I spent 14 summers in a row spending a week at Girl Scout Day Camp. From about 3 until the summer I was 17. I started as a tweeny. Too little to be in the brownie group while my mom led a group for one of my sisters. They made me take a nap. I still resent it. I got a tick when I was 5 and the camp nurse had me pick the color of nail polish used to kill it, and popped that perfect specimen in a jar. My last year they were still using it as the visual aid to help leaders spot tics while checking hair after hikes.
By the time I got around to program-assisting I was an expert in all things day camp. Lighting fires with candle-kisses? I got that. You haven’t lived until you have taught 15 first grade girls sporting long pony tails how to properly handle fire (don’t forget your full water bucket with the wet stick poked in). You don’t know an exciting summer adventure unless you have supervised second graders as they chop vegetables for the kabob they probably won’t eat anyway.
Before you hand those young girls the pairing knife, you make them earn their knife safety cards. Before you pull out your blade you hold the knife with the blade tucked away, your arm fully extended you turn a slow circle. If you don’t hit anybody, proceed. You make them practice with cardboard cut-outs of switch blades, red lipstick smudged on the edge. A red mark is left wherever the fake blade is touched. Whoops, remember, we don’t handle the blade. Don’t hit anyone with that. You could make someone bleed. Those things are sharp.
Sometimes I wonder if our stories aren’t like those knives. We have to use them. They prepare our food; they save our lives. But be careful with those stories, those things are sharp. You could hurt somebody with those.
I wonder if we shouldn’t have to pass some sort of story-safety course before we hit the internet. I see so many stories flying through the air, ones I know are hurting people, ones I know are cutting too close. I want to be careful with my stories. I don’t want to make anyone bleed.
I have started telling the stories I stopped telling. I am one chapter shy of having a very rough first draft of the book I began telling people I was writing 6 years ago. The last two Tuesdays I have posted bits and pieces right here and have gotten a heartening response. But I get nervous everytime I hit that publish button. Am I representing my students well? Is there someone I didn’t see in my knife safety circle? Was the circle safe when I started, but someone walked in unknowingly. I’m scared of making someone bleed.
At the same time I want these stories to cut deep. If I didn’t believe in them I wouldn’t spend my summer putting them down and getting rejected five agents at a time. Like a surgeons stroke, I need them to be precise and sure. I am hoping these stories give new life to a system that is very, very ill. I suppose I know that there is a chance that my stories bleed out on the table. I don’t want to knick any arteries. I don’t want to make it worse.
I am longing for a knife safety circle for my stories. I am trying to make sure I don’t hurt anyone.