I always knew I was going to be a writer. It was just one of those things I was sure of: I was a girl, I had blue eyes, and I was a writer. I started to be published on a regular basis about nine years ago, but they were for e-zines that didn't pay.
Around that time, I read an article by Muriel Spark in an old issue of The New Yorker. Spark talked about the first time she had gotten serious money for her work and she decided to get something that would always remind her of the first sale. She decided on a bracelet she saw in a London shop. I thought that was so lovely, it was so romantic; to get something you could look at and think, "My words paid for that."
I knew I had to do something like Muriel Spark did. But jewelry? No, I didn't want to copy Muriel Spark totally. I wanted to find something of my own, something I knew that whenever I saw it, it would make me feel good inside.
One day I was on College Avenue in Berkeley when I stopped in their poster/art store. I browsed through the art prints where I saw one of my favorite paintings "A Mermaid" by John William Waterhouse. It is of a mermaid by the shore, combing her long brown hair with a coral comb, surrounded by water and rocks. I always loved the painting. And it hit me: Okay, when I get money for a story I wrote, I was going to get that print.
So every time I was in Berkeley, I would visit the painting. She never changed, and I would think: Someday, I'm going to come in with cash, pick up the picture, tell the clerk how I wanted it matted, and say in a loud voice: ‘Yes, I'm using this from money from a short story I just sold" I dreamed big.
There were times during the years when I did not have a job. Times I would go after a terrible job interview to the print store and visit my painting. I wonder if it would ever happen, if I would get the print, or if it was all a nice fantasy. One time I told my fantasy to one of my best friends. "I'll buy you the print. It will be an early birthday gift," she offered. I shook my head. I wanted to hang tight to my dream. I didn't want to let it go.
Then one day three years ago, I found out I won two writing contests my English department held. I was thrilled tremendously for I really did not think I was going to win. Then it hit me: there were prizes with the contests. Money. I was finally going to get the print.
I could not believe it. Finally! After all these years, it was going to happen! I was going to get the print. When I got the checks, I couldn't stop staring at them, like it was sand that would go through the hourglass along with the days of our lives. As soon as I deposited the checks, I went to Berkeley with my checkbook.
I walked in, and I thought this is happening. This is real. I went to the W's section and I prepared myself to get it.
It wasn't there.
At first I thought, no, there must be a mistake! But it wasn't there. I looked through again. There was Andy Warhol's Liz, another Waterhouse, but none of the mermaid combing her hair. No! I wanted to cry out. No, no, no!
I took a deep breath. I walked around the store, thinking that maybe I could get another print. But I knew I had to get it, that I had to find it. It was that dream, that fantasy that kept me going on days when I didn't want to send things out, days when I didn't want to write but just hide in my bed and eat rainbow sherbet.
I went back to the W's and looked again. Then I flipped to the Y's and there it was. There she was. And suddenly I just wanted to cry. Just cry with happiness, with relief, that this was happening. You always hear "Dreams come true" but sometimes a person can get so cynical and say "Yeah, sure, whatever." But this was true. This was finally a reality.
I went to the desk, asked for it to be matted, then was told to pick it up in a week. I did what I was told, and the woman showed it to me before she wrapped it up. It was beautiful. It was matted and shiny and the greens in the water were beautiful, and I was speechless for a moment. Then I said: "I won a writing contest. I'm using the money for the print."
"Really? That is so great!" She said as she wrapped it up. "Now you'll always remember how you got it."
I do remember. As I write this, I see the painting on my wall, with the mermaid combing her hair, her arm covering her breast. I also remember how I walked the streets of Berkeley with the picture in my arms, and although it was a bit heavy, I felt so light. I felt like Jill Clayburgh at the end of An Unmarried Woman when she was carrying a painting in the streets of New York; she stumbled at first but soon made her way, and you knew that she was going to be okay. I thought of all the times I visited the picture, all the years I dreamed. I thought of those football players who win the Super Bowl, how they say they are going to Disneyland. In the middle of Berkeley, I felt I was in Disneyland, with fireworks blazing, mice in tye-dyed shirts singing and dancing with the street vendors. Maybe I wasn't Cinderella, and my mermaid didn't have red hair, but I do know I felt I was a princess whose dream came true, and I got in my coach (which resembled a 7 AC Transit bus) and drove away.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries