Words, Words, Words!

                                                 Tom Birdseye

As a kid, I often wondered where the words in books came from. I knew that a person called a writer was responsible for them. But to me writers were more mythical than real, living in wild and exotic places, far from the stubbed-toe, tree-climbing, gotta-set-the-table reality of my Greensboro, North Carolina world. Words just came to them, I figured, spiraling ever-so-perfect into their gifted minds, then through some miraculous dip-si-doodle onto the page as a bonafide marvel for me to read.

This that I imagined was a far cry from my own experience at school. Convinced that my writing should sound like someone else's -- preferably a professor of English grammar -- I wrestled my words out of any natural vocabulary or cadence, then penned the new "right" version into awkward submission. Panting with the effort of producing such masterpieces as My Summer Vacation, George Washington-- Our First President! and The Life Cycle of a Pinto Bean, I thanked my lucky stars when the 3:10 bell rang and I was pardoned -- WHEW! -- until the next day. How writers pulled off what they did, I didn't have a clue. It was all literary hocus-pocus to me.

And yet time slipped on by, the right teacher came along at the right time and, to the surprise of many (including myself), I became a writer.

A little hocus-pocus of my own? No, nothing so magical. I wrote and rewrote, sweating over plot, place and people in my stories, struggling with my poor spelling and punctuation skills. I spent years getting better . . . s-l-o-w-l-y.

But in the process of that slow learning, something more than a passable story began to emerge. At first it was muffled, like Beethoven played in a bucket of mud. But over time it grew stronger, and stronger, until finally it rang out clear. It was my writer's voice, the lilt and rhythm of where I've lived, who I've known, what I've done. With that voice, I began to sing.

Words, words, words. For me, they are the notes of storytelling, and they are everywhere. In fact, there are so many that I have to carry a small notebook in my back pocket just to keep track. If Aunt Dana says, "the mosquitoes were so big they made the cats pay rent to sleep in the barn," I write it down. Or if Opa Holsclaw says, "those guys are so crooked they have to screw their socks on every morning," I write that down, also. Or if I see some kids playing tag on a summer evening and I remember doing the same thing years ago -- running after a friend yelling, "I'm gonna' open up a can of gotcha and send you airmail to the moon!" -- those words go into my notebook, too. They float around in my brain and on my tongue, becoming part of who I am. Then, just as sure as pigs like mud, they come out again when I start writing. They come out shouting, "Why just say it, when you can make it really live!"

Just the other day, my four-year-old daughter Amy looked out the window at an afternoon storm and said, "The world is a big dog that shakes when it rains."

Raining words, I thought, wonderful, wonderful words.

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