Of Riding and Writing

When I was younger, I wanted to be a ballerina horseback rider.

Never mind the fact that I hated horses, or that I wasn’t exactly sure what being a ballerina horseback rider would entail. That was my first dream.

Once I hit four or five, though, I moved on, attracted by the possibility of another job. I put aside thoughts of frilly outfits and pink sparkly horses to focus on my other passion: writing.

Some people might say that writing is hardly a more practical means of making a living. When I told my roommate at a summer program that I wanted to be a novelist, she did a double take and asked, “No, like, what do you want to do realistically?” It was my turn to do a double take. I replied, “Realistically? I want to be a novelist…”

I’ve gotten similar responses from other people, who ask me if I’m afraid to journey into the dangerous and unpredictable world of publishing and self-employment. And my answer is always no. There are some people who would be more comfortable at a steadily paying desk job, but not me. The thrill of creating my own stories, of drawing characters and filling their mouths with rich dialogue, beats the monotony of a regular job any day.

I completed my first novel, The Playdate, when I was six. It was met with laudatory reviews from my immediate family members, who were thrilled when I penned its long-awaited sequel, The Playdate 2: Lisa’s Farm. After that, I wrote constantly, voraciously. Nothing existed for me except the world that spouted from the tip of my pen. I wrote short stories, poetry, essays, anything that came to mind. I tried my hand at fantasy, emulating JK Rowling, my first hero. Then I adopted a conversational tone suspiciously similar to that of JD Salinger, my second. And when I found my third, Toni Morrison, I couldn’t write for days because I was so intimidated by her. But once I found my voice again, I came back stronger than ever.

I try to put writing into every area of my life. At my summer camp, I taught creative writing to a group of twenty girls, ranging in age from six to thirteen. I endured exasperated stares from the oldest girls as I tried to comfort the youngest, who complained it was “too hot” to write. But I stayed with it. I tried my hardest to keep them interested and excited, because I wanted them to love writing the way I loved it. I wanted them to pull themselves away from the superficial worlds of Disney and Nickelodeon, to realize that they could create their own universes better than any of the ones that had been created for them.

At school, I’m an editor our literary magazine. We’re a relatively small group of students, the editorial staff. We meet once weekly at members’ houses like some sort of secret society. We try to spread culture, literature, and inspiration to a high school that sometimes seems to reject such things on principle. It’s a challenge, choosing the very best pieces and assembling them into something pretty and appealing. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

All of this, I do because I love to write. My writing used to be a solitary thing, one that cut me off from the rest of the world. But eventually, I realized I couldn’t keep it to myself. I had opinions about writing, ideas about literature. However, writing had always come more easily to me than speaking. I liked drafting and revising, and the idea of sharing an unpolished thought terrified me. In the end, though, the desire to communicate overcame any fears I once had. My experiences as a teacher and an editor drove me, and continue to drive me, to articulate my ideas. The balance I’ve found between writing and speaking has become one of the defining factors of my identity.

Now, thinking back on my beginnings as an aspiring ballerina horseback rider, my entire journey makes perfect sense. In declaring such an unorthodox profession, I wasn’t doing anything different than what I do now. I still love making up stories, and I still value my imagination above any of my other qualities. In some form, my tutu-clad, five-year-old self still exists inside me. She gallops around my head on a tinsel-laden pony, feeding my passion, my enthusiasm, and my sense of adventure. She reminds me that I’ve never been afraid to do what I want, despite what others think. And whenever I start a new project, I subconsciously acknowledge the curly-headed toddler in ratty ballet shoes who could never pass up a good story. She inspires me. I write for her.

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