To Write a Hundred Pounds
I pulled from my mind a long forgotten memory of a time when I dared to show my mother a ghost story I had written. I think it might have been a homework assignment for third grade. I don’t remember the storyline at all, only that I thought it was spooky enough for a ghost story and that my graveyard drawing was perfect. I also remember having to stay up late to rewrite my story after my mother read it while she made a new drawing on poster paper. I learned how to write through swollen eyes then, and the message I internalized was clear even if it wasn’t canonized: my words aren’t good enough or legitimate.
I never shared my work with anyone again after that experience until I opened my blog to the public in 2008.
Since the moment I began blogging, the need to own my voice has felt urgent and almost primal. I won’t let it be chained again, either by family expectations or my own fear of not meeting expectations. The words that chase after my cursor, desperately trying to catch its breath, are both raw and exposed in ways they never have been before.
Truth won’t jump through a writer’s hoops. A writer sends the hoops to hell.
I recently wrote, “authors have a responsibility to the beasts inside themselves, to allow these creatures room to pace and prowl, to roam the night of their hearts.” These beasts live in all of us. They’re restless, tossing around their heads and snarling. If we don’t give them space they will take over our minds. A writer must tend to her beasts so that her beasts might strengthen her spirit. Every word in voice begins to be distinctly felt when that voice aches to be heard.
After all, even a timeless riddle asks what weighs more, a 100 pounds of bricks or the 100 pounds of feathers. Even as a child I wondered why anyone wanted a 100 pounds of feathers if he or she couldn’t be bothered with all the bricks. I am nearly 40 now and have learned the correct answer is always 100 pounds of cupcakes. Obviously timeless riddles come with timeless answers: neither is heavier as they each weigh 100 pounds. However, to the writer’s voice it really is not so much the total weight that matters but all the words themselves.
Once I stopped sharing my stories with mother after she forced me to rewrite my ghost story, all my other stories remained locked up inside me. At first my beasts were able to put words about failed math exams in their closets and still have room to pace. But then tenth grade depression and suicidal thoughts came and the poor beasts were hitting their shins on these words, howling at the moon. Soon they had nowhere to move without hitting their heads or knocking elbows. They were trapped with each other and words of anxiety, panic, fear, rape, and sexual assault. My voice became heavier and, strangely, more silent. Everything was dying in there.
Writing is vitally more important than hanging a child’s story on the fridge or putting some crayon on an illustration. It’s about validating a voice. It’s acknowledging that while each word may not have equal value, all words’ truth total to something extraordinary. And it is this extraordinary process that permits our hearts, our beasts, to thrive. To breathe. To revitalize us.
And it truly is remarkable to be part of something extraordinary.
After writing and illustrating her first bestseller in second grade, “The Lovely Unicorn”, C. Streetlights took twenty years to decide if she wanted to continue writing. In the time known as growing up she became a teacher, a wife, and mother. Retired from teaching, C. Streetlights now lives with her family in the mountains along with their dog that eats Kleenex. Her new memoir, Tea and Madness is now available.