Babes in Toyland


As a kid in grade school, I filled Hilroy exercise books with stories.  I had a fascination with new notebooks.  My parents couldn’t keep up with my penchant for paper, so eventually I started pilfering them from school.

The contents of these stolen treasures consisted mostly of horror stories: “The Spooky Hallowe’en Scream Party.”  Yeah, I wasn’t much for the titles back then.

I had one story I called “The Phantom Menace.”  Still have the exercise book and I swear the title was original Mellie.  The story was about a creepy thing that followed a young girl to school, but she escaped before it could catch her.  Wasn’t much for the plotting then either 🙂

When my fourth grade class was looking for something to do for the annual Christmas pageant, I decided that I wanted to write a play.  Based on Disney’s “Babes in Toyland,” it wasn’t original, but it was mine.

The whole situation was a bit fraught.  First, I didn’t take well to my first experience of being edited.  It was never explained to me that anything would have to be changed, or why.  The altered product was simply presented to the class and that was my first look at what my teacher had done to my play.  Understandably, I was upset.  It didn’t matter if the play was improved, I was nine years old.

I’d still like to know why I wasn’t consulted.  A courteous “heads up” might have been nice.  Perhaps the idea of dealing with a nine-year-old writing diva-in-development wasn’t my teacher’s idea of a good time.

It was also decided that I would not be allowed to participate in the play, being the author and all.  It wouldn’t be fair to everyone else.  Still, I was proud of what I’d created, and I believe the play was a success.  After introducing the play, I stood around in the darkened gymnasium with nothing to do.  That kinda sucked.

Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

I’m a fan of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, and its antecedent, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s with a Thousand Faces.  As creative people, we experience the hero’s journey in our lives.  Interpreting it through Campbell’s lens has allowed me to come to terms with some of my negative experiences.

That grade four play was my first experience with the guardian at the gate.  I learned that editors are not to be trusted, and that if given the chance, they will take your work away from you in all the ways that matter.

I know that this is not true, but to this day I cringe at the thought of giving my work into the hands of others, and when I do, I resist seeing the sense in the recommendations of well-meaning colleagues and mentors.  But I deal, and I return to my work fuelled by the need to improve.

Have you had any formative writing experiences where a “guardian” figure put obstacles in your way?  Have you read Campbell or Vogler, or both?  Is there value in their work for you?

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