When I was six years old, my mom sent me to a day camp, where the combination of a typo, a poor choice of clothes, and a really bad haircut had the counselors convinced I was named Pierre, and therefore, must also be a boy.
Too shy to correct them, I spent the whole week as “Pierre.”
At first, I was upset, and the boys were suspicious — the name “Pierre” didn’t do me any special favors, but it did seem to explain to them why I was weird and looked (very, very slightly) like a girl.
But I soon realized this new identity had its advantages. Sure, I might have to develop a bladder of steel, but for one, I could solve the Mystery of the Urinal by simply spying on the older boys as I washed my hands for lunch. Curiosity fulfillment? Check.
And the boys were actually a lot of fun. For one, no one expected me to like pink things and Barbies, which was sort of a relief since I didn’t own much of either. All the awful but inventive things they did with their American cheese slices and various puddings made lunch an hour of pure comedy. Toward the end of that week, they started to tolerate me. Somewhere in a box of memorabilia, I still have a fourth- or fifth-place ribbon for bowling, made out to Pierre — I don’t remember, but I like to think that I was chosen to be on their team.
I might not have been the most popular “boy,” but for that week, I got to experience the world as someone else. And it was weird, and new, and thrilling.
Sometimes I think my first case of mistaken identity was one of those pivotal events that made me want to be a writer. Because when the writing’s going well, I get to experience the world not as my boring, reluctantly suburban self, but as a 13-year-old board-game-addicted outcast, or as a socially awkward 17-year-old with a mad crush. It’s sort of like the Pierre experience all over again. It can be just weird, and new, and thrilling. And sometimes, even more so.
Most of the time when people ask me what made me want to be a writer, I give them the short(er) answer: Great books, encouraging parents, a wonderful librarian named Mrs. Law, and an inspiring fourth-grade teacher named Mrs. Finkelstein. And all of that’s true. But then there’s also Pierre. And sometimes I wonder, where would I be without “him”?