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Pebbles of Inspiration
Nobody wants to read anything ordinary.
This is the assumption I worked under during most of my life. Despite a desperate desire to write something the world would want to read, my position on the planet was just too ordinary to commit to paper.
Essentially, “Who cares?” was the only thoughts my feeble stab at prose rendered. What is an aspiring author to do when life provides no inspiration? This plagued me throughout my blissfully plague-free teenhood.
My family, the usual inspiration for outrageous memoirs, was mundane. I loved them, but they were just not quirky enough. I lived in a white house with black shutters, a mini-van, a pool. A middle-class portrait, complete with a cat on the porch mysteriously matching the color scheme. Nothing, to me, was unusual. Not interesting enough for anybody to care.
When I was little, I wanted to be a scientist. What kind varied, but I mostly settled upon geologist. I liked rocks. I picked them up everywhere I went and stuffed them in my pockets, bookbag, whatever I could find. Mom would fuss at me when crystal quartz showed up in the wash along with solitary socks and shrunken t-shirts. Instead of looking ahead of me when I walked, I looked down at the ground, searching for a gem among the run-of-the-mill grass and concrete and dirt. When I found the perfect rock, which to my mother or most anyone else was only gravel, I would wash and polish it and store it away in my carefully organized shoeboxes.
It wasn't until fourth grade, when writing short stories was woven into the school curriculum in the form of a standardized test, did I discover the magic of the written word. While everyone else groaned about another essay, I was actually sad when I reached the last few lines of the confining paper. I was excited about each new prompt, a new opportunity to open up a world nobody else had the key to. I could string words together into sentences that no other human being might form in exactly the same way. I found bigger canvases with no lines and rubrics to box me in, and wrote and wrote. The stories came out almost effortlessly when I was eight, and they were pretty good for an eight-year-old.
In fifth grade, the weekly reading of our original stories became the highlight of my existence. Most of the time, nobody in that class knew my name or even cared to. But for those odd three or five minutes that I was reading my words aloud, everybody was listening. The true me that I never dared expose to my classmates lifted itself off the page and danced around on their desks, flashy and unashamed. I didn’t dare show any personality without the cover of fiction, but I could type every piece of my soul onto that copy paper.
I wouldn't admit it then, but I truly loved reading those stories to that class I otherwise regarded with utmost distaste. I loved their admiring glances, wishing they had thought of that description or that character. I loved my teacher's heaps of praise and perfect marks. I was sold. Writing was what I wanted, needed to do. Most people don't find their passion at eleven years old, and people always tell me I'll change my mind like when I went from geologist to author, but I know deep down that writing is the only thing in this world that will give me that feeling of full satisfaction.
But alas writing is not an easy profession, lifestyle, or dream. Making it is almost impossible and what works in a fifth grade classroom does not work at Random House. I'm fully aware of the improbability of ever feeling the way I did in front of my elementary school peers. I've caught very few glimpses of that feeling since then, and have dedicated my life to finding it again.
Maybe I didn't really have it wrong in the fourth grade. The way to go about being an actual writer, besides practicing and dreaming, is to be like a rock-hunting geologist. Perhaps when I was stowing away half of the topsoil in west Texas, I was still being the writer I now want to be; I was just substituting rocks for words. I still don't watch where I'm walking—I observe the world around me. I stuff my experiences into notebooks and Microsoft word files and the dusty catacombs in the back of my mind. Life's gravel—those ideas and thoughts and words so carefully filed away—are still in my metaphorical shoeboxes. Now I have to take the step I never took in my short-lived geology career. I need wash the ideas and polish the thoughts and try to spit them out as something valuable to somebody else. Valuable rocks go to the Smithsonian; valuable words go into the New York Times.
My seemingly ordinary life might just be a misleading acre of land, covered inconspicuously with the grass and weeds that everybody has. If I dig a little deeper, past the layers common to everybody’s yard, if I write a little more, past what everybody can, I might just find a precious gem or invaluable fossil, a prized essay or best-selling novel. If dig long enough, polish carefully enough, I just might find my life is a little inspired after all.