In school, the only assignments I generally completed were writing ones. Only teachers and very close friends had any clue that I had any aptitude for writing. Teachers gave A's (not like this was a difficult feat, given the competition), and friends gave compliments. I only won one writing contest, which also happened to be the only one I ever entered.
I believe it was mandatory, though despite my hobby of writing memoirs, it's difficult to be sure thanks to my patchy memory.
Fifth grade of elementary, many paintings were brought to the school. We were told to pick our favorite and describe why it appealed to us.
Most prints had a cluster of children crowded in front of them. Graceful ballerinas against the bar or bright, sweeping landscapes with crystalline water depicted in the art. I browsed leisurely until I saw the image I knew I would soon own.
It was a blonde girl, vaguely my age, playing the cello. The barefoot child was depicted with dark and smudged colors, as if it was a dream or partially-recalled memory. There was no discernable expression on the girl's face but there was no need for one. Her melancholy determination mirrored my own; the dirty balls of her feet were eerily familiar. I sat down at once and began to write.
A week or so later, the winners of the contest were revealed at an assembly. Some girl had won the ballerina painting that so many had admired. Unaware that there were multiple winners, I was crestfallen. But then I saw her - my barefoot cellist - and I began to stand up before they even finished calling my name.
I still own that print. It resides in a cracked frame, outlined by a poorly cut mat one of my brother's ex-girlfriends made for me. It suits her. I think of replacing them from time to time but something about her golden locks hanging over her face, the dingy room she's playing in, makes it look like she's at home in there.
I never entered another writing contest after that. Not even assigned ones. They usually had topics that were utter shit like "My Hero" in junior high. I recall asking the teacher if I could write about myself as my hero and she gave me a stern "no". So I simply turned in nothing since in my hormonally fueled angst, I revered no one.
Most people wrote about their parents ("my father is my hero because he's really good at breaking down doors"), or their grandparents ("I look up to my grandma because she waited until I was born to meet my seven year old brother. Good thing I was a girl!"), or celebrities ("what makes Lil Jon my role model are his thought provoking lyrics and positive attitude towards women").
There were a few different winners, my personal favorite being the kiss-ass who said their hero was "the troops". In a world 9/11 was still a fresh wound, not picking their essay was clearly the same as saying you hoped they would never catch Osama Bin Laden.
Before my brief stint at community college, I received a few encouraging comments regarding my writing - though not enough to have myself truly believe I had any career potential in it. It wasn't until I received praise from Ms. Zimmerman, my sociology and psychology teacher, that I started to think twice about my future in writing.
Though her precise statements are lost to me now, I distinctly remember her calling me a "prolific writer". This was by far the most outstanding adjective anyone had ever used while discussing something I had done. That, combined with the fact that I knew she was far too intelligent to be teaching asshole high school students, made me feel good about myself in a way I was totally unfamiliar with at the time. Suddenly, I had an urge to keep writing even when I didn't have to but even more shockingly, to show it to people.
Later, these feelings would be reinforced by another human being that belongs in Europe somewhere, receiving sufficient pay and benefits for the incredible service they're providing the earth by teaching. During my first semester of college, I took Introduction to Logic, which set my expectations for secondary education way too high. I loved the class more than any other I had been in previously in life - even more so than American Military Involvement (which could argued as the polar opposite of Logic). Matt Sanderson took the time to message me on Facebook following the final exam and tell me that he couldn't have possibly written a better essay himself.
This compliment meant more than a hundred As, more than my 99% on the writing portion of the ACT, more than my wonderful creative writing teacher Maya telling me I had a strong voice. It flattered me so much that I briefly considered becoming a philosophy major since it was so enjoyable not only to learn about but more specifically to write about. However, my desire to eventually be employed outweighed my urge to smoke a pipe and quote Nietzsche all day.
Instead, I let go of a life filled with black tights and black coffee. I remembered my roots: the nights scrawling into a journal while hiding in my closet or hunched over a keyboard only lit up my the soft glow of the computer screen, creating scenes and emotions to free all the words ricocheting off the walls of my mind. I remembered the little blonde girl with the filthy feet, alone in the dark with only her craft to soothe the demons gnawing away at her heart. I remembered the only talent I ever possessed that wasn't illegal to sell in the United States.
I remembered writing.