Writing came to me by osmosis, at first.
I never felt as though I had to learn it, same as I never felt I had to learn how to read. Reading was sitting in church with the bulletin in my hand, sure that I understood the indecipherable black print on the page because I knew exactly what was coming next. I’d heard the services so often I’d mouth the pastor’s part along with my father, sitting in my mother’s lap as she pointed at each line. I may not have known how to read, but I knew exactly what was written. It struck me as only natural that I would one day break the barrier between the two.
To learn to read was something I assumed I was already doing, and writing was a closely related family member. The two seemed to me inseparable partners – once you were familiar with one, you were inextricably familiar with the other. No one ever told me I was going to have to learn. Reading was a fact of life, like green grass, Church on Sundays, and dusting the dining room chairs on Saturday morning. Like my brother and sister before me, it would quite obviously come to me of its own accord. Kindergarten rolled around and I filled out dotted-line worksheet after worksheet, vaguely aware that I should try to learn the letters I was tracing.
By the end of the year, I didn’t know my alphabet.
The week before 1st grade started I panicked. Years later my parents explained in some amusement their exasperation at my kindergarten teacher for dropping the little remark oh-by-the-way-Andrea-still-doesn’t-know-her-alphabet at the very last parent-teacher conference of the year. They spent the summer catching me up on the lessons I’d apparently ignored. Some of that must have finally sunk in the few days before “real school” (as I thought of all-day school), and I was suddenly certainly and terribly afraid that I would never learn how to write. It was the first and last time Mom and Dad ever bought me a present for the new school year. The small stuffed animal soothed me into sleep that night before 1st grade started, and it only seems remarkable to me now how parents seem to intrinsically know how to read their children.
By 3pm, I was no longer afraid – having discovered that my teacher did not expect me to figure out how to read or write after one day in her class.
As soon as I learned how to string a sentence together, I wrote a short story simply titled “Andrea book,” with a picture of a cat on a mat crayoned across the front. Once opened, the book revealed the situation: cat and dog. dog is soft. dog slid. cat is ill. dog is sad. cat is glad. It was the first and least cohesive tale in the series of unrelated books I wrote and illustrated over the year.
But just like that, writing had revealed itself to me: a magical vehicle, a creature that can tell the stories in my head. Writing leads to reading, and reading is a window into adventure; into another’s heart and mind; into the kind of fantasies we dream about as children and quietly let go into adulthood. I will never save the world. I will likely never save someone’s life. The dangers I face will be both more dull and more heartbreaking – sickness, dementia, the petty arguments that can drive a wedge into what you had once thought was a rock-strong relationship, loneliness, the fear that your dreams (as little as they may seem) will never be realized. Reading is for the impossible. This is where I slay dragons.
Looking back, my parents were probably relieved when I brought “Andrea book” to them and showed them that the soft dog slid.
And Andrea? Well, once the cat got over her illness and the dog cheered up, Andrea was glad.