Farmer John Lights a Spark

The other day, Glen did a post on what started him writing all the wonderful stories he posts to his blog. He credits his father and his grandfather for reading him stories when he was a child. Glen then asked his readers what started them writing.

I had to think about this for a while. We didn’t have books in the house when I was a kid – aside from the family medical dictionary and a bible. I don’t remember owning any picture books or anyone ever reading stories to me.

Both my parents were pretty good storytellers, however. My mother’s stories were usually real life tales of woe and horror from her childhood during the war back in the old country or re-tellings of tales of woe and horror that she was told as a child. They were usually full of blood, gore, dismemberment, death, starvation, misery, pillaging, deprivation, superstition and dire warnings.

My dad’s stories on the other hand, were pure fantasy. We had a tapestry which travelled around various walls in the house,  that depicted a farm somewhere in a lush valley. There was a farmhouse and a barn, a pair of horses, a well and a farmer with his plow. I don’t know where the tapestry came from or where it went (because I would LOVE to have that now) or whether it belonged to my mum or my dad, but this thing was the focus of all my dad’s dreams and therefore the setting of all my dad’s stories.

Many nights before bed he’d tell us kids stories about that farmer, who he called “Bauer Johann.”  (Which cleverly translates into Farmer John. You’d have thought he’d have come up with a more imaginative name since he was going to all the trouble of inventing stories, wouldn’t you?). Anyway, I think Bauer Johann lived the life my dad wanted to live and I must say, it was a pretty darned good life. Bauer Johann frequently found casks of treasure whilst plowing his field. Bauer Johann’s horse sometimes talked and warned him about approaching storms and stuff so he could prepare. Bauer Johann’s fields always produced an overwhelming bounty of crops and his streams were always overloaded with fish.

Interestingly, Bauer Johann had no kids.

Anyway, when I finally went to school at the ripe old age of 7, I couldn’t speak more than maybe a dozen words of English. One of the first things they did at this school was hand out reading books (Sandy and Susan not Dick and Jane). I was really excited to have a book and even more excited to find out that I was going to learn to read the book’s stories for myself.

Not to brag or anything, but by Christmas I was the best reader in the class. I wish I still had that faculty for learning an entire new language in less than 4 months.  And I wish that had made me a special child, but it didn’t. Most immigrant children then and now are able to become fluent in their new language in a matter of months. Isn’t it sad that our brains lose so much capacity over the years?

Anyway, once I knew how to read, I read everything I could get my hands on with complete indiscrimination.  The public library became my second home and I made the poor librarian’s life hell by pestering her non-stop to get me books from the adult section once I’d finished all the stupid books in the kid’s section.

Somewhere along the line I guess I figured I could write stories as well as reading them and started churning out ridiculous  educational tales for my siblings. One of my brothers kept most of them and has them somewhere in a trunk in his house. He brought some along to some family thing once and we all laughed our asses off.

So, reading and writing has occupied most of my time since then. Since I first learned to read, I don’t remember a day in my life when I didn’t have a book on the go. And while I’ve never written a blockbuster novel or even a lacklustre novel, I have managed to earn my living, off and on, by writing in some form or another for most of my adult life. I’ve been a copywriter for an ad agency; I’ve written newspaper and magazine articles on a freelance basis; I worked as a publicist for various arts organizations writing press releases and ad copy and program notes and such; and, I’ve written a lot of really boring stuff for the government for the last 18 years.

Oh ya, and I write a blog just for fun.

So, that’s my story, Glen. As you can see it would have been way too long to leave as a comment.

I reckon most bloggers have the same passion for reading and writing or they wouldn’t be able to do it day after day. Like Glen, I’d be interested to know what sparked that passion in your life?

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16 responses to “Farmer John Lights a Spark

  1. When I was a kid, there were books all over the house, my parents were both avid readers. And no book was off limits (you know, the “that’s too nice a book” syndrome). If it was on the shelves, and reachable it was fair game.

    I’ve always loved stories, and I wrote stories as a kid, and sappy poetry as an adolescent (thank god THAT’s been dumped) but I never did have the urge to write a novel or to earn my living as any sort of writer. I just don’t see myself keeping track of characters and am quite content to read what others have written.

    I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 13 and that – along with the blog – pretty much takes care of my need to write. Because it is a need, sort of. I feel off if I don’t do some form of writing regularly.

  2. I have loved reading since I have memory. I learned to read in Spanish when I was 2 ½ years old, and since I have not stop reading and reading. I remember during summer times, the load of books I carried out to our summer house were always shorter than the holidays, so, I have to re-read them or find any piece, even from an old newspaper or crappy magazines, anything would be ok if they accomplish the purpose to give me lines to read.
    As a teenager, I was able to read in other languages, but my comprehension skills were improved just when I came here to Canada. Nowadays, I can compare the understanding of those readings at the University in my other country and my understanding now, and it is a huge difference!!
    Now, the time I can allocate for reading is shorter than before… life is busy, isn’t it? But, still I am able to find an excuse to read something, if it is not a book, it is an article in the newspaper, or a posting is some blogs, and the fun about it is that I can do it in at three different languages and understand the whole meaning. Furthermore, I am so proud that I can choose read many books in the language they have been written… and it is wonderful because translation make substantial lost to the content.
    About writing… it is different… I love to write too, but, writing in different languages than my first language makes me feel embarrassed since I do grammar mistakes…

  3. I wouldn’t say that I have a passion for reading and writing, they are just things I like to do. I, too, was the best outloud reader in first grade and had little patience for the slow and troubled readers. My first “writing” came about with Archie comics. I would trace page after page filling in my own costumes and my own story. It was probably more of a control issue. I’ve always actually hated the act of writing by hand, it was never comfortable for me, and I’m a two-fingered typist so it’s not an easy thing to write. In my freshman year for our final exam we had to do a paper on writing and the title of my paper was, “Why I Would Rather Talk Than Write.” I got an “A.”

  4. Dr. Monkey – Are you writing an unauthorized biography? I always figured I had it made when people started writing my unauthorized biographies.

    Jazz – I know all about your diaries!! Everyone should go to your blog and read excerpts from an angst-riddled teenager – well aren’t they all? If I had to choose between reading and writing it would be difficult, but I’d probably choose reading. It’s a lot more interesting.

    Nathalia – Welcome to the blog. How great that you can read in different languages. I only have 2 languages myself, but hope to acquire enough skills in a 3rd to do some reading in that language as well. It’s really an entirely different experience reading in another language, isn’t it?

    Geewits – I think you should have been a cartoonist. Maybe that’s what the re-doing of the Archie comics was all about? Is it too late?

  5. We had tons of books in the house when I was growing up. Kids’ books, adult books, all kinds of books. Before I could read, I would make up stories and tell them to anybody who would listen, but after awhile nobody would listen because my stories never actually ended. They just went on and on until people couldn’t stand it anymore and went screaming in the other direction.

    Once I learned how to print, I started telling my stories on paper instead.

  6. Our house was always full of books too. My sister and I pestered my mum to put down her book and come play with us. We used the library religiously and I still remember standing in the children’s section looking for a Dr. Seuss that I hadn’t already read. My mum says I learned to read when I was 3 with the British version of the Dick and Jane books given to me by my great aunt.

    Like Jazz, I did the teenage sappy poetry thing, and wrote short stories, but have never tried to write fiction as an adult.

    Reading is ingrained. I go to the library the same way that I go to the grocery store and the gas station. I need food, gas for the car, and books. Need. Not want. In fact, one of the reasons that I bought the house I did was the fact that if I leave out the back door, and don’t have the kids with me slowing me down, I can walk to the local library in less than 3 minutes.

  7. I read voraciously as a child, and my mother fanned the flames by giving me every book she finished. Often they were of dubious age-appropriateness (she read fantasy, so there was violence, death and rape in them (Thomas Covenant, I’m looking at you)) but largely I didn’t understand the adult bits until years later after a second read.

    It was even worse when I got a job as a page in a library when I was in my early teens… re-shelving the books introduced me to so many good friends and rare was the night I left work without a book or two.

    I still read every chance I get, and it is a source of some small disappointment to me that no-one else in the house likes to read, not even my husband. What a treasure they’re missing out on, what a solace denied.

  8. I did not have much opportunity to play with other children when I was growing up. So from an early age, I learned to play by myself and I did this by creating a world of fantasy from all the things around me. The garden stone table and seats became ancient Aztec ruins. A fast running drain became the Colorado River etc.

    I did not read much but the few books I did read had a big impact. One that I remember having an early impact were the short stories of Rudyard Kipling. But I was also influenced by Science fiction writers like Brian Aldiss.

    I started with writing poems. I still have some of those early works……and they are just embarrassing. When I was 14, I took part in an International Youth Writing Competition called the Nehru Award. I submitted two stories. One was a science fiction piece and the second was an abstract piece about the loss of childhood innocence. I won a consolation award.

    And that was the high note of my writing career as I pursued a science education and left writing behind other than some stories and articles printed in the school magazine.

  9. Zoom – Okay, now you’re just begging for me to say, “Well your paper/blog stories are so much better that people are actually screaming FOR them.”

    Alison – So right. Grocery store, pet food store, liquor store, library. I don’t think I ever wrote poetry. My high school boyfriend used to write me poems and they always made me grit my teeth. Dude! If you have something to tell me, just freakin’ tell me…what’s with all the rhyming couplets.

    Susan – I know what you mean. My daughter used to love me reading to her. We lived almost next door to the library so she attended the kids’ programs over there and learned to read long before she went to school. Then all of a sudden she lost all interest in reading. Now she only reads when she’s forced to at school and moans and complains the whole time. I’m hoping she’ll rediscover her early love for books one day when she gets over being a teenager. And speaking of inappropriate reading, I used to love D H Lawrence as a pubescent. It wasn’t until I got to university that I found out what he was really writing about.

    Lebowski – Oh stop it. I don’t know why you always present yourself as a dumb redneck. I guess that’s the Lebowski side of you?

    LGS – BBut you didn’t leave writing behind at all — you’re writing fine and interesting stuff on your blog! Once you discover a liking for it, I don’t think you can ever leave it behind for good.

  10. Xup, thank you for the welcome. I love to read your posts but I am shy to post comments, since I have to do it in English…
    I know that you are able to read in Spanish, and you should be proud of it!

    ….and you don’t need to be in 3rd grade to learn other language… I have improve my language skills in my 3rd decade!! and… one decade after I am still trying it…

  11. Nathalia – I don’t actually read Spanish – just German and some French, but I use the Google translator to help with Spanish on Guillermo’s blog. Spanish is next on my list of languages to learn though!