By Darlene Cah
Sometime in third grade at Our Lady of Grace Elementary School in Brooklyn, Miss Demik changed the life of a fat kid from the projects. Yeah, that would be me. The young teacher brought in a copy of Black Beauty, and read one chapter every day to the class. It was like an equine soap opera. I couldn’t wait until the next day to find out what happened to Beauty and poor Ginger! I don’t remember how long it took for her to finish the book, but in that time a writer was being formed, and an animal lover and eventual horsewoman was being created.
By the time I was in seventh grade, I’d read the book on my own several times, cried every time, and started writing and illustrating mystery stories about kids and their horses. Several years ago, I found those stories. They were pages and pages long, hand-written in my erratic, sloppy cursive, in spite of the good Sisters insistence on elegant penmanship, rambling paragraphs about boys and girls at a riding camp and some mysterious light in the woods! Seriously, the eleven-year-old me nailed the cliff-hanger!
The adult me could probably edit this ream of loose leaf paper down to two pages, but I had to smile because some part of me remembered the feeling of my ball point pen racing across the page. That was fearless writing. That was writing for the joy of it. That was writing without spell check, without an internal editor and critic, without a care in the world about what anyone else would think.
Of course, life, that cruel jokester, always finds a way to throw a few spitballs. Rejection after rejection hammers the spirit. Harsh criticism erodes confidence. Work and other obligations eat into writing time, not to mention the personal issues we all face at one time or another. In other words, just another day in the life of a writer! How we handle it determines whether we’ll grow or give up. I go directly to the self-loathing self-talk! The good Sisters did their job, after all. (The newer breed of Sisters are way more encouraging, by the way). But I always come out on the other side. Something keeps me going. Something compels me to throw words together, though often with caution. Every once in a while, however, the fat kid from the projects breaks through (dare I say, at full gallop, astride a black horse!) and sets the jaded adult writer free. Only now, she has spell check.