I cannot pinpoint the moment I knew I would become a writer. It seems writing has always been with me — like an imaginary friend, or a shadow. However, I can recall a moment when a shift occurred because something within me had been named.
Some friends and I were on our way home from Longfellow School. Walking along Jackson toward the stoplight, the crossing guard was ready to take us across Ridgeland. I never spoke to her save to say "Hello" occasionally, but I thought of her as strong, and sturdy. She seemed like the sort of person who knew everything about everyone. She knew, not from being nosy, but from observation — from standing on that corner of Ridgeland and Jackson year after year, and watching us grow from 5-year-olds, waddling away from toddlerhood, to 12-year-olds running, many times tripping, toward teenage-dom.
It was on this corner while we were waiting for the light to turn green, and for the crossing guard to take her first steps so we could take ours, that I was in the middle of telling a story to my friends. It was a true story, one with suspense and intrigue. At least I was doing my best to make it that way.
We crossed, I finished my story, and my friend Sarah nudged me in the side and said, "I swear, Callie, that story gets better every time you tell it."
She was being sarcastic. She was understandably exasperated from hearing the story probably hundreds of times. But she was right. My story did get better the more I told it.
Stories have always been my way of making sense of my life and the world, of creating some order from what often feels like chaos. Put me in any social studies classroom at Longfellow, at Percy Julian, at Oak Park and River Forest High School, and ask me to locate North, South, East and West, and I am unable to do it.
But stand me on the East Avenue overpass and I know west is where Ferrara Pan Candy is, where my friends and I would sometimes ride our bikes with quarters in our pockets for brown bags of jelly beans so fresh their coating seeped into the paper. North is the sledding hill at Ridgeland; we believed one day we'd go fast enough to fly right over Lake Street.
East was Sears Tower and Lake Shore Drive where during fall and spring when Lake Michigan was either fighting winter's inevitable frost or waking up from it, the waves were furious. We'd drive alongside the lake, pillowed between the skyscrapers and water.
South was Rehm Pool where I spent most of my childhood summers, and Rehm Park, where I spent one morning in April of my senior year sitting on a park bench reading Betty Smith's Joy in the Morning. The plan was not to read. I'd been arguing with my parents over my college plans. They said I was going; I said I was not. I'd grabbed the book off their bookshelves so I would have something to aid me in my stubbornness and keep me on the park bench. It was Annie McGairy I saw myself in, or who I wanted to see myself in — a girl who loved words, loved stories — and it was Annie McGairy who got me off that bench, and toward home, and then on to the rest of my life.
I wouldn't proclaim writing stories are my way of finding myself; rather, that they are my way of making myself at home. My second book, Twirl: My Life with Stories, Writing, and Clothes is about the many places I found myself at home. It is a book about making sense of my life through story, something I believe harkens back to what my friend Sarah said some 30 years ago: Don't be afraid to look again, to tell again. It is in returning to what mystifies us, and creating from it, that we find ourselves at home.
Callie Feyen now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her family. For more on her new book and to purchase: calliefeyen.com/book.
Answer Book 2018
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