Gustafson: Celebrating scribbling scribes
January 22, 2019
"The only way to save her sister was to go on the journey of a lifetime. She had no choice."
And so began the tale that I scribbled down in fourth grade during recess, and at every free choice opportunity I had in elementary school.
While the other kids ran around taking turns on swings, playing elaborate variations of hopscotch and performing daring acts on the monkey bars, I sat in a doorway of the Yellow Brick, which once housed Aspen Elementary School's second- through fourth-grade classrooms, and I wrote.
I filled pages, notebooks and journals with the epic tale of a young girl who had discovered an ancient recipe for a pair of magical, golden shoes that could help her sister walk again.
Her journey took her all around the world, places I had only heard about, or seen in my dad's collection of National Geographics. At each port she procured an invaluable ingredient, the acquisition of which required an adventurous subplot, as she forged new friendships, explored new places and survived death-defying challenges all across the globe.
I lived in that story, for at least a year of my life. It took root in my every thought, action, fantasy and game. As a result I became somewhat introverted and probably seemed half-crazed, walking around talking to my little self and scribbling in notebooks while standing in lines and on the school bus. But I had been touched by a muse. And even at the young age of nine, I felt I was just the vessel through which this story would enter the world.
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On occasion I could persuade a friend to help me write or convince my sisters and neighborhood playmates to act out some of the scenes with me. The story was my focal point; it lived in my heart and it had to be expressed, but it was hard to generate like-minded enthusiasm from others. So at times I felt antisocial.
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you," Maya Angelou once said. Perhaps with a little encouragement, I might have continued. But that wasn't a time when academic interests were as openly celebrated.
Now as a parent who only rarely feels the visceral tremor brought on by that muse, I've long since set aside those pursuits. At this point, most of my creative ambition has been diluted by a busy but meaningful mommy schedule of schlepping kids around to various activities and doctor's appointments, seemingly endless chores and a full-time workload. But like a fading dream that still hovers in the early hours before the mad rush to the school bus fully rouses me, I can occasionally conjure the thrill of the vicarious voyages that I once so loved and penned with furious fanaticism.
I believe all artistic expression is a noble pursuit, and I am thrilled to see that there now seems to be a more concerted effort to acknowledge such ambitions.
This week, local author Jill Sheeley returned to Aspen Elementary School once again to honor writing. This year marks the 18th annual Fraser Creative Writing Contest for third and fourth graders. Born from Sheeley's determination to encourage budding writers, the contest not only recognizes the talents percolating in the minds of children, but also emphasizes what a crucial role writing will play for them as they grow into the leaders of tomorrow.
As the author of the "Adventures of Fraser the Yellow Dog" series of children's books, from which this writing contest gets its name, Sheeley has been bolstering writing in young minds for nearly two decades. She provides those kids who find storytelling to be their unsung talent a moment in the spotlight, too.
Sheeley and fellow judge Lynda MacCarthy spend weeks reviewing all of the voluntary, blind submissions — this year 130 stories were entered — and they honor each submission in a variety of categories with certificate, honorable mention, golden honorable mention, fourth, third, second and first place. They do a beautiful job creating a setting that leaves every young author feeling acknowledged.
When my own 9-year-old daughter began dreaming up a fantastic intergalactic world for her submission, I could see the sparks that I had once felt igniting within her that same passion. She could have written a novel as her story was unfolding in her mind. And I don't know if she would have had the opportunity to siphon that talent from within had she not been offered this opportunity to take a stab at creative writing.
I'm so grateful for the efforts put forth by Sheeley and MacCarthy. I believe each and every child who participated felt valued and encouraged to keep writing.
It's never too soon to realize the power of writing and storytelling. Encouraging the youngest generation to build these skills, explore their limitless imaginations and then to honor their efforts will no doubt have a positive impact on our world.
Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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