Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Judy Blume Was In My Head

I’ve been reading since I was three years-old. Then, my hands were barely big enough to hold a hard-cover illustrated storybook, my lap too small to hold the stacks of books I loved to pull from the shelves at the library. But, my love affair with words was immediate and addictive. Inquisitive (read: nosy) from birth, it seemed, learning to read was my passage-way into constantly unfolding stories and undiscovered worlds. During pre-teen years, my reading addiction led me to create a new type of insubordination that parenting manuals hadn’t prepare my mom for; she routinely had to reprimand me for neglecting my household chores in pursuit of finishing a new book I had checked out from the Book Mobile. So, when I became a new fan of Judy Blume’s young adult books, Mom’s job as disciplinarian became all the harder. For, my voracious appetite for books seemed only heightened when Judy Blume’s books came into my life. While Deenie, Tiger’s Eyes and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing were loved, read, and re-read, nothing was as life-changing as Are You There God?  It’s Me Margaret.

Are You There God?, written three years before I was born, was still timely and relevant to my experience as an nine year-old in 1983. The protagonist’s struggles with self-esteem, identity and “girlness” resonated with me so loudly that I was astonished each moment I turned a page, as if someone had plucked my very thoughts and ruminations from my head and penned them to paper. The breast enlargement exercises (“…must, must, must increase my bust”) spoke to my esteem issues around being flat-chested. Margaret’s conversations to God mirrored my own daily night musings about who was God, where was God and why did God do what he did. The book gave me familiar. But, what’s more, I grew in perspective. Blume’s often hilarious and always accurate voice through her character Margaret told me that I was not the only one who felt underdeveloped and confused about religion. As a frizzy-haired, loner yet extroverted little black girl in Maryland, I was reading my own story through the story of a middle-class, socially awkward pre-adolescent little white girl.  How could this be, I asked myself. I came to the conclusion then that we are, ultimately, all the same, where it matters most, at least.
My 5th grade class photo (I'm third row from bottom, 1st from left. Comic Dave Chappelle is top row, 5th from right)
 
I began actively writing around the time I read Are You There God? Lucky enough to be enrolled in an excellent elementary school in Montgomery County in Maryland, I was part of a program that encouraged free writing, brainstorming and story writing. My reading addiction was embraced. Are You There God?, then,  fueled my desire to write about my own feelings and perspective on things and encouraged me to “think out loud” on paper about everything—from relationships to identity.  Around this time, I was becoming a writer. I wrote poems about creation, my own myths based on Greek mythology, and intricate novellas about city life. I played with humor and always tried to infuse my writing with honesty that I found refreshing when I read Blume’s work. Those two traits—humor and honesty—are descriptions that I value when others review my work.
Almost thirty years later, I count Are You There God? as among my top twenty favorite books. Its value is timeless to me. As a young girl, it was a necessary handbook on-hand to refer to during bouts of questioning self-worth, thinking about God or finding a kindred voice that understood the pain of being flat-chested in a big-boobed world. As an adult, it is still a primer on how a strong voice is always the making of an engaging book. With that in mind, I keep it on hand for my own almost –nine year-old daughter who, already is a budding writer and emerging reader. I predict that even if she may not find the same intrinsic value in reading Are You There God? as I did, she will at least realize that somewhere out there is a book that will change her life forever, for the better.

Editor’s note: The essay above is in response to the What Book Changed Your Life Contest by Marita Golden. Winners receive an autographed copy of Marita Golden’s newest book THE WORD: Black Writers Talk About the Transformative Power of Reading and Writing. Submission deadline: February 5, 2011. Click here for more contest info. Also, I cut and paste this from my Word document and for some freakish reason, I was unable to re-format it and get rid of the tabs. Shout-out to Alan King, a writer who is part of my network on www.LiberatedMuse.com and posted his own essay which inspired me to write my own post about the book that inspired me. You can read Alan's essay HERE.)

4 comments:

Menda said...

You are so like me in our love of reading and writing, I'm thinking, I should read your books!

Well written,(and much appreciated).

Moon said...

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting, Menda. Yes, we do have a lot of common. I peeped that from your posts on LiberatedMuse.com.

Looking forward to reading your next blog post on Liberated Muse:-)

alanwking said...

Moon, congrats on winning the Marita Golden essay contest!

Moon said...

thank you, Alan!! You were the motivation behind entering:-)

Sociable

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