Writers like to say everybody has a book in them, at least one book they could and should write. I would say, everybody has a story to tell.


And there are different ways to tell our stories. Here’s one brief way I tell mine:

Me in first grade
Words and Pictures


I was a bright New Jersey girl with a smattering of talent for drawing, and for words. My family lived deep in the woods, where I made up stories with imaginary friends, and drew pictures of talking turtles, inexplicably sad cows, and ladies in fancy Victorian hats. I read – a lot. All of Sherlock Holmes, The House of the Seven Gables, The Wind in the Willows, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the obligatory Nancy Drew. My childhood was spent drawing and reading.


On my eighth (eighth!) birthday, my salty old Grandpa Harris, (see photo), handed me a Bible with a Papa Harrissealskin cover, saying, “Here, Polly – you probably won’t understand it.” (Sidebar: WHY is “Polly” a nickname for “Mary”?) I read it, a chapter a day, until I bogged down in Isaiah. I was so young I thought the italicized words in the King James should be read with EMPHASIS, which, I can tell you now, produces hilarious results.


But the stories stuck, even though I had scant understanding of them. Later, when I stumbled into an English major at Rutgers College, (one of 54 women to attend, the first year women were admitted) and from there, into a Bible ministry, I had a head start in reading Old Testament language and in grasping the backlog of thought behind Jesus’s stories.


The Bible ministry – a very flawed organization - nonetheless provided me with two excellent benefits: it rather accidentally filled in gaps in my upbringing, and it provided me with my career. They hired my then-husband and me because they needed his skills, and stuck me in the art department for lack of anywhere else to put me. I ended up illustrating their children’s magazine, and felt like I was being paid to eat ice cream. One year at an office Christmas party, my boss asked us to sum up what we understood about ourselves. “Words and pictures!” was my spontaneous response, and I’ve long been amazed at how right, at age 21, I was.


When it became untenable to stay in those jobs or that ministry, I set out to do freelance artwork, and here I am today. With the help of a few people who believed in me, I persisted for another thirty years. I’ve drawn more than five hundred houses, illustrated upwards of thirty books, written-and-illustrated five more. I couldn’t begin to count the custom art I’ve done that defies brief description, or the cards I’ve made. I've taught storytelling and illustration to hundreds of gifted elementary students.


I love what I get to do. A happy day for me is a day at my drawing board. That’s where I lose track of time. The Covid lockdowns pushed me to draw more, to develop hand lettering, to illustrate a book I’d been scared to tackle. I am blessed to be in a place that allows me to do what I love.


I’ve framed this story carefully. I’ve left out my wonderful husband, my two handsome sons, their lovely others and my two brilliant granddaughters who are surely cuter than anyone else’s.


There are other ways to frame my story, and there’s the rub. I’ve omitted, for today’s purposes, the sadnesses and tragedies. For instance, and for contrast: the drawing table at which I work was my dad’s, in the ‘50s, at Radio Frequency Labs in Boonton, New Jersey. (How I come to have it is another story.) He left a drafting job and set out to be a fine artist, but never found a niche or a market for his chilly paintings with Salvador Dali overtones. His life ended early for lack of finding that niche. I believe a certain inflexibility prevented him from finding a way forward, but I surely don’t know all there is to know about his story. Harris family


I choose to frame my own story in light of my blessings, not my (numerous) shortcomings and (occasional) failures. We all get to choose how we tell our story, and do well when we pick savvy anecdotes, avoid the weeds of detail or the pitfalls of too many dates and facts, not turning on the poor-pitiful-me tap, nor the noble-self-sacrificing-me one, either.

Inventory your story, choose how to tell it – you’re the only one who can, and your story matters.

Here's the only photo of my family in extent, ca. 1969. Apologies to my brother, Cam Harris, who is not having his best moment here.

Once again, and as always, I'm thankful for you taking the time to read and comment.
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Keep telling your stories!