I was cleaning out my office the other day, when I came across a box of old stuff I’d written when I was a teenager. Reading through this literary time capsule brought back a flood of memories, most of them cringeworthy.
What struck me most was the optimism of my teenaged self. Despite the pile of rejection slips I was already beginning to accrue, I was positive I’d succeed as a writer. This certainty was reinforced the summer after I graduated from high school, when I sold my first essay, “How I Met My New Man,” to a feminist magazine aimed at thirty-something career women (never mind that I’d only had a handful of dates at that point).
Flush with success, my next endeavor was a pioneer recipe contest. I didn’t actually have any pioneer recipes, but that didn’t deter me. I entered a weird cookie recipe (it involved yeast and floating the dough in cold water) that my grandmother had found taped to the bottom of a table she’d bought at a yard sale.
Since the contest required entrants to include the stories behind their recipes, I made up something about my great, great grandmother bringing the recipe across the plains in a covered wagon. Because of a sugar shortage on the prairie, this special recipe had become a mainstay in her kitchen. Despite the sketchy logic (A shortage of sugar, but an abundance of cinnamon, yeast, and vanilla extract?), I won second place. Mercifully, school started, and I spent my college years writing entertainment reviews and experimental poetry for the school newspaper.
During that time, I also sold a script to a Los Angeles company that made comic answering machine tapes. This was before the advent of voicemail, when most people had answering machines sitting on their counters, connected to their landline phones. The company, “First Ring,” made comedic tapes customers could purchase for their outgoing messages.
I sold them a script based on the old 1950s TV show, The Honeymooners. This was ironic, because the show had been off the air since before I was born and I’d never seen a single episode (although my grandparents had described it in great detail). Anyway, they bought all rights, sent me a check for a hundred dollars, and promptly went out of business.
Some day, when I’m really famous, I’ll show you some of the bad poetry.