Once Upon A Time. . . .

Once upon a time, a blogger wrote MondayWednesdayFriday for almost two months straight, which was a huge accomplishment for her. However, sometimes things came up and she had to write TuesdayThursday, even though Thursday happened to be Thanksgiving.

The blogger’s story begins long before her blog, though. If you have time listen, to read, to enjoy a story that will not quickly get to the point, our blogger’s story begins around the age of 7, when she discovered the magical world of chapter books.

Once upon a time, a too-tall second grader with impossibly straight waist-length brown hair and the imaginative capabilities of Petunia Evans read the end of the book first. Always, without exception. She didn’t like to be in suspense. She didn’t like to be thrilled. She wanted to know what destination, what ending, was reached before she could relax enough to enjoy the journey.

She never had imaginary friends and she couldn’t pretend that mud was a cake. She did like to draw, so sometimes she and her mom would have drawing contests based on cartoons or “How To Sketch” books, but she always lost, so she stopped. She never drew things from her own imagination, because she didn’t have one. At the end of the day, she came home and did math worksheets at the kitchen table before going to the family computer and playing math-based computer games.

Once upon a time, a book-smart fifth-grader whose greatest accomplishment was being taller than all the boys in her class went to see a movie. She saw things, heard things, that she never understood could be conceived by the human mind. In the movie, a boy just a year older than her was whisked away from a world just as dull and unimaginative as hers, into a world where anything was possible. For the first time, she saw magic and it made her realize that she was empty. Math and religion and reading the same reality-based books could never fill her little soul the way that movie did.

She did her best to get her hands on the magic books, but could not get them in order. It would be years before she could read the series in the order in which it was meant to be read, but that worked for her. She read the second book, then the fourth, then the third, and finally the first. Her imagination began to crack open, just small, spider web-type cracks. Her teachers introduced her to Narnia, then Middle Earth, and the cracks widened.

Once upon a time, an insecure seventh-grader who always wore the same ratty denim jacket and tangled ponytail met people who thought it was weird that she read the end of the book first. They introduced her to not knowing, to taking the journey blind, to making conclusions based on the evidence revealed in the proper order. It made her uncomfortable, itchy, and she drew into the ratty jacket and let the ponytail out so she could hide behind her hair, too.

The people didn’t let her hide. They didn’t let her withdraw into herself. Instead, they pulled out of her the first real sign that her imagination had finally cracked open wide enough to let something out. They started her on reading fan fiction, and soon, they started her on writing it. They introduced her to reading and writing poetry. They introduced her to their own, completely made up characters in their own completely made up world. They encouraged her to do the same, to create a world where she was the master, so she did.

Once upon a time, a gold-headed 13-year-old girl was the youngest person in the freshman class at a very small high school when she took classes that were weird and lovely. She met more people like her, who loved to read, who loved to write, and who loved to be book-smart without having to study. Her imagination began to take flight and she started to draw, bad drawings, horrible drawings, but they let her see the places and the people in her mind. She began to plot out the classes her characters would take, her personal favorites, like Logic and Self Reliance. Just like her, they would grow up to take Latin and Calculus (one would even be so smart she could teach the incoming freshmen Algebra before she graduated high school!).

She did other weird things, in addition to her classes. She tapered her long, frizzy gold hair so that it came to a point in the middle of her back. She chose to get gold braces instead of silver, and she loved to smile because the braces distracted from her gums. She stayed in touch with her best friend from seventh grade and held one-sided conversations with the agencies listening in on their calls. She continued to write, and in keeping with her habits, she wrote the end of her story first.

Once upon a time, an unemployed 19-year-old community college student was frustrated by the things she wrote, so she decided to do something different. This was where her story changed.

She knew she wanted to write about diners and the waitresses and the customers that frequented their tables, so she dropped out of college for a semester and got a job. In the course of the next three years, her life changed direction several times. She zigzagged through alleyways (literature classes and sidework); she cruised down midnight highways (architecture classes, Christmas Eve shifts, and literal highways); she ran north only to be drawn south again (from Phoenix to Seattle, back to Phoenix). She met people who forever changed her perspective on everything, including herself.

Working at the restaurant introduced her to the symbiotic relationships between writers in a small community. She learned how to let go of her stories just enough to share them with people and to allow people to influence them. Before this time, she never let people in enough to let them see how or why she wrote the stories. The stories were too personal, so the friendships became more personal to match. The new friends were able to draw out more and more imagination from her. They required that she start her stories over, to look at them through new eyes, and to write them in order.

The girl who wanted to know the end of the story before it should be revealed disappeared. She began to see the joy in living moment by moment, not knowing what might come next. She began to realize that the plans she kept making kept falling apart, disappearing, and that she was happier that way. The zigzagging of the lines was more fun than following the forward path. Even allowing herself to fall backwards seemed to be related to moving forward. She began to see the joy in savoring the beginning.

Passion became different for her: she learned what made her feel alive, and she learned to chase it.

Joy became different: she learned that by following her passions, she may not always be happy, but she would always have joy.

Family became different: she learned they didn’t have to be related by blood as long as the loyalty and the love existed.

Courage became different: she learned that when she was passionate about something, or someone, courage became natural.

Honesty became different: she learned that the people who mattered deserved the truth in all things.

Focus became different: she learned that her path may seem bizarre to someone with rigid expectations, but it always pointed back to the things that made her feel alive.

Respect became different: she learned how to show admiration, honor, patience, and caring to people, because she never knew where she might meet the next person worth becoming part of her family.

Once upon a time, a deeply happy 23-year-old undergrad wrote the middle of her own story, based on evidence from the beginning. She knew where she wanted it to go, and the possibilities that may occur. She understood that there were many different things that could happen, depending on the path she chose. Over time, she wrote different stories for each possibility. She learned to be thankful for the people, for the opportunities that new friends and new passions afforded. Her imagination was fully free, and the things it might create were a beautiful mystery.

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