Byline

August 30, 2022 § 23 Comments

By Melissa Ballard

“What’s that?”

“It’s a magazine that published one of my essays. See, you can read this.”

I pointed, and Adah read, “By Melissa Ballard.”

My almost six-year-old granddaughter is not easily impressed, but her eyes opened wide.

She looked at me and said, “Woah!”

Truth be told, I was excited, too. Most of my essays these days are published online, but in this case, there was also a print edition. It arrived on my birthday, while Adah was visiting, and both were a gift.

During her quiet time after lunch, I noticed Adah had borrowed my latest writing journal. Instead of the pencils I use, she had found a pen.

I glanced as I walked by. She had printed, laboriously, in the same font used for the title of my essay, “by” and her first and last name.  

After her bath that night, Adah clutched the journal while I read Judy Moody Predicts the Future to her. She interrupted me and asked, “Can we look at your newspaper again?” I realized she meant the magazine, so I grabbed it, and we opened it to my essay.

She waved her hand across the pages. “How did you think of all these words?”

 My first thought was black coffee in the morning and red wine at night, but even I knew that was not age appropriate. “There are lots of ways to get started,” I said. “Sometimes I write about my best thing of the day. Today you rode the bunny at the carousel five times. So, if I were you, I might write about that”.

Before long, I heard her sigh and say, “I messed up.”

“You can’t mess up in a journal. It’s the perfect place to make mistakes.” I showed her the messy writing and the cross-outs in the pages I’d written. I told her about multiple revisions (some experts say “seven”), peer readers, and editors. I turned to the inside front of the magazine and showed her the photo of the editor.

Thinking Adah had tuned me out a long time ago, I was surprised when she said, “Show me the mistakes she found in your words.”

I laughed and pointed to a section at the end. “The editor had to cut two thirds of it, because the article was too long, but she let me read it before it went to print.”

Adah asked me how to spell “rabbit” and continued writing. Before she went to sleep, she placed the journal and the pen on the table next to her bed. “I want to write as soon as I get up in the morning,” she said.

As I turned out the lights and left the room, I tried to remember the first time I met a writer; I could not, but I know I was an adult. I thought of all the books I’d read over the years, how I gradually learned the writing process, which was never explicitly taught, not even in college. I thought of my ongoing struggles with perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and drafts that refuse to gestate. I also thought about the absolute joy of writing when something clicks. I thought about the days, which occur with stunning regularity, when I can’t face my own writing, not even for a minute. Instead, I send a note to a writer whose essay I’ve enjoyed. I came to writing so late; Adah’s story will be different.

By seven a.m. Adah was ready to search the yard for real rabbits, and the journal sat dormant for the rest of her visit.

Five days later, as Adah and her parents packed last minute items before they left for the airport, I picked up the journal, grabbed a fat, triangle pencil, and slipped both into her backpack.

__________________

Melissa Ballard has written essays for Appalachian Review, the Brevity blog, Full-Grown People and other publications. Her work is forthcoming in Berea College Magazine.

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