A world of words 

When I was 7, I wrote a story about the adventures of a doorknob who rolled himself around a house. I scripted it on 5-by-8 inch postcards with a sharpened No. 2 pencil, alternating pages of text with illustrations. I used my very best second-grade printing, slanted slightly to the right to make it look more mature. Then I asked my mother to help me mail the story off to Golden Books, the only publishing name I knew.

We sent off the story and I forgot about it until six months later, on a summer day, when a letter arrived with my name on it. Here's what it said:

Miss Carpenter:

Thank you for your submission to Golden Books. Unfortunately, your story does not meet our standards for publication. We wish you the best in your writing efforts.

My immediate reaction was shame. Your story does not meet our standards ... My heart sank. Too embarrassed to show the letter to anyone, I stuffed it in a drawer and have kept it for 42 years.

By sixth grade, my confidence had returned and I wrote the class prophecy, to be read aloud at our graduation. I imagined a future, 20 years hence, for all my friends. Stacy Moody would be the first girl jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Larry Brown would be a cop decorated for bravery. Jennifer Fields would be a fashion model.

I would be the married mother of four children and the famous author of children's books. My future cozy house would be peaceful and orderly. I would live in a world of books.

Twenty years later I was the mother of four living in a house of diapers, tricycles, spilled apple juice, Lego blocks and unmatched tennis shoes. The quiet book-lined study I had imagined for myself at 12 was a faraway fantasy I retreated to when I needed to escape.

A little less than 10 years later, I still had four children but my marriage was ending. Dreams of long hours buried in books were dwindling. I didn't take time to figure out what to do with my bombed-out life. I drove to Santa Fe one tear-soaked Tuesday after first going to my neighborhood elementary school to vote against Amendment 2, the proposed constitutional amendment that would "deny special rights" to homosexuals in Colorado. The long drive and crisp air, I reasoned, would clear my head.

I checked into a motel that night and turned on the television. Colorado had passed Amendment 2, the announcer said. I was shocked. I knew what it meant. Gays would not be denied "special rights," they would lose protection against discrimination for their sexual orientation. They would be government-sanctioned social pariahs. The local daily newspaper supported the amendment. My children lived in a city that was publicly sanctioning discrimination and hatred.

I returned to Colorado Springs and my battered but not broken home and buried my sorrow in a search for work. Miraculously, I found a strange little guy who wanted to start a newspaper. I told him my ideas. We were partners in a day and from that day forward I have lived in a world of newspapering.

It's not the quiet world of books I imagined, though it is a world of words, a life vaguely literary. My family at work are all word freaks. We read press releases, faxes, letters, books, government reports. We call each other on the phone and say: "Listen to this!" Our days revolve around paragraphs, sentences and word choices and word counts. We stare and stare at our screens, hoping that words will come to us. We know how the story will end. We try to make dry information interesting. We try to meld reporting with craft.

We are tied to our desks, our computers and our telephones. Our idea of exercise is a trip down the hall to the water cooler.

I've tried several times to separate from this family, hanging on to the dream of the quiet house, the book-lined study, the life of books. I want to finish raising my kids, grow my garden and write. Then I remember that until I became a journalist, I didn't know what to write. I always come back to my newspaper family where there's always something to write about, where words rule the day, where there's so much to learn among a bunch of people who care more than anything about how to turn a phrase, how to tell the truth, how to spin a tale.

It's not my exact dream of domestic bliss, but it's damn close.



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