Friday, June 17, 2005

The Nothing Book: By Rob Williams

Does anyone remember 'The Nothing Book'? This was a blank book, a journal, that was sold in the late 1970s and early 80s. It was hard cover, and had a book jacket with a blank cover that just said, simply "The Nothing Book: Wanna Make Something of it?" It turns out they still sell them on!!

It was incredibly cheesy, but I think it might have been the first journal I ever owned. I can't remember if I bought it myself or if my mother might have bought it for me. The inside flap had a few quotes that used the word ‘nothing’ in them, like "I’ve got plenty of nothing" or "Nothing comes of nothing" or something like that.

I used to take this book with me everywhere. I would write little notes, ideas, character sketches (remember dear readers, this was when I was, like, 11 years old!). One day I decided I would write a novel in it. 

We used to get these magazines in grade school, like Dynamite and Highlights only they were more news-oriented (but news for kids). One issue told a story of this island off the coast of Nova Scotia called 'Sable Island.' I remember the article said that Sable Island is famous for its wild horses and that also Sable Island was surrounded by treacherous reefs where hundreds of ships had crashed while trying to come to the island.

So I began to write a novel about a young girl living on the island who discovers a wild horse and tries to tame it. In addition, her father works on a ship that comes and goes from the island, and naturally he is killed in a shipwreck. This was my second novel, actually, the first was called 'It Aint Easy Being a Sunflower Seed' and I wrote it when I was seven or eight. It detailed a day in the life of a sunflower seed named Sylvester (how he gets picked one day to be roasted and placed into a bag of sunflowers--something he's dreamed about all his life--until he realizes it means he's going to be eaten, so he escapes and starts a new life--but that's another blog).

Anyway. I titled my second book "The Magic of Sable Island"-- can you tell I had just finished reading "Island of the Blue Dolphins"? and I took the book with me to 6th grade camp-- Camp Cuyamaca, just outside San Diego. 

Now,I was quite a sensitive kid growing up, as you can well imagine. I was not much of a sportsman let alone a mountain man (though my family did camp a lot). For the first few days at Camp Cuyamaca I was quite miserable.  The other boys were having a blast wrestling each other, exploring caves, sharpening their buck-knives, building fires, but I wanted to pick daisies and braid beads into my hair (which was unusually long and feathered at this particular time in my life-- it was the late 70s/early 80s after all) and instead of building a campfire I wanted to sing songs around one and hold a tambourine. This was also about the time that some of my buddies were beginning to discover girls, and being away from home seemed to fuel their hormones, so everyone kept talking about 'the end of the week dance.'  I wanted to crawl into my sleeping bag and zip it shut.

And then one day someone saw me, sitting up on my bunk bed, writing in my journal.

Some kid with greasy hair and a dumb squint asked me what I was doing. I told him I was writing a novel. Pretty soon the entire cabin was surrounding me, asking to look at my book. Kids who had previously laughed at me, for screaming during dodgeball or making tea out of manzanita bark or for fashioning a brooch out of a geode, now they wanted to be my friend, they wanted to know what my book was about, they wanted to be IN the book. I became a minor celebrity at the camp from that day on (well, me and the guy who snuck into the girls' cabin and stole 10 pairs of underwear). I even took down my fellow cabin mates' names-- wrote them in the inside flap of my book, and told them I would contact them when the book came out.  (If you look closely you can see the names... Doug Wilson wrote, "your friend," and someone named Lamont wrote, "have a nice year").

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This is one of the earliest memories I have of feeling aware and maybe more important-- proud-- that I was "creative." And that it was not something to hide or be afraid of, but something that would make me unique and interesting. I mean, I knew I was different; you don't memorize all the lines, songs, and choreography of 'The Harvey Girls' by age 10 and expect to be treated as if you were normal.

It is a memory I hold dear to this day. 

As you can see, I still have 'The Nothing Book,' though the paper cover is gone and now it's just a brown hardback book with worn edges. The novel, "The Magic of Sable Island" is not there; all that's left are the torn remains of its 25 pages (it was more of a novella, I guess). iIm not sure why I got rid of it.  Maybe I somehow knew that it wasn't the story I needed to write. That there would be other, better, greater stories to come.

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