For years, since I was a child really, I've written. Since the early 1990s, in fact, when I was getting paid for articles I'd written as a freelance journalist, I've called myself a 'writer.' Since the mid-1990s, when I started writing screenplays, going into the 2000s, when I started earnestly writing fiction, and today, with one indie-published book under my belt and on the verge of finishing my second novel, I've been working on becoming a full-time writer. In addition to, hopefully, being able to support my family that way, I've also tried to establish, within myself and those with whom I interact - inside and outside of the writing community - a writing identity. By that, I mean for people to see me, first and foremost (outside of being a husband, father and martial artist), as a writer. I often describe myself as a "writer trapped inside a teacher's body." I'm a teacher by trade, as the saying goes, but in the land of Hard Work And Perseverance and it's close neighbor, Where Dreams Come True, one day, what I do and who I am will become one.
Well, my writing identity took a major boost last month when I spoke at my son's school. My son is in kindergarten and I was asked by one of the class moms, who's a writer herself, to be one of three speakers at the school's launch event for its annual Academic Fair. The theme this year was 'Literacy, Literacy Everywhere - Characters.' The other two speakers were Elisa Pupko, a New York-based actor and founder of Treasure Trunk Theatre in Brooklyn, and the school's media specialist, Honi Wasserman.
Each of us presented for about fifteen minutes during which we shared our own take on the theme. Honi read from Dr. Seuss and Gary Paulsen, extolling the virtue of books. Elisa shared pictures from several of her acting experiences and discussed how she uses elements like a play's setting (location, era), costumes, her characters' age, their physical appearances, limitations and their social statuses to inform her interpretation of a role she's playing.
Me, I discussed how literacy is a skill but more than that, to borrow from the rock group Queen, how literacy is a kind of magic. And, I truly, mean that. I didn't simply use such a 'ruse' to get the K-2 and 3-5 audiences to buy into what I was saying. Literacy - reading and writing - is magic. Words take you places, let you be other people, do superhuman things. And that's when you read a book. When you write something and create worlds and people and put them together in interesting, educating and entertaining ways, you become the magician.
with an excerpt from my favourite book,
The Little Prince
I explained to them that my creativity came from many places and how I expressed that creativity with poorly written short stories and unfulfilled story ideas when I was as young as nine or ten. I recalled to my listeners that my brother and I grew up playing with action figures. (I'm a guy so I have to say 'action figures' but, really, they were dolls.) We had eight inch dolls of superheroes and movie characters from The Planet of the Apes (the original) and the original Star Trek series. They were made by Mego. I also had a GI Joe and my brother had dolls of Steve Austin and Jamie Summers. For those of who too young, that would be the main characters from The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
Anyway, at first, my brother and I played with them as they were. Captain Kirk was Captain Kirk, Supergirl was Supergirl and so on. Eventually, however, we started creating different characters for them and we would rearrange our bedroom so it would become another world. One time, we folded our mattresses and turned them into mountain ranges. One of our Klingon figures was the town's mayor. We wrote newspapers for the dolls to hold and 'read' and we even cut out tiny monetary notes. What I didn't realize at the time was that I, with my brother, was being creativity. I was even more clueless that my creativity would get me to writing screenplays and novels and speaking in front of impressionable young people. So, basically, I told them that anything and anyone can spark their creativity and imagination.
I also emphasized that they must do everything they can to prevent from losing their imagination; to remain a child when reading and writing. To illustrate this, I read from my all-time favourite book, The Little Prince. I read from the opening section. To prevent a spoiler - and if you haven't read this wonderful book or you haven't read it in ages, make sure you do so now - I'll just say I read the part about the boa constrictor and the hat.
Finally, I offered a bit of writing advice with a more practical bend. Since the theme was characters, I told them that character is action. I told them it's better to show their character being good - or bad - instead of merely writing or saying so.
Funnily, as things work out, as I was sharing my pearls of wisdom, I found myself feeling that I was talking more to myself than to my son and his schoolmates. Grown ups, you see, like myself can be such fuddy-duddies. We say "Stop!" and "No!" too often and we want things to be just so and exactly what and how they were intended to be. And, ironically, I think we become more fuddy-duddyish when we become parents, albeit without realizing it or intending to be. So, whether you're five, like my son, or forty-five, like me, remember these things - literacy is magic, don't lose your imagination, character is action, don't be a stick in the mud - and live by them. As writers, remembering these things is invaluable to our process and what we do. As readers, they make the book's enjoyment that much more meaningful. And, if you can enjoy reading and writing with a refreshed childlike innocence, you'll participate fully and enjoy another crazy thing: life.
Happy creating everyone!