Say you’re like me. You spend the better part of your elementary-school years wandering around the playground looking for someone to play with. You get tired of it (the averted eyes, the too-loud boys, and the girls who squeal over sparkly, stick-on manicures.) You sit on the bench with the teachers. There, you can watch everyone, but no one approaches you. Sometimes you hate this, being on the outside of everything, being separate. Sometimes, it’s awesome. Sometimes, it is a super power.
You don’t call yourself a writer, not just yet. That’ll come later, and you’ll wonder how much of the teachers’ conversation—“Brittany cut her own bangs in class today. I can’t even trust them with safety scissors”—swirls into the murk that is your identity at seven, or will be your identity at fifteen, or twenty-two. You always are a good girl. You always do follow rules.
You won’t call yourself a writer until you’re twelve, and the teacher asks you to write a poem about who you are: I am, I am, I am. You call yourself a writer now, a kind of shorthand for a girl who makes up secret stories, who reads the same book—Until We Meet Again, by Michael Korenblit—seventeen times in seventh grade, the girl who tries to understand the other kids’ interactions but can’t quite do it, and so she tries harder, examines closer, probes deeper.
You call yourself a writer, instead.
You keep secret notebooks in high school. You join drama club and feel free, pretending to be someone else, with someone else’s words rolling in your mouth. Like pearls, they make you feel beautiful. You find solace in drama club, for a while. But then, you feel exposed. You long to be in your room again, with your pen and the gel-pen-only black notebook paper. With your notebook, you don’t have to squint into the light or wear so much mascara that your eyelashes become harpoons.
When you are fourteen-and-a-half, you write a poem. When you are fourteen-and-three quarters, you decide not to write any more poems.
The next time you call yourself a writer, in public, without embarrassment, you are twenty-two. Your first piece of fiction has been published. You think, Can I do this? You think, I can do this. You think, Can I do this?
You join a graduate program. You find other people that read during middle-school lunch, other people whose legs are still marked with the red pucker-marks of the teachers’ hot recess bench. People who are searching, like you. People that notice things—that you write about the same motifs all the time and that you hold up your walls with your hands.
It’s unnerving at first, being surrounded by these people who are like you, when you spent so long being the one who wasn’t like.
You decide to do a reading—a new story, one in which you tried to capture the experience of hearing your high school best friend say, “I’m going to date God for a while.” You step off the stage afterward. People clap. You move toward a knot of your familiars at the back of the bar, and one of your other friends comes up.
“Can I jump on the praise train?” he asks. You think, This is belonging. You think, Can I do this? You think, I can do this.
Allison Pinkerton is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida. Her screenplay, Neverland Lost, was a finalist in the SoCal Independent Film Festival in 2013 and a semi-finalist in the Rhode Island International Film Festival in 2014. She reads, writes, and teaches in Orlando.