Thursday, October 22, 2009

Must be genetic

Halloween is fast approaching and my six-year-old son, Zach, has decided he wants to be a butterfly. Not just any butterfly, but the King Butterfly. Now you have to understand that for the past two years, he has spent his summers running through the neighborhood, net in hand, capturing any poor butterfly that had the misfortune to fly too close to his net. He has become quite good at it, and often has a trail of kids running after him, wielding their own nets and capturing their own butterflies.

Most of the butterflies he gets are the little cabbage white butterflies, but once he got a yellow swallowtail. Zach plopped the swallowtail into a cage and christened him the King Butterfly. The rest of the day Zach spun elaborate yarns about the yellow swallowtail. The King lives in a certain tree at the edge of the woods that line our property and if you knock, he'll come out (this actually happened once.) There is a Queen butterfly, a prince, and a guard butterfly.

The stories went on and on over the summer until the neighborhood kids started building cardboard houses for the King and his entourage. Some mornings I'd walk outside and find little plates of food under our butterfly bush, gifts someone left for the King.

So of course, when Halloween rolled around, Zach wanted to be the King Butterfly. What else would he be? So while I was cutting out yellow fabric to make wings for my son, I started thinking about the myths he created around the King Butterfly and the way he passed those stories on. He spent so much time chasing butterflies and telling stories about them that no one is surprised that he wants to be a butterfly for Halloween. Really, what else would he be?

We have four kids, but Zach is our only biological child. He is always coming up with weird interests which is the way I was when I was young. I was the weird kid in my class, and now I guess I've passed that on to my son. I don't think this is a bad thing, my dad was the same way, it just makes me wonder. Is there something in our genes that pushes us toward writing? My dad was a chemist, but he also wrote poetry and creative non-fiction.

So many of us are compelled to write. We don't do it for fame, or money. We write for the joy bringing our stories to life. Even without the promise of publication we write. Even when we've been rejected by every publisher or agent out there, we write. It's hard, exhausting work, but we keep at it. We are like Zach, chasing butterflies and spinning tales about the King. And I wonder, is there something in us that pushes us to write? Is it that inner weird kid still pushing her way out?

What do you think? How many of you were the weird kid?

Zach in the garden


  1. I was called L7 for square head. I also wore large glasses and had a gap in my teeth. LOL! However, looking back, there were more kids that were considered strange, nerds, or any other name we kids could come up with. So, my question is - Is wierd the majority?

  2. I love this post! Yup, I told tales of a magical world, and I'd pass them on behind the school building during lunch... When I told my brother I had started writing "for real," he said he wasn't surprised. :)

    I love the King Butterfly story :) I hope your kids have a great Halloween. :)

  3. Maybe weird is the majority, but I think most people try to hide their inner weird. ;-) Maybe as writers we're just more okay with our weirdness?

  4. I was always weird, but just as I seem to not much recognize or care about "the norm" now, I wouldn't have thought of myself as weird. I was always "unique," even as a kid -- I started reading adult text books when I was four years old and was reading Modernist literature by the time I was twelve. I wrote books when I was a kid, and even sent one to Jimmy Carter (who wrote back to me, which was the first time my parents realized I was corresponding with the president). My parents are rather unusual, though they don't think of themselves that way. "Independent thinkers" sums us up, I suppose. (You should see their house - my dad designed and built it himself; you will never see anything like it anywhere else. And they raise ostriches.) We tend to have very bright, very odd people in our family and are accepting of characteristics that fall outside the norm because, well, that includes most of us. :<)