The write time

- Carolyn Graham, Editor cgraham@sfnewmexic­ Follow us: @Thepasatie­mpo @Pasatiempo­mag

When I was in the first grade, I wrote a poem that was published in The Las Cruces Sun-news, included among other winners across the city for the paper’s writing contest. I think seeing my work in black and white, right there on the pages of such an esteemed publicatio­n, might be my first memory, only slightly predating the time I accidental­ly opened the car door thinking I was rolling down the window as we were speeding down Solano Drive. Thankfully, my dad reached over from the driver’s seat just in time to save me from a hard blacktop landing (“What are you doing?!” was also his panicked-parent attempt at comforting me).

Another key memory? I’m a New Year’s baby, and when my parents enrolled me in the first grade at the age of 5, the local paperwork checkers at the Las Cruces school district saw fit to pull me out after discoverin­g that a student, me, had been born just a few hours past the cutoff for that year’s enrollment.

I had been in school only a few weeks, but I loved it. But etched deep in the corners of my brain like a dark stain, I can still see my first grade teacher’s face as she told me during “quiet time” (what I came to learn was actually new marketing for “nap time”) that I wouldn’t be returning until the next school year. All that while Debussey’s Clair de lune played on a scratchy record player in the background. My parents sued, and I returned triumphant­ly to the first grade just a few weeks later (and ultimately to write the aforementi­oned award-winning “Rocket in My Pocket”).

In the third grade, I wrote about that experience, which I didn’t realize had cut a deep and traumatic slice through my psyche. I lived in constant fear of another “you’re too young for this” extraction from the classroom, so it forced me to try harder than anyone, being the youngest and usually the smallest among my classmates. (Incidental­ly, that do-or-die drive resulted in me at one point getting knocked out during a game of Red Rover, wherein I didn’t realize my tiny body would be no match for those locked arms.)

I digress, but what I didn’t know at the time was that the evil-doers at the school district gave me something I didn’t know I needed: Material for a thirdgrade memoir assignment.

As I read through the hundreds of entries in this year’s Pasatiempo Writing Contest, I felt every emotion, saw through the eyes of every writer, and was transporte­d into the worlds constructe­d on each page. A kitchen filled with spices, a car on a road trip, a young girl’s reflection on her hair, a tree — they represent the magic of words and their ability to provide a sweet and utter escape into a worldview that’s not our own. And all of us here at Pasatiempo left those reading experience­s inspired (and I’ll admit also tired, because more than 300 of you entered this year).

So much like 5-year-old me who received encouragem­ent from teachers, family (thanks, Dad, for not letting me fall out of the car that day), and crusty old newspaper editors who published poems by first graders, I want to lift my favorite pen in support of this great community of writers, many of whom were generous enough to share their traumas and triumphs and put them out there to be seen by the contest judges and Pasa readers at large.

And as we head into the holidays and New Year’s (no gifts, please), I hope you’ll be inspired by them, too.

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