When I was younger I was obsessed with history. While many kids were watching Spongebob on a Saturday morning, I vividly remember watching Modern Marvels on the History Channel. Many of my favorite movies as a kid were war movies, and I remember watching one in particular from a relatively young age: The Memphis Belle.
The movie followed the crew of a B-17 “Superfortress” Bomber through their final runs over Germany. The story goes that they were the first crew to complete the required number of bombing runs for a tour of duty, and survive. By the end of the film, they did lose a few crew members, and had a number of close calls but, *spoiler alert* they did eventually get to go home.
I also remember doing “free writes” in elementary school. If I remember correctly, it was time set aside every week to crank out as much writing as you could. It didn’t matter what it was about, but it mattered that you were putting words on the page. In one of these times, I decided that I want to write a book: The Memphis Belle.
I am fairly certain I spelled “Belle” as “Bell” before the teacher helped correct me. But hey, I was in third grade, mistakes were made, learning was done. But I never finished it. It certainly was not for lack of trying, I simply ran out of time. The little free write time I had each day was not nearly enough to write the novel I was trying to write. But I had a story to tell. I had to tell the story. And I had to get it right.
If I had been a little more self aware as a third grader, I might have decided right then and there that I wanted to be a writer. As I sat there, scribbling in letters three times the size that my teacher would have used, I knew that I loved this. I loved telling the story. I loved the process of description, of making ideas in my head appear on the page.
By sixth grade, I had not changed that much. I was still obsessed with history, but now I had things like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars to geek out about too. It was wonderful. Whole worlds where anything was possible. In the case of Star Wars especially, there were already vast amounts of fan-created content. It was like a whole galaxy waiting to be explored… Sorry, had to.
Anyway, we still had free write time in sixth grade. By now though, it looked a little bit different. We wrote every day. We had to write at least eight sentences in fifteen minutes (and what a challenge that was sometimes…). There were expectations. But we could write about anything we wanted, and my teacher in particular would play music during the free write time. I remember sitting down in class and getting ready for the free write when she turned on some ambient-electronic sort of music.
Suddenly I was moved to a different landscape. No longer was I sixth grade Charlie in a classroom in Durango, I was an adult, wearing some sort of synthetic armor and a mask that obscured my face, walking through the vibrant city-scape that was Coruscant—a city the size of a planet.
This time I didn’t have a story to tell. But I still scribbled like mad (in letters much more reasonably sized). The feeling—that ambiance that came from the music and the headspace, where I could see neon signs on the sides of buildings receding into the sky above me for miles, the unending crowds of people, many with alien faces, and few with a language I could understand—that feeling was what I had to transfer to paper. I wouldn’t have been able to explain this urge at the time, but I now see that desire to paint a vignette, with words, that takes people out of their shoes and plants them in someone else’s, even for just a moment.
By the time I reached the ninth grade, I had decided that writing was something I was not going to do. I don’t remember making this decision, but somewhere along the lines of my Language Arts education I had decided that grammar sucked and that was all that writing was. So I was going to be a historian, or a scientist, or something like that.
But then Mrs. McLaughlin and Erin helped me discover poetry.
I had experience with poetry from a young age thanks to my father. He can be as geeky as me sometimes and one of his favorite geek-doms is that of the Cowboy. So, he and I would often recite Cowboy Poetry. This, for me, was the purest pursuit of poetry. It told a story, it entertained, it painted pictures of plains and prairies and those that rode upon them, and it did so without the pretense of being “academic.” This was literature at its most pure.
But then Mrs. McLaughlin taught me to, “take a poem, tie it to a chair, and beat it with a hose.” She taught me how to analyze a poem.
This was new territory. Suddenly meaning could be discovered where previously there was only frilly language. It was as if I had put on boots that let me wade into the depths and experience things I could never have found otherwise.
Meanwhile, there was Erin. I, of course, as a ninth-grader full of raging hormones, had to have a crush on somebody. Erin was a girl I had met at camp and Erin loved to read and write. And, after learning to analyze a poem, Mrs. McLaughlin gave me another deadly tool: she taught me what a sonnet was.
Oh. Hormone-ridden Charlie just couldn’t handle having such a power at his disposal. Now he had the power to woo women with words. And, he had the power to learn how to woo women with more skill, by beating poems with a hose.
So, I started writing sonnets. And, dare I say, the had their moments where they were truly beautiful. And Erin loved them.
“Charlie, I think you could be a writer someday.”
I think I will, I thought. I think I will.