on writing (vol. christen, no. 1)

I.

Kindergarten was one of the best years of my life for the following reasons:

  1. Anthony, my first crush, tied my shoes for me after I tripped and landed on my elbow in the playground (oh and the way he looked at me after double-knotting my laces – as if he was staring at a chocolate cake a la mode!),
  2. Every time I’d tell my teacher I wasn’t feeling too well, I’d get sent straight to the nurse’s office without questions, and my dad would be in front of the school in ten minutes to take me out of class and buy me a vanilla Frosty from Wendy’s, and
  3. At the end of the school year, my kindergarten teacher handed me the Harry Potter books 1-4 boxed set before I left her classroom and said, “Christen, I’m only giving this to you because you are one of the best readers I’ve had in my career. Put that to good use.”

I remember walking into my dad’s arms at the pick-up section and him going, “What are you holding? Where’d you get that?” and replying, “Big books, from my teacher!”

At the time, I was upset because I thought she had given them to me for summer reading, that she would test me on them the day I got back. Little did I know that I wasn’t returning to that school at all – I was bumped up to elementary school, the school a block away, the bigger kids school, and there was no such thing as post-summer reading tests.

I sat down one night, opened up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and read the first few sentences. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of Number Four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much…” I noticed that a lot of the words used in the book were hard for me to understand, so I resorted to asking my mom to read the rest of the first chapter to me before I went to bed. Then the next chapter, then the next chapter, then the next chapter – until we had reached chapter seven. Now, I remember this chapter being the very first chapter I read on my own because it covered Harry’s Sorting, which was a huge step for him in the book. After finishing this chapter, I realized that I could finish the rest of the book on my own, and so I did.

It wasn’t long until I had reached Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I was completely immersed in the Harry Potter world. I loved how the books brought me to a different dimension – and I loved how I felt like I was living in it, and all I had to do was turn the pages.

When school started, I was placed in a fifth grade reading class with my friend and soon-to-be rival, Seanne (who played a significant role in my reading drive, even to this day!), because of how well we did on our reading placements (thank you, Harry Potter). The first day of reading class went a little like this: the teacher placed the two of us in the back of the classroom, dropped us each a copy of Where the Red Fern Grows on our desks, stood at the front and said, “I can’t believe we have two second graders in our class. Be nice to them. They’re on your level.”

I developed a lot of friends in that class, and together we rode through The Cay, The Clay Marble, Old Yeller, A Wrinkle in Time, and a bunch of other small books that I can’t remember the titles of. Every single book was an adventure – I learned that from Harry Potter (and I finished Goblet of Fire halfway through my second grade year). I learned to appreciate every story because of the magic Harry Potter brought me – I longed to see this same magic in everything else I read.

At the time I didn’t think anything of my reading level or what I was capable of. All I wanted to do was beat Seanne by completing our readings faster than he could.

Until one day, at the end of my second grade year, Seanne turned to me and said, “What will happen to us in fifth grade when we’ve already beat the reading system? I think we should write books of our own!”

Being my competitive self, I replied: “I’ll write one better than you ever could.”

Seanne never wrote a book. Instead, he resorted to drawing comics. The genius that he is – he blew my mind with the kinds of comics he came up with. But he never told me that he never got to writing. Only when I came up to him with my first-ever short story entitled “The Journey to Outer Space” did he say, “You took me seriously? Maybe you should keep writing stories and I’ll illustrate them. That way we can have lots of things to read when we beat the education system.”

And so it began.

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