I think every writer grows up learning to love stories first. I was raised by a family of book worms, and although it took a few picture books to lull me to sleep each night, my real interest were in the stories my father told me. At six years old, my father held me in his lap and told me about the story of redcoats and the bluecoats. The bluecoats were the good guys, fighting for their freedom and the right to pursue their dreams while the redcoats were the bad guys, coming into their land to take their freedom away. Little did I know at the time that each of these stories clearly alluded to historical events -- this one being the American Revolution -- but dumbed down to a six year old’s level of understanding. When I was little and begged for a bedtime story, these were the ones my father would tell and the ones he knew best as a college history major. Other times, he’d reminisce on stories from his past, either from his childhood or his time spent in the army. Growing up, I would listen in awe as he would take me back to another time, another place, in other person’s shoes. He told them in such a captivating way that I would lean forward and hang onto every word as they poured from his mouth. At the time, many of them contained lessons that went right over my head.
One story in particular involved a man serving in the United States Army Air Force during World War II. During one of his missions, his plane was struck by enemy fire and plummeted into the vast Pacific Ocean, sending him adrift at sea for nearly forty-seven days. He survived starvation and sharks prodding at his life raft until he was captured by the Japanese enemy. He was then sent to a prison camp where he endured grueling torture by an especially twisted prison guard. In the end, the man came to forgive the guard, even though the guard wasn’t sorry for any of the inhumane acts he committed. I must have been around ten when he told me this story because I couldn’t even remember the man’s name, only his story that kept me surprised me at every turn. Years later, the movie Unbroken came out. I went to watch it with a few friends of mine and as the film went on, I was overcome with a sense of familiarity. I knew the story line and felt a sense of pride as the plot unfolded. I also knew the main lesson, which wasn’t portrayed in the movie at all. The part where Louis Zamperini suffered PTSD after the war and eventually found refuge in his Christian beliefs was completely left out of the film. I resorted to reading his book, which I finished in a matter of three days, and found the real end to Louis’s story: forgiveness.
I guess that is when I realized my love for storytelling. I fell in love with the characters, the time, the setting, and the plot, all seamlessly tied together. From then on, I considered a good novel, such as that, a work of art.
I started writing early in life. In third grade, my class read the book The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, about a poor girl that was bullied by her classmates. In the end, she was finally admired when she drew a hundred beautiful dresses for her class competition. I loved it so much that even when we finished the book, I couldn’t let it go. I went home and wrote an eight chapter book of my own, following the same story line of the book we read in class. Once I finished, I was sad that it was over; so I kept writing more stories -- stories of my own. I guess that is when I realized my love for writing.
Fast forward about ten more years and I’m sitting at the dinner table surrounded by the expectant faces of my family members. They’re asking me, “So what do you want to do, Katie?” “What are your plans for college?” “What are you interested in?” “What are you good at?” They were just questions to get to know me better, but I didn’t have a response that would satisfy their curiosity. I didn’t even know myself to begin with. By then, my writing days were long behind me and my stories were left in dusty cardboard boxes up in the attic. Although I still had a strong passion for reading, my writing skills were just as dusty. Nonetheless, I had no interest going down any other avenue and I always enjoyed my humanities classes. I guess (and it was truly a guess) that is when I realized I should major in English.
After two years as an English major, I have read many more books, have written many more stories, and although I consider my education to be most beneficial, others can’t seem to hold back a confused stare once I tell them my major. I get the classic tilt of the head while their eyebrows pull together in almost a concerned way, “So what are you going to do with an English degree?” they ask. Still, I don’t have an answer. I will usually spout the first thing that comes to mind: journalism, teaching, become a lawyer, or when I’m feeling sassy, an astronaut. In reality, I could do any of those things, all of those things, or none of those things. So, I guess that is when I realized, as a writer, I could do whatever the hell I want.
- Katie Jensen