“It is my great strength that gets me where I want to go but it is my flaws, my weaknesses, that made me who I am.”
Sometimes I am so determined in my need to succeed that I forget just how much I have accomplished and just how far I have come. I don’t like to dwell on things I can’t change or things that I have no control over. Instead just keeping moving forward towards the goals I set for myself. Even as a child I never liked to compete against others, it made me feel sick inside. Instead I always just competed against myself. And I think it’s that kind of drive that gets people farther in the end.
So here’s a little story about me you may or may not know. When I was in kindergarten they told my mother that I was dumb. She told them to go screw themselves and sent me to a different school. This new one was a wonderful school that I think all schools should be like – a school without violence or prejudice or bullies. A school where you didn’t do well because you wanted good grades, (we didn’t even have grades), but because you wanted to do well, to learn, to explore.
There was just one little problem, I’m very adaptive and a little too clever for my own good. The problem was I couldn’t read, or more so I didn’t understand the concept of reading. It took them until the 3rd grade to figure that out, because you see I have extremely high comprehension level that verges on eidetic. I could memorize nearly everything I was exposed to. So I would hear a story once and could recite it back and flip the pages in time. Â Honestly that’s what I thought everyone else was doing, I kid you not.
Eventually I did learn to read but it was a hard, grueling struggle. And it may be blasphemous to say so but at the time I hated reading. I hated every bit of it; every bit of black ink on paper. I wanted to go back to when I was younger when I could just lie on my stomach and make up my own stories to go along with the picture. But I couldn’t, because big kids had to read real books, without pictures. Then I was introduced to this one book that changed my life, and as corny as it might sound it’s the truth.
When I was in the 7th grade we were assigned The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman and as a weird turn of events I got horribly sick and had to say home. And so while I laid there on the couch my mother picked up the book and began reading it to me so I wouldn’t fall behind. If you haven’t read the book you should, it’s fantastic, actually all Karen Cushman’s book are. I also won’t give the story away either other than to say at one part someone gives the poor beaten down heroine a gift. And it was at that moment my mother burst into tears, at this fictional act of kindness and put down the book. She was inconsolable and I just sat there awkwardly unsure of what to do. (Sorry Mom if I totally embarrassed you by telling people this.)
Anyways, she never finished reading the book, well not at least while I was there anyways. And so it sat there unread for a few hours, and then days until I just couldn’t bear it anymore. I just had to know what happened next. And so I picked up the book and began to read. And though it was hard at first, I didn’t care. I was going to finish reading that book even if it killed me. And you know what; I was so involved in what was going on in the story that I stopped noticing how hard it was to read. And then the book was over and there was no words left to read and then I realized that it was I who had read it. Someone hadn’t read it to me; I hadn’t heard it read on tv. I, me, I had read it. And then I realized I wanted to read more and so as nonchalantly as I could I asked my mother if she could take me to the library. And thank the stars when I came out hours later with a handful of books, without pictures, my mother didn’t say one word. I don’t know if it was because she was shocked, or proud, or just plain relieved.
After that book I read nearly every day, not because I had to read but because I wanted too. And somewhere along the way it stopped being so hard and became easy like telling yourself a story inside your head. To this day I still read every day, and most of those books still don’t have pictures, though I do own a lot of comics. And if you think that’s the end you’re wrong because it gets better.
In 2009 Karen Cushman was a guest at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) summer conference in LA. If you have never been to a SCBWI conference, on the last day they have all the guests sit at tables in the main room so you can meet them and have your books signed. When I found out I drove all over 4 cities where I lived trying to get hard cover copies of two of my most favorite books of hers. At some point they had switched to only carrying these paperbacks with new covers, which are pretty and all but I wanted her to sign the ones that looked exactly like the ones I had read in the 7th grade. I did eventually find them and so I waited in the line to have her sign my books and tried very hard not to burst into tears when I told her that because of her books I read every day.