My first big crush in high school was a boy named Jason. This particular unrequited love interest consumed the spring of my sophomore year and long into my junior year, when I transferred my interests to a different boy. All my friends knew (and thought I’d taken leave of my senses), and my mother knew (though my father only knew him by a code name), and he eventually knew. He kindly, considerately, and honestly informed me that he cared about a girl and, alas, I was not her.
I’m sure this sort of thing is common. What I’m not certain is whether how he found out that he was the object of my starry-eyed affections is common, too. (Maybe you can tell me?)
Our class had been reading Cyrano de Bergerac. Our hero, Cyrano, is clever, witty, and has a horribly huge nose. Women won’t look twice at the poor guy. In contrast, Christian is a gorgeous hunk—not the words that the playwright uses—and horribly tongue-tied around the beautiful Roxanne. Of course, as is the case in so many of these stories, Cyrano adores Roxanne, too. Christian asks Cyrano to help him woo Roxanne. Cyrano agrees. He writes Christian’s love letters, prompts him on romantic lines as the hunk calls to Roxanne from beneath her balcony (a la Romeo and Juliet), and generally helps Roxanne, his own adored, to fall in love with Christian.
(If anyone remembers the mid-90s TV program My So-Called Life, a similar plotline unfolds between Angela, the cute guy, and the geeky guy. In the last episode, she learns the truth and the frame freezes. We never know who she chooses because the show wasn’t renewed.)
Then Christian dies in battle. Roxanne, believing that her love has died, remains single and remains friends with ugly Cyrano. Finally, when Cyrano is dying, she learns the truth and realizes that the man she loved was really Cyrano. He dies.
I found this terribly romantic. One day, while sighing over the still-oblivious Jason, I came up with an idea. I would play Cyrano: write anonymous letters to him, “wooing” him, and have them delivered through a senior pal of mine. (She was friends with many different people, so my identity wouldn’t be obvious.) This girl reluctantly agreed to play postal worker. (At least someone had some sense!)
I had this insane idea that Jason and I would correspond this way, and eventually he would fall in love with the true me. It wouldn’t matter that I wasn’t pretty and thin; he’d see the real me through my words. Everlasting love would follow. Cue the wedding bells.
That’s not quite what happened.
First of all, I made the mistake of choosing a postal worker who was also friends with the object of his affections. This made him desperate to find out if I was her; in retrospect, this was cruel because it gave him false hope. Second, I dropped too many clues as to my identity. He guessed within two or three notes.
He stopped me in the hallway, said a few kind, friendly words, and gave me another note. I hid in a bathroom stall and read it. This is the one where he told me that he didn’t reciprocate my feelings. Far from being devastated, I was elated. Among other things that had tipped him off, he mentioned my “style of writing.”
I had a style of writing!
Oh my goodness gracious, I thought, I have a style of writing. I had read many, many books on the writing craft, and they mentioned needing a strong author’s voice. I was sixteen, remember, and no one had seen any of my fiction. All anyone had read was my essays for class or tests. Though my freshman English teacher had said I had a gift for writing—thank you, Mrs. H.—I didn’t know if I had an author’s voice.
So for the boy I adored to give me that compliment . . . well, that made my heart bounce like a child on a trampoline.
I’ve had other, similar moments. A professor stopping me after class to tell me I had a gift for writing. An agent saying I had good story-telling skills. A writing conference buddy telling me that the published author who had read my sample pages had told him that she enjoyed them. A writing friend telling me that my characters had depth.
It’s those sort of things that keep me from quitting.
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably had similar experiences. (Not the failed love affair type, the compliment type.) Someone told you to keep going. Told you there was promise in your writing, even if it was buried beneath layers of rotting compost and sediment. Encouraged you to try. To put pen on paper, hands on keyboard, and write, just write: blogs, stories, poems, essays, anything. They gave you a push, and here you are, still writing.
Tell me about these moments. If there’s a specific person, tell me about them. If they’ve got a blog or website, share the link. There’s enough negativity in this world, so let’s focus for a bit on the positive. Encouragers should be honored.
Cyrano picture http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrano_de_Bergerac_(play)
Mailbox: Sgarton, morgueFile.com
Child on a trampoline: Craterkid, morgueFile.com