagine a girl, green eyes and a veil of long brown hair. Impressionable. Words didn’t seep into her mind. Rules didn’t apply. In the beginning there was the word, and the word was…impossible for her. She was passive, with an overbearing best friend who stole her cheese and gherkin sandwiches. No, all that was later, in primary school. Fragments of the moment to come were earlier, in kindergarten, dressed in brown corduroy, a red skivvy with a wicker case to hold her lunch, the brown-haired child spent her time painting butcher’s paper pinned on an easel. Not houses and stick figure people with baby-ish scrawled names under them in crayon, like the other children, but violent swathes of single primary colours, red, blue, yellow. No words, just complete pages of one colour. Eventually, the girl left behind the kindergarten and the colours that’d haunted her, but took the wicker case and the library book bag sewn by her mother.
The green-eyed girl grows, not quite as all girls should. In primary school, she progresses, year after year, grade after grade, but words and reading refuse to follow. She stares at white pages of squiggly lines in wonder. How can a real tree, like the one in the playground also be squiggle squiggly squiggle squiggle dot? Mystifying hieroglyphs, artistic lines are all meaningless. Teachers struggle, and tire, and leave her to her quiet devices. She is tested under bright lights, examined and questioned and her parents rail and pester, and are defeated. In class she sits, staring at the eucalypt, puzzling.
But towards the end of Grade three, the brown-haired girl has her moment, an epiphany. Forgetting the years of struggle, it was as if a dial tuned into the correct frequency, and instantaneously, impossible wavy black lines resolve themselves into words, and words become sentences conveying an agreed meaning. The puzzle is solved, the cipher decoded.
In that moment, words become verbs and she runs to the library. She takes the first book she finds. She brushes the fine brown hair off of her forehead and, sitting cross-legged with tears in her green eyes, she reads the tale of the Little Match Girl.
This is when her education begins, but her learning is complete. Her very first story reveals to her the secret truth about poverty, suffering, abuse, hunger, the indifference of adults, the indifference of nature, the class system, the mystical treatment of motherhood, near death experiences, and death itself. All else, through school and university, work and life, is for extra credit, an addendum.
In writing this, I want to recapture her energy, harness her passion and reassure her that however far behind she was, she caught up – more than caught up. And no playing in class while friends were reading, no ignorant jibe or exasperated teacher, no rebuke about grammar from a university lecturer, no rejection slip from a publication, no ignored short story competition entry or faltering step will stop her. I want to tell her, reading and writing will become her life – she will spend years reading into things, seeing the symbolism behind all those squiggly impossible lines. I want to tell five and six and seven-year old me the very first story she will write years later will be inspired by a story her mother wrote…and she will thus learn a valuable lesson about plagiarism too:)
I want to go back and tell that kid: she’s not stupid, or lazy, or sick, or wrong, that numbers will work themselves out eventually, but not in the same way. I want to tell her those ‘special’ classes, which so stigmatise her will be eclipsed by greater things, like being a graduate and a published writer.
I want to her it’s ok. You can tell – because I wrote this.