The Moments That Make Me a Writer

Libby Northup
We both laid back against the wooden bed frame, my mother still in her dress pants and blazer, heels kicked off onto the rug, me, in my hot pink Disney princess pajamas. The light of my Eiffel tower lamp cast just right over the book of choice (i.e Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables). In this fashion, every night of my early childhood, she read as the day left me with each exhalation, and I let the eye of my imagination roam through the stories. “Just one more chapter, really fast,” I would beg each time she closed up the book. 

I sat at a U-shaped table with three other children. Across from us, our kindergarten teacher. In her lap was a stack of flashcards with single-syllable words that she held up for one of us to read aloud. “Dog! Run! Pen!” I blurted out for each one. The other kids looked at me in distaste and she said, “You have to let everyone else get a chance to answer.” I didn’t understand why she would limit me so. 

Because I found no joy in toys, my parents bought me an easel whiteboard with a set of expo markers in sky blue, lavender, and lime green. My boredom dissolved. It sat in the corner of my bedroom for a couple of years. I copied the lyrics of entire songs, pages out of science textbooks, whatever I could scrounge up. I was fascinated by the sounds of language. Once finished, I put my pointer finger on each word and read it aloud, asking about every word I didn’t know. 

I sat on the yellow swing of my play set and kicked my legs forward as aggressively as possible. As my hair blew into my face, I sang out melodies and tried to find rhymes. Little songs like “Oh to be in love, it fits like a glove,” or  “How great is our God, better than a fishing rod.” This was the little game that I let no one see. 

In fifth grade, I wrote my first “real” poem at my desk after finishing an assignment. With a dull pencil, I wrote down the biggest words I could think of and found their rhymes, then split everything into stanzas like I’d seen poems in English class. This must be really good, I thought. I asked my teacher to help me find an appropriate title, and being that it was all about people being equal, he suggested “Equality.” “No, that’s not good enough, it has to be perfect.” Not balanced, not unity. Finally, he said “Equilibrium!” There it was. Equilibrium. 

Also in fifth grade, I wrote a nine-page, historically inaccurate short story about a British girl named “Mazie” during World War II. It was for an assignment in English class. Sitting around with a couple of friends and my teacher, someone suggested, “We should make a play out of it.” Though said in jest, we all liked the idea. We converted the story into a script and invited friends to play the roles (I didn’t quite understand the concept of nepotism at this point). The whole school came to see us put it on: rows of children in navy and white polos glued their bottoms to the concrete floor of the library, their eyes shifting between the odd actors and the giant papers behind them, which were lavished with paintings of doors and windows, our effort at creating a set. Everyone endured the play for an hour, and I imagine that it was awful. But the girl with the 1940s’ style black and white dress, in the little herd of actors, was having the best day of her life. 

The blistering, blue plastic seats on the school bus were uncomfortable, yet they made a perfect spot for writing spoken word. I hid in my little corner of that bus, slopping all my middle school emotions onto a page, hoping nobody would peek over their seat to see what I was doing. Writing wasn’t exactly the coolest pass time in this era.

Suddenly, it was time for high school. What one must know about attending high school in New Orleans is that it is a process of complicated chaos and looks nothing like the rest of the country. It requires finding a school, applying, often testing, or submitting work, and hopefully being accepted. My family spent nights in the living room, going through dozens upon dozens of school websites and ratings, absolutely harrowed by the stress of it. That was, until we heard about the arts school. They offered creative writing. Nervous, yet hopeful, we applied late. The application process required loads of paperwork, writing submissions, and interviews, but all of that seemed irrelevant the day that crisp envelope appeared on my kitchen counter, carrying the news of acceptance. I was ecstatic. It’s in this school that I began diving deep into what I was creating, learning about craft, and finding role models. My work was an apt piece of clay, now it’s taking shape. 

I sit here now, my fingers clacking away at the computer keyboard. Every time my head sinks into the middle of my pillow and I shut my eyes, seeing lines of poetry moving around like pieces on a chessboard, I become a writer. Every time I eavesdrop on conversations at [insert location of choice: the grocery store, the bus stop, the pool] and scribble down notes on my palm, I become a writer. Every time I open up a book and go “Hah, that was good technique! Stealing it,” I become a writer. Every moment makes me a writer.