Back in elementary school, every year the entire school would do this “Young Author’s Fair” thing. Every student in every class would have to write a story that fit the requirements of the grade they’re in. Like, third graders had to write poems, or first graders had to write about their family. Stuff like that. There would be class time dedicated to this. At the end of the year, there’d be a special assembly announcing “winners” of this. Several books would be picked out from each grade and get first place, second place, honorable mention, etc. Winners got a special colored ribbon. Everyone else got a participation ribbon that we all knew didn’t mean shit, let’s get real here. In fact, I’m pretty sure winners got the participation ribbon on top of the winning ribbon.
Year after year I had hoped to get in some sort of place. Ever since it started in Kindergarten. But every year, I didn’t. Until fifth grade. In fifth grade, we were all required to write three short stories. All three of my stories starred animals. And it won an honorable mention. Thankfully, I found this out in class instead of at the assembly because after expressing excitement for getting an honorable mention, I got made fun of. And it’s one of the reasons why I react to exciting news with indifference. I could win the god damn lottery and I’d just be all, “yeah, that’s cool.” But this post isn’t about my tragic backstory. No, this is about the content inside my “winning” book.
I came across it the other day. I have a large box that contains all of those Young Authors Fair stories, other stories, art stuff, a newspaper from the day I was born, baby book, baby teeth, that kind of stuff. I had to dig it out to put away a birthday card from my grandma in case it ends up being my last one from her. And while I had the box pulled out and opened, I decide to poke around in there.
That’s when I found it.
The first short story was about a wolf who never ate meat. It was lame and boring. The second one was about a cat that needed glasses. It was cute and funny. But the third one… Oh boy. I have to share it. (Transcript below photo if it’s too hard to read.)
[Transcript: Once there was a horse named Ginger. He was a poor, scrawny, clumsy horse. All the horses made fun of him. Ginger was very skinny. Nobody liked him. He wished that he was fatter and not so clumsy and scrawny. One day, Ginger found a candy bar still in the wrapper. Ginger knew that chocolate makes you fat, so Ginger got the wrapper open and ate the candy bar. He loved it. Whenever he saw a candy bar, he would eat it. One day, he became fatter, and he wasn’t so scrawny or clumsy. He was glad, but he was hooked on the candy bars. He kept on eating them. Soon he became the fattest horse. He began to wish that he was a bit skinnier. So Ginger went on a diet, but it didn’t work. He couldn’t stop eating candy bars. It was hard for him to stop. Soon Ginger learned a lesson, and that was not to eat too many candy bars, no matter how skinny he was.]
This is the deepest, most realest story I have ever written in my entire life and nothing could ever top it.
I’m joking, but it blew me away how this could be interpreted as a commentary on body image and addiction. Little ten year old me lived in a bubble. I didn’t know about addiction. I mean, I knew what it was but I didn’t know what it was. And I’ve always been really skinny, but I don’t remember ever feeling insecure about it. (At least not until my 20’s, anyway.) I knew fat people got made fun of, and that dieting was a thing people did to lose weight. But I never actually sat down and thought about the effects of having negative body image. I never thought about how addiction can affect lives. I was ten, living in the year 1999. All I ever thought about was Pokemon.
Yet there I was, writing out what I probably intended to be a story about a horse and “ha ha ha what if he found a candy bar?? candy bars are yummy I’m addicted to candy bars myself!!!1 and if u eat 2 many u get FAT!” That’s probably what my stream of consciousness was doing.
And adults were probably reading this and being all “wow, that’s deep for a little kid let’s give her story an honorable mention.”
I’m not even gonna touch upon Ginger traditionally being a “girl’s name,” yet I used male pronouns for him. There’s an element of trans issues thrown in on top of everything else. But trans issues were far off the radar back then.
I just thought I’d share this story and anecdote, because I can’t get over 10 year old me writing what I thought would be a funny story but is actually about serious issues I was too little to understand at the time. I don’t know how I managed to pull that off but hey, at least I had finally gotten a ribbon for something that wasn’t just participation.