photoBack in December, I wrote a blog called “Storytellers” that included an anecdote about a murder mystery I wrote during recess in grade school. Well, “Ta da!” this is the picture from 1987. Ah, it takes me back–big glasses, crooked teeth, messy hair—and who cares about any of that when you’re writing the best murder mystery ever dreamt up on the J.F.K. Elementary playground?

I remember the day well, though. I had my blue winter coat on because it was damp and cold outside, though there wasn’t any snow. My friend Wendy and I sat down against the school at the far end of the playground to have a little peace and quiet in order to write stories. I don’t remember what Wendy was writing, but I was working on “Midnight… Murder?” it was called. Technically, the working title was “Midnight Murder,” but I changed it upon completion to keep readers guessing. (Why anyone would “guess” the victim possibly stabbed herself in the back and hopped into the base of the Grandfather clock where she was found at the sleepover party is beyond me. But at the time, I believed the title change left a little room in readers’ minds for that to happen. They’d have to rule it out, in any case, and getting your readers to think is good storytelling.)

Anyway, we were working on our stories when a reporter approached us and asked what we were doing. We’d been watching him as fiddled with his camera and a notebook from the other side of the fence, and we kept watching him as he entered the schoolyard and talked to the Playground Lady. The two of them approached us together and asked what we were doing.

We panicked. One false move and they’d take our stories away from us and probably read them to the older kids so they’d make fun of us. I’d be in particularly worse shape: Fifth graders weren’t supposed to write murder mysteries. That kind of thing got put on your Permanent Record Card. We hemmed and hawed as we screwed up the determination to tell the truth and defend our work and then suddenly, Wendy blurted out, “Homework,” which seemed to satisfy them. We later agreed that “homework” kept us out of trouble.

With our permission, the reporter took our picture and wrote down our names. The article turned out to be a piece about a Pittsburgh school district in favor of banning recess. I don’t think it ever happened. My mom laminated the article, though, and gave it to my Grandpap. Then she found it tucked away in his house 25 years later when he died.

So here the picture sits in front of me today, with its ridiculous recess story that didn’t even involve our own school district, and a caption that included our names and the fake homework cover story. But this laminated falsified record is a reminder to me of the day I realized how much writing meant to me, how far I could go to defend it, and it was the day I began to see the only way to keep it safe would be to put it out there myself.

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

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