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Prairie rose

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April 9, 2003

Note to my readers: Some of you may remember this essay from my ThemeStream days. Sadly, the ThemeStream website is no more, but I still like the few essays I wrote for it. It has been a pain keeping these essays separate on my website, so I have decided to recycle them as Wyndspirit Dreams essays. When I do this, I will note them as such, so you won't have to wonder if you're losing your mind because you're sure you've read the essay somewhere before.

The Black Binder

I have a battered black ring binder notebook that I have sworn to burn before I die. It has been my story notebook ever since I started scribbling stories as a child. By my mid-teens I had overflowed the binder and my writing had improved to the point where I was starting to be embarrassed by my early stories. Thus, the binder became my "flopped stories" notebook, while the better stories evolved into a two-foot high stack of folders and notebooks, most of which I happily showed to tolerant friends and family.

Why have I saved something so embarrassing to me that I want to burn it lest somebody else see it? Itís been 25 years since I started filling that binder. I no longer write anything so horrible that it gets consigned to the black binder. I no longer re-read the stories contained in the binderómy life is too busy to read childish writing. I cling to it because itís a reminder of a time when anything seemed possible. I didnít have dreams of being a writer. I just wrote because I liked to write. I played "letís pretend" with words the way other children played with dolls. 

The black binder is a reminder of a time of innocence and freedom. A time when I wrote exactly the kind of story I wanted to read, with no regard to believability or any of the other considerations a writer must face. A time when I could take my wildest daydreams and put them on paper. They didnít have to make sense, and the writing didnít have to be good, because, after all, I was just playing.

Then I grew up, and discovered that some people really could make a living by writing, and that became my dream. I threw myself into learning how to be a writer. I devoured books on writing. I took writersí courses. I tried. I really did. And I wrote some good stuff. But somewhere along the way I lost the joy. With no joy, there was no incentive to write, and my dream was banished to a far dark corner of my heart, and the black binder became buried in some box or other.

Occasionally I would come across the black binder, either while I was doing a major cleaning or packing or unpacking from a move. Sometimes Iíd glance through it, but the stories were so bad I lost interest before I read very far. Iíd tuck it away in yet another box and get back to the real world. But it was always there, someplace. I often didnít know exactly where it was, but I always knew it was there, a quiet reminder of a joy I used to know.

The faint sorrow over the lost joy drifted in the back of my mind as the years blurred into a series of menial and meaningless jobs. Slowly my life began to improve, and, as my circumstances changed, old dreams began to creep back into my heart. But even as my dream of being a writer slowly resurfaced, it was changing. When it finally burst forth once more, it was no longer a dream to be published. My new dream was to recapture the joy.

I am no longer the naïve child who wrote for fun, oblivious to anything other than her own enjoyment. Nor am I the equally-naïve 21-year-old who shoved aside a dream because she wasnít quite "good enough." Over the years I have come to learn whatís really important in life. What one does for a living is not important. That one has a source of joy is important.

This new dream has actually had an interesting side effect. It took time to re-learn how to write for fun, to write anything I want, however fantastic, to play. But once I began writing for fun, I discovered a depth to my writing that was never there before. What numerous books and two writersí courses couldnít manage to teach me, I learned by giving myself permission to play with words once more. Maybe it will help me get published; maybe not. Thatís no longer important. Whatís important is, I have recaptured the joy. And the black binder? Maybe Iíll burn it someday, but for now Iím going to keep it around just in case I ever forget again that the joy is the important thing.
 

B.J. 12/9/00