So, in the podcast this week (The Naughty Bits) from Big Strong Yes, the hosts, Lani Diane Rich and Dr. Kelly Jones, decided to change up the structure of the show since Shonda Rimes’ Year of Yes is a memoir, and the other books were more self-help. They’re going to tell their own stories.
I’m hoping to keep up better with this book than I did with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, so to keep me honest, I’ll try to share my own story inspired by each week’s reading.
“I’ve lived inside my had since I was a kid. My earliest memories are of sitting on the floor the kitchen pantry. I stayed there for hours in the darkness and warmth, playing with a kingdom I created out of the canned goods.” – Chapter 2, Maybe?
The way my mother tells the story, I’ve been reading almost since I could walk. My father likes to tell a story about reading me a book when I was four years old and correcting him when he mispronounced doily as dolly. I picked up books my parents left around the house almost from the moment I surpassed my reading level in first grade. In my house, this means I was reading old issues of Reader’s Digest, newspapers, V.C. Andrews, and Stephen King before I was eight years old.
I told stories, too, from an early age.
I imagined myself living in the world of my cousin’s Baby Sitter’s Club books and the Sweet Valley High series I read. I wrote stories pretty steadily until I was about sixteen years old. I started with real people fanfiction with stories about Hanson, Backstreet Boys, and all the other celebrity crushes I was obsessed with as a pre-teen. One of my stories was over 200 hundred pages hand written. My high school best friend told me she had kept one of the chapters where I married her to AJ McLean.
I stopped writing after a house fire destroyed all those old manuscripts for about two years. I also stopped reading in the same way. I don’t know why, but I think it might because I was starting to become more comfortable with who I was — I was the chubby redhead who was never going to magically grow taller and prettier, but I was funny and I was smart. And it was okay. For the majority of high school, I stepped out of my old comfort zones, and I think I didn’t need my books and stories as much as I had before.
Or maybe I got tired of my family telling stories about my stories as if they were something silly and to be ashamed about.
When I was in fourth grade, I was put into a gifted kids program. I was smart, but I didn’t really do my work, and my teachers hoped I would do better with more advanced material. At least, this is the way my mother remembers it. I only remember one thing about the program: being laughed at.
I don’t remember the context, but we were talking about mermaids and how they weren’t real. And for some reason, I pushed back. I said we didn’t know everything about the ocean, so how could we say for sure what exists and doesn’t? The other kids laughed at me, and my teacher was concerned enough about what I said that somehow my mother found out. I didn’t tell her, so someone must have.
I think back to that moment and I don’t think there was anything to worry about, but shortly after that, I was dropped from the program. I don’t know why, and my mother isn’t sure either.
Now my mother never gave me reason to believe it was something to be concerned about, but she and my family love to tell this story. They love it. This happened in 1994. I was nine.
It’s twenty-three years later, and my sister brought this story up a few weeks ago. She was six. She has no memory of this event, only from what the family has told her.
And it’s always told in a funny way. Haha, Melissa, remember how stupid you used to be? You believed in mermaids.
Well, yeah. So what? I was nine. Where’s the harm in that?
My mother spent most of my high school career wondering why I couldn’t or wouldn’t write anything real. Even now, she wonders why I don’t write books. Her dream, she told me, was for me to publish a book.
I don’t want to write books.
I try. But I don’t really enjoy it.
I love writing and researching academic papers. I’ve been published, and I’ve received awards for my academic writing. I’m one of the top students in my graduate program because of that writing.
I also love writing and reading General Hospital fanfiction. It’s my creative outlet the way that Hanson fanfiction was when I was thirteen years old.
My mother is proud of me, don’t mistake me there. And I think my father is, sometimes, too. But I still feel like the rest of my family thinks I’m wasting that story telling potential, and that maybe, at the end of my life, they’re going to remember me the same way they remember that mermaid story.
Remember Melissa? She was so creative, but she wasted it. How stupid was that?
But I’m not wasting it. And over the summer, my first YES to myself was to put my writing on the same priority level as my studying. That was about 100,000 words ago.
So my family can remember me anyway they want (though let’s not have that happen for like….eighty years, okay?) but I know my story better than they do, and I’m working on that being enough.