Samuel Clemens wrote as Mark Twain. Charles Dodgson wrote as Lewis Carroll. I was thirteen years old, living in Jerusalem, and I wanted a pen name, too. I kept it a secret. In the gold trimmed pages of my red leather diary, I tried to emulate the authors I read: Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Emily Dickinson. I signed those entries with my new nom de plume: Emily Lovejoy.
I locked up this secret and others (“I like Robbie Schmidt”) within the pages of my diary with a tiny gold key. I slid the diary under the bed and hid the key in a drawer. It turns out that you don’t need a key to open a diary. A paperclip will do.
One night, at dinner, my brother looked at me with that smile of mischief and impending torture that little brothers have. I wondered what was coming my way and was horrified when I found out.
“How is Robbie Schmidt doing, Emily Lovejoy?”
I gasped and sat very still… my face hot with embarrassment. Even at nine, my brother was wickedly funny and was able to parody my diary with biting wit. As mortified as I was, I ended up laughing, too. When were older, he would read something I wrote and say, “Whoa, Emily Lovejoy!” This was code for “language too flowery and grossly girlish.”
Emily and I still argue as I write. She has been tempered over time, but she endures. We write side by side… I with my favorite pen and she with her broad brush of starry storied light.
I’ve learned that when I tried to emulate my favorite authors as a thirteen year old, I was using them as mentors. Thanks to Lucy Calkins, Carl Anderson, and others at the TCWRP at Columbia University, I now consciously teach my third graders to read the writers they love, — to read like writers, using good books as mentor texts. Notice it. Try it. Remember it. These are the three steps in working with a mentor text in Writing Workshop.
Learning to write from a writer you love turns out to be a time honored tradition. Emily Dickinson’s favorite author was her mentor, too. She said of Shakespeare, “Why clasp any hand but his?”
My little brother grew up and, among other things, taught creative writing in a university. This week would have marked his birthday. So on this particular Sunday morning, I am thinking about him, about writing, and about all he taught me about writing:
Everyone loves an artist. No one loves an artiste.
You can’t just write about life. You have to live it.
And his final and most generous lesson:
Don’t take death so seriously that you can’t be serious about life.
I notice it. I try it. I remember it… everyday. With love. With Joy.
What a lovely tribute to your brother and to you as a writer, a teacher and a teacher of writers.
What a wonderful post,
Hi Emily, I never knew you existed, so thanks for sharing. Love, Shirley
I tried to sign that Shirley Temple, but I was having a hard time having the comment getting accepted! She was my alter ego all those many years ago!
I remember you Ms. Lovejoy!!!
ps, Izzie has been telling me ALLLLL about Mr. Shakespeare!
In lieu of telling you what a wonderful surprise this is, I will channel John. “Starry storied light”?!?!? Oh, Emily.
I love the way you honor your brother in the things that you do.
A good writer also never apologizes or feels ashamed of his or her voice. Write what you know, and be who you are. Remind me to let you read my novel.
I think you should try to get this published…somewhere besides a blog. It is a lovely story, but also shows the power of mentor text. Years ago I saw an actress on the Marth Stewart show as a guest and she was supposed to be making a cake, but said she didn’t know how. Martha told her that her character was always baking. So she said, “Oh, Ok, I will act like I know how to bake a cake!” and suddenly she was a professional. I think of this often when I “act” like I am an artist, or a dancer, or drama teacher or a writer. It gets me through the rough spots.
I just blogged about those three steps last week. 🙂
I am sitting alone in the Black Shep restaurant waiting for a friend. I decide to use this nice quiet time to catch up on your blog. I cannot control the laughter that explodes from my mouth as I read the line that your brother said. Oh it brought me back to all the embarrassment I suffered at the hands and mouth of my own brother. Thanks Annie, for making my day everytime I read your blog.
Beautiful! I always look forward to reading your “slices” and this is one of my favorites.
I like the humor you included in this piece, about opening a diary with a paperclip! I also like the way you described your brother, I can relate! I love the phrase, “broad brush of starry storied light”, very descriptive and beautiful to say! The message, “Read like writers” is very important and this story is perfect for showing that.