Unlocking the Basement

Growing up, like many of you reading this blog, I wrote stories and drew fantastical pictures every day. Majestic unicorns, dazzling fairies, and horrific trolls burst forth from my imagination in ways I can only dream about now.  Then along came the SAT’s, college, law school, bills, and the real world.  I exchanged my paintbrush for a keypad and my literary world of science fiction and fantasy became one of legal treatises and case law.

In 2008, my brother, Jim Struzzi, excitedly announced the release of his first children’s book, The Christmas Secret.  I vividly remember my reaction when I held the book in my hand.  While tremendously proud of my brother’s accomplishment, I looked at the cover put together by his publisher and felt my first twinge of regret.  Out loud I said, “I could do better”, not realizing my six year old daughter, Sophia, was staring at me intently.  “How?” she had asked.    I laid the book on our kitchen table and said, “I could draw a better cover than this one.”  She looked at me, her brown eyes wide and innocently said, “I didn’t know you could draw, Mommy.”

Of course I had drawn funny characters for Sophia, and her sister, Isabella, but my serious drawings, paintings, and sculptures were hidden away in boxes in the basement.  Relics of another life I had always meant to frame or set out.  Instead, I carted them from place to place, never even opening the boxes.  Her words brought tears to my eyes at that moment and for weeks after.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had painted or even sketched.  I vowed to find that part of myself again and to share it with my daughters.

We set off for Utrecht the next Saturday and I emerged with more supplies than I could ever use, determined to show my daughter that I could indeed draw.  I won’t tell you I started off creating masterpieces.  I didn’t, although it felt wonderful to put pencil to paper again.  It felt even better when my brother, prompted by Sophia, asked me to paint the cover for his second book, Jacob’s Haunting.  It turned out sufficiently creepy and he was happy.  I wasn’t.   There was still a part of me locked down in my basement in the unopened boxes.   I needed to return to writing.

The book I started out writing was simple.  A sweet little tale of three sisters (my last daughter having come along), who find fairies in a children’s garden.  That was the first version.  It was cute; even made my mother cry and my mother-in-law run out and buy crystals and a fairy shirt.  But nothing came of it and I knew there was something missing.

Then I met my writers group who told me to “rip off the scab”.  Letting go of the original story was hard and took a few tries, but I finally dug deep and did it. That was over two years ago and my sweet little book has transformed into a dark and scary tale.   Mystical fairies and gruesome goblins still populate my fantasy world yet the message in the story is a human one.  One that resonants with me and hopefully with many others; don’t leave behind your creativity and imagination in your quest to grow up.  True power comes not only from believing in something beyond you, but also believing in those parts of ourselves we have yet to discover.

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