In fourth grade, Mrs. Rushford told me I would make a great writer. That year was the big writing year, the year students got books "published" into hardcovers with laminated jackets we illustrated ourselves. Our classroom was stocked with tiny toy-like word processing laptops we were free to use during recess and writing time and I remember spending many lunches inside at my desk working on a secret silly chapter book about a unicorn in the forest. I couldn't wait to get my fingers on the keyboard and put my imaginings into a very official looking document.
When it came time to write our own books to be published at the end of the year, I couldn't decide between two stories. I had mapped them out in my head and felt sure that both would astound my class with their maturity and depth, so which to choose? Finally, I shyly asked Mrs. Rushford if it would be alright if I wrote two, expecting to hear that each student would only get one book published because if not, wouldn't everyone write multiples? To my surprise, she got excited and told me she would love it if I wrote two. Strangely, no one else in class seemed to want to do the same.
I'm not sure why I needed two different books because they were about the same thing. Two young girls who are loved and admired tragically die. I specifically remember illustrations of a morbid graveyard with a young girl's name etched in stone. Looking back, this might be a great discussion topic for my therapist. I had recently watched a Hallmarky movie about a couple that falls in love and the woman dies tragically of something or other. I became enraptured with death; my emo stage was definitely fourth grade. Thus becoming the ten-year-old Nicholas Sparks.
After we turned in our stories, Mrs. Rushford didn't bat an eye at my depressing subject matter (though I wonder if she considered talking to my parents?) and told me I would make a great writer someday. I held onto that for a long time, truly believing that if my teacher assured me that I'd excel at a career that I must pursue it.
But I would go to the library and look at the rows and rows of shelves filled with books. So many authors. Too many. Writers of books people had never heard and never checked out. Would my work even get noticed in the sea of books out there in the world? Sure, maybe I could get something published, but I'd probably never be famous and make a lot of money just from writing. Eventually, I set that dream aside and developed other interests, some of which were short whims, others lasted longer.
I still loved reading and writing, despite never allowing myself to seriously consider it as a career. I started a blog at the end of high school and loved publishing posts, even if no one read them. I read novels as much as possible, hauling heavy boxes of books between each place I lived in college.
I studied graphic design and went to culinary school and my reading and writing became much more niched, much less imaginative. Over the years, I thought of Mrs. Rushford. I wanted to someday send her a copy of a book I'd published and show her I followed through. So I thought of workarounds. I'd publish a cookbook! Or a food memoir! Or I'd become an expert on design and entrepreneurship and write a self-help book! Then I'd be an author and I could tell her I did it, even if it wasn't exactly the original plan.
Then I got a job at a bookstore and realized just how much I love books. I read more seriously, more widely, more in-depth. I wanted to be as knowledgeable as possible when making recommendations or discussing books with customers. And I discovered that when working at a bookstore, people assume you're a writer or English major. I was neither. I almost took a little pride in the fact that I enjoyed books without thinking I could write one. But a little part of me wished I could. Occasionally I'd journal or write down little scenes I made up in my head or come up with book ideas.
Then I had a really rough year. I went through a lot that left me feeling alone and confused and I desperately wished there was a book for what I was going through. I had always turned to books to be friends and guides and I didn't realize how much I relied on their help until there didn't seem to be one to help me. Then I read a quote by Toni Morrison.
If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.
I could do that. Even if I never got published, I could write the book that I needed. Just for me. So I bought a new notebook and started writing as often as I could. And through writing what I wish I could read, I found comfort in the creation. It helped me process so much and channel my sadness and frustrations in a healthy way. And it brought me back to fourth grade, the excitement of opening those little laptops and typing away, putting my imagination into a document. Don't worry, no young girls die in my stories. Not yet, anyway.
But you know me and I know me. Next year I might be working on a completely new project and my writing will be stored away in some hidden files on my computer I'll never look at again. I won't profess that I've found my calling and will never stray again. But so far I'm loving it and it does feel like a calling, something natural to me that I've kept hidden away for too long. And maybe someday I'll be published. Maybe someday I'll have a finished product in hardcover with a jacket I didn't have to illustrate myself and I can send it to Mrs. Rushford and say, "Look. I did it. I've created a work of fiction, just like my ten-year-old self said she would."
We'll see. In the meantime, thank you, Mrs. Rushford, for your encouragement that has stuck with me no matter what I've been working on over the years.