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FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

Curse of the Dampeners

PRAIRIE WRITERS ASSIGNMENT, APRIL 2017 - HAZEL JEAN SPIRE


CURSE OF THE DAMPENERS

Jean loved to write. Jean lived to write.

That was before the voices began.

From the time she discovered the power of words, essays and stories poured from Jean’s pencil, earning stars of red, blue, even gold, from her teachers. Hearing of Jean’s prolific output, Mr. Carter walked across the playground to lend her a book with a turquoise cover— Let’s Write a Story—about how to become an author!

A dream was born. Poetry flowed from Jean’s fountain pen, and found a place in the school magazine. But then the Dream Dampeners moved in: insidious, naysaying voices that cramped her style for decades to follow.

"Those whimsical tales might suffice for grade school, but this is College."

"Your syntax is all wrong."

"Will you ever get paid for this?"

"Boys don’t like stories about girls."

"You can’t get your foot in the door without an agent."

"An agent won’t take on a writer without a platform."

"Your zip code is too obscure. You must move to New York City."

When she was not writing, Jean loved to draw. Jean lived to draw.

That was before the voices began.

In grade school, her stories were embellished with colored pencil scenes, which Miss Cassell allowed Jean to outline with Indian ink in her secret cubby behind the 5th grade classroom. With the encouragement of Mum, Dad, and Miss Wheeler, she entered her seascapes in the Baptist Festival.

That was before the Negatories took root: niggling questions as to whether Jean was wasting her time.

"What good is art to you?"

"Artist is such a pretentious word."

"I could show you someone with REAL talent."

For a while, these ruthless intruders drove out all hopes of success in the arts, either visual or literary. So many of them took up residence that she could no longer pinpoint the source or validity of the voices. People who knew what they were talking about, or those who knew nothing? Her own deep-seated insecurity, or sheer laziness?

At each stage of life, with each relocation, Jean’s passions resurfaced. She would dust off her sketchbook, buy a new journal, and seek out kindred spirits. In due course, she learned how—and where—to prepare manuscripts to submission and paintings for exhibition.

That was before the voices returned—with a vengeance.

"Rhyme doesn’t sell."

"Kids want to read about today’s time, not history."

"Memoirs by unknowns are hard to sell."

"Agents only take on young authors, for career-long relationships."

"Top houses want attractive faces on their book jackets."

"Never write without an outline."

"You don’t have an art degree, or backing from prestigious galleries."

"Editors are looking for a something fresh, something edgy."

"This is too quirky, too controversial."

"Cozy stories are passé."

Jean took the hurdles in her stride. She decorated her gigantic trash can with rejection letters, and won a string of awards.

The Dampeners and the Negatories went on murmuring.

"It’s a local contest, not a Pulitzer Prize."

"There were only five entries."

"Sure, you sold a painting, but only to someone who knows you."

Eventually, Jean racked up credits with magazines.

"Just Sunday school take-home papers and regional rags," the voices countered.

Finally, three years after signing a contract, Jean’s first middle-grade mystery came out. Now would the voices let up? Not a chance.

"One spouse and two friends make a poor showing at a book event."

"Did you see the lines round the block for that other author?"

"Your little paperback will get lost among the hefty stacks of the latest Harry Potter."

"Chain bookstores won’t place works by small presses, and Indies are going out of business."

Nevertheless, Jean kept writing--and painting. She invited the voices of Discernment to take up lodging instead. She acknowledged the truths about mergers and budget cuts, with gratitude for the emergence of self-publishing options.

She did it for the adventure, finding her place in the fellowship of writers and artists, who graciously shared the benefit of their experience. In due course, Jean would do the same for the students following in her footsteps. Read More 

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JANUS AT THE CROSSROADS

As a 2nd/3rd grade teacher, on the first day back at school each January, I would borrow bells of all sizes from the music teacher and let my class ring in the New Year. Later when I taught art, I had 5th graders paste the double face of Janus (Roman god of gates and doorways) in the top center of the paper, looking forward and back. They would draw a memory (good or bad) from the old year on the left, and one thing that might happen in the New Year on the right.

Since retiring, I’ve had the luxury of time in which to reflect on my life and write more chapters of a memoir, BUGSY, SLUG, THE BEATLES AND ME. Last year my old my high school class in England held a reunion that I couldn’t attend. Instead, I sent this prose poem listing memories from 1st Form thru 6th Form (the equivalent of grades 6-12 in the US) at Sandown Grammar School:



NOSTALGIC ACROSTIC ©Hazel Spire
S triped summer dresses and swimming at the Blue Lagoon.
A rt teacher Mr. Binch’s encouragement: “That’s interesting!”
N eville Anderson’s solo “O Valiant Hearts” in the Little Hall.
D ancing the foxtrot, Virginia Reel and Strip the Willow in the gym.
O ut on the field in all weathers – jolly hockey sticks!
W illie Wiseman our heart throb, along with Adam Faith and Elvis.
N etball practice for Sandham house, Grassy towering over the net.

G erman with Hinny and Helmut; my penfriend Gerlinde.
R omantic poets with ‘Lit’ English. Did she have a first name?
A nthems I still remember from the choir in Assembly.
M r. Fennelly (Flan) scrabbling in the dirt at an archaeological dig.
M usic with Pastry, including a song he wrote for Speech Day.
A lgebraic and chemical formulae, unused, long forgotten.
R ailway crossing on a blue Raleigh bike, my 13th birthday present.

S ewing a yellow gingham apron with Buster Rogers.
C od Cooper’s bulging briefcase; Bert Ayling’s red cushion.
H at that I dared not remove because I lived opposite Miss Tovey.
O ld Owens (Taffy) tapping his ring on the radiator; and the
O M skipping in plimsolls at the Inkies’ Christmas Party.
L atin declension, conjugation and Caesar’s Gallic Wars.

Our Prairie Writers homework this month is A NEW BEGINNING, for which I wrote a similar piece, but looking to the future:

OPTIMISTIC ACROSTIC ©Hazel Spire
A nticipate everyday miracles.

N o recriminations over last year’s failures.
E very nook and cranny of the office filed and dusted.
W riter’s Market on hand with homes for manuscripts.

B ooks to finish, books to publish, books to read.
E xpand my speaking/teaching platform.
G oals to be set, goals to be met, but with grace periods.
I magine myself a morning person, fit and trim.
N ever neglect the arts—painting, piano, poetry.
N ational Gallery visits, via calendar and in person.
I sle of Wight in May for a high school reunion?
N ephew’s gift, a journal to record my journey.
G ear up for 2013. This could be the best year yet! Read More 
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