I've met many writers and bibliophiles who say they don't remember when the reading and writing bug bit them. Most of them will tell you they were born that way.
But I do remember when I became a writer and bibliophile.
I was in K-5 and we were learning how to write properly in print. We wrote on wide lined paper with red dashes down the middle using graphite pencils as big around as the thumbs of a grown man. We even had plastic triangle grips for our pencils and everyone fought over the best colors and made frequent trades.
Writing time was my favorite time of the day in kindergarten--even more than recess. I lived for writing the sentences our teacher printed on the board and took pains not to write outside the lines. I wanted perfection.
Even at five years old, I loved writing to the point of being consumed by it. Except, instead of it consuming me, I consumed it.
One day, as I was staring adoringly at the instrument that allowed me to do what I loved, I had an overwhelming urge to know what it tasted like. That was when I ate the graphite out of my pencil.
It started innocently enough. I licked the sharpened edge of my pencil. I couldn't taste anything, so I bit the graphite and crunched it in my molars.
Some kids ate glue. Other kids ate paper. But I was the only kid in class who ate graphite.
Over the course of the week, I couldn't get enough. I would say that I thought eating graphite would make me a better writer, but I'm not sure I was even able to rationalize or articulate it at that point.
I even went so far as to crack open my pencil, pull the graphite stick out, and eat it like a Twizzler--to the great annoyance of my teacher who threatened to send a note home to my mother. But I didn't care.
All I knew is that I had to eat the graphite. Being a writer is in my blood. Literally.
I'm not the only little kid who loved something so inexplicably much that I had to consume it. In 2012 when Maurice Sendak, author of the famous children's book Where The Wild Things Are, died, I remembered a particular quote of his being widely circulated.
Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.
It's illogical. It's inexplicable. But it's a force that compels you to do what you love. It's a force that still compels me today in both my reading and my writing, but these days I leave the potentially toxic inedibles out of it.