When I was in fourth grade, I wrote a haiku about a burro. At the time, I was living in a small town called Big Bear, which is in the San Bernardino Mountains, about three hours northeast of Los Angeles. I lived, along with my brother and mother, at the very top of a long dirt road, two houses from the start of forest, and burros were a real concern. Anyone who knew anything about living in Big Bear knew that you had to bungee your trash lids closed, so that the burros wouldn’t get into the trash and toss it all over the road. Sometimes, even if you did bungee it, and the bungee cords weren’t strong enough, the burros would find their way in, with the same disgusting and dismaying results. Picking up moldy apple cores, used tissues, and other kinds of terrible trash before the neighbors saw was a common occurrence at our house. Either we forgot the bungees or ours were lacking in fortitude. So, when presented with the assignment in class of writing a haiku, I guess my 9/10-year old mind gravitated toward the burros and the myriad ways they often ruined my life.
My haiku, along with others I assume, was entered into a contest, and won. I remember feeling unbelievably proud . . . and surprised. Shocked, even. Shocked that someone out there had deemed my burro haiku worthy of recognition.
I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony where I would have been honored, but I did receive a ribbon and a special certificate that I do still have somewhere, buried in a box, along with my high schools yearbooks, angsty poem-filled journals, and yes, my treasured Phantom of the Opera perfume.
Ok, so how has the burro, the haiku, and the prize influenced my writing today? In some small, but important ways. First, I learned that I didn’t have to and don’t have to write poems about heartache. This might seem obvious to some of you better adjusted individuals out there, but that was frequently where my mind gravitated, even as a fourth grader. I learned that a poem about a dopey burro could serve just as well. Second, I learned I could be funny. Not that I, as a human being, could be funny, but that poetry could be funny, that it could be quirky and strange. Third, I learned that forms, like the haiku, were out there for my use and for me to bend to my will. Forms were fun; they didn’t have to be constricting. And fourth, in that year, I learned that what I did on the page, could garner me praise, attention, and recognition. And that was cool. I liked the way that felt. And though outward recognition is not what drives me to write, it does serve as a good motivator. And, as any writer knows, motivation, however you come by it, is a good thing.
Good lessons, Prairie. Love haikus!
Motivation, however you come by it, is a good thing…
Truly admire this line!! And believe in it 100%
Great post! We live just east/south of the Cajon Pass near Devore. We moved here from New Jersey in 2007; still learning burro etiquette. 😉
There’s that really great moment in ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ when that smart ass student reads the poem he wrote, which was “The cat sat on the mat,” (I don’t remember where the line breaks were supposed to be) and some of the class chuckled and I think the student gave or got a high five from one of his smart ass friends and Robin Williams’ character says something to the fact that poems can be about some of the simplest things, like a cat, and then tells the boy, “…as long as they aren’t ordinary.” This is such a good reminder for us, the most serious of serious writers, like you write, that your subject doesn’t need to be about heartache or loss or joylessness or, simply, something we don’t like or enjoy. I’m glad you wrote this.
And, come on, you have to find the burroku and post it. You must.
You didn’t dwell on the sad aspects of your childhood, something too many of us (me definitely included) do too often. This is about a little instance of success and the joyful memory you carry with you throughout your life.
We should all remember more of the joy, and let the sad and hurtful things ebb. Good mental health begins in balance. Sweet post.