A lot of my free time recently has been dedicated to reading books from my childhood. (If you’re not sure why, you can read more over on the newly-launched SSR Podcast page!). While I’ve definitely experienced these stories differently the second time around, the simple act of cracking the binding has given me my fair share of flashbacks, too.
Reading one book brought back intense memories of sitting in a navy blue lounge chair near the pool at my grandmother’s old house while I was visiting her for summer vacation. I’m pretty sure we were snacking on cantaloupe.
Another book reminded me of a plane ride to Orlando.
Still another took me back to sitting on the front porch of our rented beach house at the Jersey shore. Back then, it felt like the biggest treat to be able to stay up as late as I wanted, alone with my book and the sound of other beachgoers walking back to their houses as the sky got darker. (For the record, the mark of a good beach trip for me these days is a 10 PM bedtime. Getting older is weird.)
And, yes, I obviously have the clearest memories of vacation reading.
But how cool is that? The fact that a single chapter or passage in a book I’ve barely thought of over the past 15 years can make me so clearly sense what it was like to read that book the first time — where I was, what I was smelling, how the air felt — is pretty darn cool.
All of these reading throwbacks have gotten my wheels turning on a few writing memories, too.
Writing was a “thing” for me by the time I was eight years old, largely because I was lucky enough to wind up in an elementary school chock full of teachers who embraced more than just a required reading list. They wanted us to learn to tell our own stories, as well, and it quite literally shaped and changed my life. I didn’t know back then exactly what kind of writer I would be when I grew up, but I did understand that the practice of writing would play a major role in whatever happened to me in the future.
Here are some of my earliest writing memories…
… for years, I only took baths — never showers. I used to rest my notebooks on the edge of the tub so I could work on my stories while sitting in the cooling water.
… my first grade teacher had this spiral-bound reference book that was part baby name book, part thesaurus, part dictionary. The idea was to use it to make your writing more creative and to shake up the kinds of nouns and verbs you were using in your work. I pored over this thing so much that my parents ended up asking my teacher where we could order one of our own, and I carried it with me everywhere.
… my classmates and I were introduced to SSR (Silent Sustained Reading — the inspiration for my podcast!) in first grade, but in second grade we learned about SSW — Silent Sustained Writing. A few times a week, we got to sit at our desks and write whatever we wanted. It was the best.
… another staple of my elementary school experience was the “Read In,” a day near the end of the school year when we all got to wear pajamas to school and build makeshift campsites in the classroom where we got to sit and read all day. At some point, we got to have a “Write In.” I’m pretty sure I brought three empty notebooks to school that day, convinced I would be able to fill them with that time.
… my fourth grade teacher had a filing cabinet where we all got to keep our creative writing projects, and instead of working on a bunch of short stories, I asked if I would be allowed to try to write a book. She said yes. My first attempt at a book — which spent that year getting increasingly crammed into my folder in that cabinet — was called Carrie’s Ride Home, and it was about a girl who figured out how to teach her blind little sister how to ride horses. (I was super into horses at the time, too.)
… I always traveled with plenty of blank paper. I remember sitting on the deck of my grandfather’s house in Florida with a princess hat on, fervently scratching away at one of my beloved notebooks. I refused any notebooks that weren’t five-subject, with skinny lines.
… one of my favorite things was to read my work out loud to my mom, which is weird, since I now pretty much refuse to share any of my creative writing with anyone. It was always a “stop everything!” kind of moment, where I required her full attention.
… as a third grader, I decided that I wanted to start a class newspaper. I tried assigning out stories to my classmates and set up a little desk in the back of the classroom (with my teacher’s permission). I remember getting really frustrated because the other kids weren’t as excited about it as I was.
… luckily for me, most of my friends were as interested in writing as I was, and we experimented with lots of writing projects together — plays we would perform in my basement, “books” in alternating viewpoints, and stories we would simply work on together painstakingly, line-by-line.
Ah, these were so fun to revisit!
What are some of your favorite, most random childhood memories?