The Gift ©

Averyell A. Kessler

I learned to write in the first grade.  After two years of kindergarten, I’d mastered the basics of counting, the art of tying  my shoes, and how to brush my teeth. I’d also memorized a variety of nursery rhymes and sang Jesus Loves Me as Mrs. Nelson, my teacher, pounded out  the  melody of a blond spinet piano.  Although I could recite the letters of the alphabet, I had no idea to how reproduce them and things got foggy when I reached Q R and S. As far as I was concerned, paper was for crayons, paste and blunt nosed scissors. Just like balloons were for birthday parties, and Dixie cups were an icy, tongue tingling delight. Other skills emerged just in time for the first grade, how to blow a bigger-then-my-head bubble from only one piece of Double Bubble, the value of hanging a skate key  on a string around my neck, and not to cry when Mama dropped me off at Mrs. Nelson’s small brick cottage. As a result, I felt perfectly prepared for the next step and didn’t whimper when I entered old Power School’s ghostly building for the first time.

Within weeks, I was comfortably sitting at a wobbly table holding a thick yellow pencil and opening my Blue Horse tablet to a blank page. Mrs. Mills clapped for attention and picked up a stub of chalk. “This is an A,” she said, drawing a long line in the middle of the blackboard.  “Draw up, then down, and across.” Soon, my page was covered top to bottom with capital A’s, in different sizes, and often not closing at the top. B was trickier, but I got it. At the end of the day, I told my mother I’d learned how to write. I guess two letters are better than none. Both necessary for learning to read.  I immediately made friends with Dick and Jane, as well as Pleasant Street and Sally and Spot.

After learning the two most critical skills in life, I was running on all cylinders, gobbling up Golden Books, the comic section of the Clarion Ledger, and Little LuLu. Bugs Bunny too.  At last, I was able to read the occult messages floating to the surface of my Magic 8 Ball. I could identify the get out of jail free card and run my fingers down a list of songs on the tabletop juke box at the Pig Stand. I occasionally peeked at Dear Abby when Mama didn’t see. Thankfully, Webster’s Elementary Dictionary explained its mysterious words and oblique references. Book reports were bothersome, but not difficult, except when almost every boy in my class reported on Zane Grey’s The Redheaded Outfield.  When I grew out of the happy phase of gentle children’s literature, I learned that books were able to evoke laughter, cause tears, and build heart stopping suspense. Sometimes, the wicked witch won. Occasionally, the hero prince was a lumbering oaf, and unhappy endings were possible. I cried when Bambi’s mother died and shivered when Long John Silver limped out of the darkness. I am still unable to discuss Ole Yeller or The Yearling without misty eyes.

At Murrah, the curse of the term paper struck with vehemence, and I learned the rules for fashioning an acceptable A+ worthy, essay. Pick a subject, do research, prepare an outline, and write a topic sentence. For me, this was a “don’t color outside the lines” project with little room for variation. It seemed like stuffing an overweight hog into a tight corset. Also, a serious snooze. A series of good JPS teachers taught me all the rules, but imagination and creativity were hiding in the closet, rattling coat hangers, and peeking out from behind a closed door. Academic writing is a black and white photo of a rainbow. Creativity is dancing in its stream of radiant colors. Inspiration, like a rainbow, appears without notice as a joyous surprise that tweaks our imagination and makes our hearts flutter. Once you’ve dipped a toe in, there’s no going back.

I’m stuck now. I start every day staring at a blank page while I sip a mug of steaming coffee. My addictive habit is my go-to, never fail rescue from boredom. Although I’ve never taken creative writing instruction, I’ve listened to the advice of many writers; if you want to write, read. I’m stuck on that too. When you find something you love, hold it to your breast and kiss it like a newborn baby.

If you’re tired of binge-watching Survivor reruns, weary of crossword puzzles (even the Sunday NYT puzzle which is a mental Mt. Everest!) or baked an over-abundance of sourdough bread, there’s hope. As we emerge from lock-down and your shaggy hair convinces the neighbors that you’ve joined a motorcycle gang,  the solution is simple. Find something you’ve always wanted to do and do it. Even if it’s crocheting booties for the family pet, shaping your boxwoods into a replica of The Joker, or learning an obscure language you have no use for.  Maybe, it will be writing. Never ignore what you’ve got inside because it’s God’s gift, as singular, deliberate, and unique as the fingerprint on your thumb. If your gift hasn’t knocked on the door yet, sit still and listen. Imagination blooms in silence, and creativity may take root in a single thought. Here’s advice from the late Louis L’Amour, America’s premier Western tale teller and shoot ‘em up expert.  “Start writing, no matter what. The water doesn’t flow until the faucet is turned on.”  

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