Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Laura Kasischke: On Childish Things

In the fourth in a series of posts on 2013 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Laura Kasischke, author of If a Stranger Approaches You (Sarabande Books), recalls a formative experience.

My mother was a teacher, and one day she brought home from school with her a pad of soft, pale-brown paper with wide pink lines. The sheets of it were short and wide. When I wrote on them, the fat words of my fat pencil looked shiny. I liked it, so I sat on my knees on the shag carpet of the living room at a coffee table and wrote.

There was a journey. A ship. Rough seas. That sort of thing. Animals aboard the ship. I was a passenger on it, and also the captain, and the story was told to no one and for no one but me, deep into the evening, interrupted only by supper, during which I was not made to speak because I’m thinking.

All of this astonished my parents—this concentration, this strangeness, this dedication—and suddenly they loved me.

But my story wasn’t for them. I wouldn’t even let them read it. Later, I would learn to write to be read, to be loved, to be noticed, to compete for grades and prizes and boys and men and publication. I’d be asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and, foolishly, I’d answer. I’d buy certain kinds of clothes, date certain kinds of guys, stay up late. Go to Bread Loaf. Get an MFA. Send out my “work” in alphabetical batches so I could add to my résumé. That sort of thing.

But, that night I was a writer. I didn’t even need a pencil. I didn’t require that pad of paper. I was happy on my knees.