Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Early, Early Work

by Stefan Merrill Block

Like many writers, when my stories start to feel severed from whatever hidden wellspring in my unconscious from which they all originally flow, I return to the books I've loved the most, particularly ones from my teenage and even childhood years. It's an abstract, probably overly romantic impulse, but I like to believe that though my adult writing is preoccupied by things I couldn't have thought about in my childhood, the books of my childhood -- or, more accurately, the feeling of reading the books of my childhood-- birthed the underground river that has always rushed just beneath every decent thing I've ever written. And so, even in the midst of writing about adult lovers in a mental hospital (a current project), I often re-calibrate myself with my 400th reading of Roald Dahl's Matilda, or Kafka's The Metamorphosis, or Calvino's Invisible Cities, or -I'll admit it!- The Catcher in The Rye.

As part of my author tour for The Story of Forgetting, I'm in Dallas right now, staying with my parents in my childhood home, where the shelves are lined with such books, thrilling to rediscover each time I return. I'm used to this thrill, spending a few hours every year in my childhood library, spelunking my original cave of wonders. On this particular visit, however, my dad has presented me with a strange and unexpected set of relics: a collection of stories and poems I wrote when I was nine, ten, and eleven.

If reading the books I loved as a kid is a prospecting for underground waters, then my dad's unearthing of these stories is a geyser, shooting up with geothermal urgency but disappearing too quickly for me to get a decent look, leaving me soaking, confused, and a bit embarrassed. I don't know if this will be of any interest to anyone other than me, but this is -after all- a blog. Anyway, here's a selection:

-From the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans (despite the protests of my parents, I have always believed that this publication puts out whatever poetry kids send to it. But still: what a thrill at nine to see your work in print!)

-A piece of a short story I wrote at eleven. In this section, the main character (an eleven-year-old boy, of course) has become a human magnet, but -for reasons never explained- still has to ride with his mom to the airport to pick up his dad from a business trip.

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