The worm turns

WHEN I was a young girl, my sister asked me what I was going to do when I grew up. Out of clear sky, surprising myself, I answered, ``I am going to be a writer.'' All the intervening years I have had a feeling that I should try to live up to that assertion, but I just never got around to it. Now here I was starting a class. We wrote essays, character sketches. I felt embarrassed, apologetic about reading mine, but they passed without much comment, maybe I should say without much moment.

Then we were required to write a plot for a short story. Many in the class had difficulty with this assignment, but mine passed the instructor's critical eye. In fact, she went so far as to say it would make a delightful children's story. Hmmmm! Maybe I could write.

So I started my short story. It was, I thought, a lovely plot about the transition of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Its purpose was to reveal to children the continuity of life. Truly a noble theme! But I must not make it too serious, too elevated.

Remembering the storybooks of the four-year-old next door, I pattered in a realm of fancy, the caterpillar thinking, having struggles -- and what struggles! Once he was stepped on and wriggled back into shape. A chicken swallowed him but threw him back up. Tired of it all, he went to sleep and awakened a beautiful butterfly. What a climax! I wrote it with my soul, my assurance grew and grew. I carried it, secretly proud, to class.

Came time to read it. There was none of the previous hesitancy, no feeling that what I was about to read had best be thrown away. I read it with all the aplomb of an established writer reading his masterpiece. I finished and looked up expectantly. Dull silence.

Were they that impressed, awed? I hardly expected that, or did I? No, something was amiss. Their glances did not meet mine. The silence seemed to say, ``How can I tell her her slip is showing?''

I braced myself for the first critic.

``Well [how ruthless that little word can sound], a chicken has no stomach and can't regurgitate.''

My thought was, ``Who cares? Children wouldn't know that. She missed the entire point of my story.''

Next, ``What caterpillar can be stepped on and wriggle back into shape? They squash.''

Laughter.

Pragmatists everyone. After all, it's a child's story and meant to be fanciful.

On and on.

No editor would accept it. It isn't true to facts.

Who wants to write for an editor anyway?

Next, I faintly heard, ``A caterpillar doesn't change into a butterfly. It becomes a moth.''

Now they've done it, spoiled my climax, everything.

But wait! Mrs. Crandall, the instructor, has not expressed her opinion. She will say something kind and constructive. She always does. That will put them in their place and redeem me. I waited expectantly.

Carefully, weighing each word, she said, ``Don't be discouraged. We all have to go through this.''

The coup de gr^ace. The turning knife. I felt shorn, stripped, stark naked. If only I could put my head down on the hard table and bawl. It was a physical effort not to do so.

Mercifully, Mrs. Crandall called for the next in turn to read her manuscript -- the one who made the regurgitate comment -- I didn't listen.

I heard very little of what went on in the class for an interval. How much time elapsed, I don't know. I was learning what Mrs. Crandall meant by ``this.'' I was experiencing defeat. My story was a failure. I had just better get over this childishness and face up to it.

What led me to believe I could write, anyway? Just because of a desire smoldering for so long? Was that all that was required? What about all the time, effort, and research the others put into their writings? Someone said writing was one-fourth inspiration, three-fourths perspiration. Wasn't it ability, or rather lack of it, that was standing naked, needing to be clothed upon? I had better get busy.

Now I could admit, though perhaps grudgingly, the criticisms were fair, honest, and well meant. Maybe Mrs. Crandall had meant to be helpful.

My turn around the table was next. What could I say? I hadn't heard the manuscript read. She really is the best writer in the class. Magnanimously, I offered, ``It was good material and well written.''

After all, I'm no worm. I can wriggle back into shape.

I don't squash, either.

I shall write again.

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