Jump back to college, senior year. For fun, I signed up for Intro to Economics, believing it was a topic I needed to have a grasp on before venturing out into the real world. My professor had previously gone to seminary to become a priest, perhaps because he believed religion was something he needed a grasp on before venturing into the brothel known as college.
A month into the first term, I organized a campus mixer— my undergrad was only 1100 students— so all the freshman who weren’t locked away in the library could mingle with all the cool kids and all the professors who were still working their groovy sixties’ vibe. The kegger was scheduled for 6pm, on a Friday, which turned out to be the day after I received the results of my first Econ exam.
There was a band— I’ve always known how to throw a party— and my Econ professor actually sang Johnny B. Goode. He wasn’t as electrifying as Chuck Berry, but good enough for the audience to ask for an encore. After tapping the third keg, I made my way through the crowd to thank him. “You were great,” I said. “Did you learn how to sing like that in the seminary?” Hahaha. “And hey, I’m really sorry I flunked your exam. I didn’t mean to. You’re a good teacher. I love your class. You’re very funny. And I studied. But the material…it just doesn’t sink in. Don’t know why.”
Jump forward to 2019 when I sent out twenty-seven queries for my novel and received no offers of representation.
Jump to 2020— four months into the revision process. What I’m itching to do is write all the agents I queried in 2019 and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to send you a flunky manuscript.”
Slide sideways into film and The Miracle Worker— the water scene at the end of the movie, after Teacher has dragged Helen Keller out of the dining room to refill the water pitcher. While pumping, Teacher spells out W-A-T-E-R in Helen’s hand so her student can learn the liquid has a name. Neither one of them expects anything significant to happen. They’ve been playing this game for weeks. But when the water trickles over Helen’s palm, a lost memory rushes in, from when she was six months old, when she said wah-wah for water. And all the snippets of the word-game-play weave into a tapestry of understanding that previously escaped her. And a tearful climax follows when Teacher says, “She Knows!”
Jump back to November 2019. I’m in New York City, with my Canadian writing pal, drinking cocktails at UES— an ice cream speakeasy— and taking in the J.D. Salinger Exhibit at the New York Public Library. If it ever comes to a town near you, it’s a must see. If I lived in the city, I would’ve gone every day because there was so much to absorb and no pictures or note taking were allowed.
I was captivated by Salinger’s correspondence because the Voice readers have come to love appears throughout his letters. But what inspired me more was a comment he made in a letter to his son. I wish I could quote him. Alas, here’s my paraphrased version— I’m a slow learner. I believe the last thirty years were necessary to get me to today. To write what I’m writing now.
Jump to yesterday when I was writing another new scene for the Magic 13 and how I realized if the first draft of Kaitlyn’s story had unfolded the way it’s unfolding now, I might’ve been published years ago. And then I thought of Econ and how it didn’t sink in. But it didn’t sink in because I was stupid. Economics just wasn’t a story I needed to understand. Just like the manuscript that was rejected by agents wasn’t the story I needed to tell. And then, the water scene from The Miracle Worker came to mind, and Teacher’s words turned into firecrackers inside me— I KNOW!
I’m not Salinger— no one is. And I still have a lot of storytelling ins and outs to learn. But all the snippets of craft I’ve collected over the last eighteen years are finally weaving together, which means I’m exactly where I need to be. Victory!