Dorothy Trades Places with the Tin Man

I just won a writing contest at Memoirs Ink. It is the first contest I have ever won. Being a grown up, it felt like all the Christmas mornings of my childhood. 

I began this writing journey four years ago when I enrolled in the MALS program (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Feeling restless and bored, sensing I needed something more, I responded to a curriculum catalog I picked up on a newsstand for the University which listed a class called “Writing for Readers.” I thought to myself, “I read, I used to write, why not?”

I remember feeling humble and scared at the first class. The teacher (amazing woman) had us go around the room and introduce ourselves and then she made us write. Everyone in the room was hesitant. We had to respond to a writing prompt with a mere paragraph. It was agony. For ten minutes we struggled and erased and crossed out and there seemed to be a collective groan pulsing like high frequency sound waves in the air. To top it off, she requested we read our responses out loud. She didn’t force us, but we could sense her eagerness and we already recognized her amazing-ness, so we acquiesced.

I will never forget driving home from that class. It was about a twenty minute trip and I wrote a poem in my head all the way and ran into my house to write it down. I still have it. I think it may be a very bad poem, but I love it. Since my name is Dorothy, I wrote a sort of metaphor about The Wizard of Oz and how Dorothy had kind of morphed into the Tin Man and how I, Dorothy, was now the Tin Man, released from my frozen, rusted state. I wrote that “words” had the same effect as oil and suddenly I was alive again, my pen limber and flowing. The poem may be dreck, but the sentiment is real. I began writing again that night and have never stopped.

I say I began again, because I have always loved to write. As a girl I wrote stories. I remember starting a novel in the fourth grade. “The Mystery at Blackberry Hill.” Obviously an homage to Nancy Drew. I wrote myths and fables. In six grade, I wrote a story called, “A Girl from California.” It was about a girl from California (duh) who moved to a suburb of Chicago and had trouble making friends and then she finds a really great boyfriend so everything is peachy again. It was written in the style of the short stories that appeared in Seventeen and Mademoiselle Magazines. Reading the short stories was the first thing I did when I received the magazines. I loved them.

“A Girl from California” was all me. Constance (the girl) looked like me and wore the same shade of lipstick as me (secretly, on the way to and from school.) The plot was me, the boyfriend was the boy I had a crush on and the mean friends were my mean friends. My teacher wrote on the story, “Very good story, did you really write it?” It didn’t occur to her that all the reading I did may have shown me a few tricks and informed my writing.I was devastated. Of course I had really written it. But her reaction, even though she apologized to me when I went to her in tears to proclaim the story was all me, spoiled writing for me a bit. I still wrote stories in high school, but dread always followed when I handed them in. I think I became gun shy.

When I saw the class “Writing for Readers,” I remembered sixth grade and thought, “see, reading DOES teach you a thing or two.” And it did and does. All of the stories written in my class, by supposed novices, were incredible. I even belong to a writing group now, “Scribblers,” with two of my former classmates. When the class ended the amazing teacher reminded us to keep reading, “read when you get stuck,” she said, “it will help your writing.” It’s true. It’s like saying “open sesame.” It works. I wish I could tell my sixth grade teacher THAT.

I want to thank Felice Austin of Memoirs Ink for choosing my memoir. I also want to congratulate the other winners whose stories I just finished. WOW. They are amazing as well. I love your stories, Deborah Thompson, Lisa Piorczynski and Merry Gordon.

Words are wonderful. Life is good.