Some things happen in fours.
On the fourth day of the fourth month after the winter holiday vacation, a famous writer came to our fourth-grade class. Her name was Ms. Mirabel. She liked the “Ms.” a lot. She hissed “Ms.” like Evie’s cat, Looley, hissed. I looked over at Evie and she was smiling. She had thought of Looley, too.
Ms. Mirabel had long, troubled hair and a chest that pushed out in front of her like a grocery cart.
“Did you always want to be a writer?” asked Henry.
He smiled at me. Hen carried a notebook with him at all times, sometimes stopping in the middle of soccer practice to pull it out and write something.
“No,”, said Ms. Mirabel. “I wanted to be a stage performer or an electrical engineer.”
“How much money do you make?” asked Evie.
“Evie,” warned our teacher, Miss Cash. “That’s not a proper question to ask.”
“That’s all right,” said Ms. Mirabel cheerfully. “I make enough to send my children to camp in the summer.”
Evie frowned. She hated camp. She had once said that only cruel and uninterested parents sent their children off to camp in the summer. Evie knew firsthand. Her parents had sent her off to Camp Minnetuba the summer that they separated. When Evie returned home, her mother had moved out; her father lived there with Evie and her little brother, Thomas.
“Temporary,” said her father and mother. “It had nothing to do with you.”
Evie thought it had lots to do with her. From time to time her mother visited, but she never stayed very long.
“Is what you write real?” asked May.
Ms. Mirabel brightened. She liked that question.
“Real or unreal. They’re just about the same,” said Ms. Mirabel. “They are both all about magical words!”
She said words with a soft hush in her voice.
“Do you write with an outline?” Russell asked.
Ms. Mirabel laughed loudly. It was a sudden, startling laugh; and we all laughed, too.
“Of course not,” she said. “Outlines are silly. Once you write the outline, there’s no reason to write the story. You write to participate … to find out what is going to happen!”
Miss Cash frowned. This is not what she had taught us in creative writing class.
“Actually, I loathe outlines!’ said Ms. Mirabel with great feeling.
Miss Cash closed her eyes as if her head hurt.
And then Hen asked the question that made all the difference to us.
“Why do you write?” he asked.
Ms. Mirabel sighed. There was a sudden hush in the room, as if Ms. Mirabel was about to say something very important.
As it turned out, she was.
“I, myself, write to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to,” she said. “But other people write for other reasons: to see more closely what it is they are thinking about, what they may be afraid of. Sometimes writers write to solve a problem, to answer their own question. All these reasons are good reasons. And that is the most important thing I’ll ever tell you. Maybe it is the most important thing you’ll ever hear. Ever.”
“Some writers write to earn money,” said Evie.
“They do,” said Ms. Mirabel. “But that is only one reason to write. And usually not the most important.”
“What is we have nothing to write about?” I asked. “And how do we change life by writing?” I added.
Miss Cash smiled.
“Lucy doesn’t think her life is very interesting,” she said.
My life wasn’t interesting. Unless you counted my mother’s cancer. Her cancer filled up the hours these days. Sadness filled up my house. Sadness was all I knew. How could I change that?
“Well, she’s wrong,” said Ms. Mirabel. She walked over to stand in front of me.
“You have a story in there, Lucy,” she said, touching my head. “Or a character, a place, a poem, a moment in time. When you find it, you will write it. Word after word after word after word,” she whispered.
The school bell rang. Ms. Mirabel jumped slightly. No one moved. Then, after a moment, Miss Cash took Ms. Mirabel’s arm and they went out the door. We all picked up our notebooks and went off to try to change our lives. Word after word after word.
(— to be continued)