Once upon a time, a determined eighth grader spent the better part of a year crafting a short story called “Who Killed the Fly that was Sitting on the Wall?”
We’ll call this youngster, “Annie.”
The story was your typical mid-century murder mystery: a whodunnit with a big mansion, a host of suspects, and one dead fly, smashed on the wood-paneled library room wall.
Annie always had a penchant for trying to rescue the vulnerable.
When the story was complete, Annie, took the draft to her English teacher, who gave it back with a smile and plenty of red pen. Written across the top was the phrase, “consider the modus operandi,” which Annie had never heard, but loved when she learned the meaning.
Modus operandi: (n) a particular way or method of doing something, especially one that is characteristic or well-established; a learned behavior
Modus operandi, or M.O., was the means in which my, ahem, this other Annie’s character would leave their signature trail in which the reader could follow the clues to identify the fly killer.
THIS OTHER ANNIE incorporated her teacher’s edits, printed a fresh copy on her desktop word processor (this was once upon a time, after all), and grabbed a fresh flyer from her school’s Scholastic book fair. She copied Scholastic’s address from the flyer onto a large manilla envelope, inserted the fresh manuscript with a cover letter requesting review for publication from their delightful company, and begged her mom to drive her to the post office and pay the postage.
It was only a matter of time before they’d send back an Advance Review Copy (ARC) with a beautifully designed cover. She’d urge all her friends to buy a copy in the next book sale. Her family would be delighted when she treated them to a trip to Disney World with her earnings. Yes, this would be the only possible outcome.
There was no surprise when two weeks later, another big, yet very flat, manilla envelope arrived at Annie’s home. Her mother opened it. At least, this is how Annie remembers the story several decades after it happened.
The Scholastic letterhead was impressive, and the paper had a nice, thick linen quality. Annie cannot fully remember what the letter said, and this is because someone probably threw the letter away--her big family determined to see the young child pursue a successful career in medicine. But Annie remembers a few key points. She remembers that the letter was personalized to her; it commended her on sending along a fun story; it talked about how Scholastic loved to hear from its readers; and they weren’t looking for new books at that moment, but when Annie was a little older, she might try to reach out to them again.
It wasn’t a moment of sadness. Rather, it was total joy for Annie. She had gotten something better than a copy of her book - she received the motivation from one of her then-idols (the people that printed the book fair magazine) to KEEP GOING.
Annie went on to win second place in a state-wide writing competition in ninth grade, eleventh-grade accolades by the state governor for an essay about her mom as her hero, took college-level creative writing as a high school senior, wrote for the school newspaper, filled endless journals, created a role-playing game that she played over 10 years and authored novellas about each character, and then... took her family’s advice to go into a career in medicine. In medicine, Annie discovered that you help people, which was great, because she liked making sure others were okay, and not all smashed up with their parts stuck to wall panels like the fly in her story. But, it was an eventual career in medical academia that Annie discovered that part of the job involved writing academic papers. Annie moved far away from home to make the best life for herself in this career, because good training and good jobs aren’t on every street corner.
For a long time, Annie felt that this move made her family sad. They said things like, “there are people that need help on every street corner.”
When Annie looks back at life's turn of events, she has no one to blame for not recognizing her own M.O. but herself. However, she feels simultaneously lucky at the way life has turned out. Growth is a process that incorporates all of the characters that a story weaves, as the rooms of one's mansion keep unfolding.* Annie became her own detective to transform into one of the lucky ones that KEPT GOING. She loves what she does in all aspects.
Sometimes flies are dreams that buzz lazily around us until we don’t recognize them for what they are and accidentally swat them down.
Don’t be like the butler.
*Feeling imposterish? Let us help you undo that. It's never too late to build your proverbial mansion.
The heart. It's like right... there.