Tuesday, January 22, 2008

the first spider caught in my web

When I went to Bellevue Elementary in Church Hill, I came home from school every day with cobwebs in my hair from standing up against the brickwall during recess. When I did play with kids, it was generally with Rashida, the "fat girl" because she gave me her twinkies, Regina who was also known as "Regina Vagina" or with Sarah- who was half Dominican and half-German, always had a runny nose and frizzy hair, and whom I evilly picked on for some crazy five year old power trip (or because my teacher left me in charge of the class ((in kindergarden!!)) when she went to the bathroom and I felt pressured to write somebody's name on the chalkboard, so, guess what? it was always... Sarah, the one person I didn't think would "beat me upside the head" if I threw her in front of the bus). So. As a kid I read. A lot. In the afternoons, my mom had to make me go outside to play. I think I read like ten books a week. Well, maybe 3. Or 4. And my favorite writer, the one who blew me away, whose universe I inhabited more fully than my own during that golden time I was reading her books, was Madeleine L'Engle. I devoured "A Wrinkle in Time" and its descendents. Then I moved on to her connecting but different books that were all somehow interrelated like a second cousin's boyfriend's great aunt, including "The Arm of the Starfish," "The Moon by Night," "Camilla" and other such preteen beauties that made me feel like I wasn't reading about my own family, but that made my own family not seem that bad either. The heroines were always quirky, misfitted and brilliant, so it gave me hope that I could survive teenagerhood, which... I did! Anyway, as a junior in highschool, when Madeleine L'Engle was teaching a writing course at the Omega Institute in New York, I wrote to her and asked special permission to attend her course even though the minimum age requirement was 18. She said yes! So, accompanied by my mother to upstate New York, I spent a week in the presence of my literary heroine, Ms. L'Engle and I wrote my first story. Basically, she advised us to tell the truth. And I did. The story was about my father's second divorce, from my stepmother Carrie and the strange years that have sprung forth hence. Funny, but in some ways, I've been writing the same story ever since, at least writing around it in ever widening circles of reflection and introspection and hilarity and ironic melodrama. But I do believe the core story started there, at a crazy-vegan-holistic resort in the Catskills under the guidance of a woman who has written over something like 80 books. I mean, seriously. She must have been plugged in to some major creative electricity, like she'd been struck with literary lightening and it emanated out of her in little jolts everywhere she went. I was sad to hear that she died last year in September, but I also know that somewhere God has himself a pretty damn good scribe. Bless you Madeleine L'Engle and may you, wherever you are, also bless us.
PS- Sarah, the runny nosed kid I picked on in Kindergarden is now, of course, a stunningly beautiful olive-skinned, hazel-eyed, corkscrew-curled, athlete/academic/world traveler who also happens to be one of my very best friends in the world to this day. So! The years do bring redemption after all.

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