from Poets & Writers "The Time is Now" Week 10 prompt for creative nonfiction
Credit is due to so many people in my life for teaching me how to learn to write. But first, a little blame. My pre-first grade teacher (or maybe it was in first grade), decided it would be better for me to be a right-handed writer rather than a lefty which is how I started out. I remember someone tying my left hand behind my back until I got the idea and practice of writing with my right hand. So that might explain by zig-zag life as it has evolved. In any case, I write right-handed now when I use long hand and type with both hands--so maybe all's "write/right" with my world, after all.
So that is my first memory of writing. I next recall Miss Meyers in 3rd Grade who bopped us on the head when our cursive letters didn't look perfect. I received quite a few taps on the noggin for poorly shaped cursive capital letter "F". Those green paper letters for print and cursive that lined the top of the blackboard throughout elementary school are burned into my psyche and still haunt me in midnight dreams. The traumatic memory is so strong that, when I do write long hand notes on holiday cards, I often get a response such as "I can't read your writing, Anita." So there you go, Miss Meyers,you couldn't bop me into submission.
That is the skinny backstory on my learning how to write--actual content development soared with Mrs. Hanson at Kimball Junior High, eighth and ninth grades. Even though I struggled to get beyond a "B" on my essays, I had already began penning poetry thanks to the oral tradition of poetry (James Whitcomb Riley and others) passed along from my mom and her mother. My poetry writing might have been the reason Mrs. Hanson recommended me to honors English when I entered high school.
First year at Larkin H.S. was a partial bust for English class. My first teacher was pregnant and left early. I have no memory of her and we had quite a few substitutes after that whom I also don't remember. But then, after the holidays, we had a substitute that stayed for the entire semester. I don't recall writing much in class except for book reports. The glory in that experience was she let me make reports on books that were way beyond my age range. Somehow, I had been able to convince a librarian at the Gail Borden Public Library that I could handle the content of adult books--mostly biographies on artists such as Michelangelo and Rodin. Their biographies were rather "racy" for me and introduced me to homosexuality and illicit passions. I wrote about those themes (and a few details). The nameless, but important, 10th grade substitute English teacher read the reports and didn't censor my writing at all. She did correct my grammar and composition and so the world of writing exploded in potential along with the world of reading.
Maybe she knew what was ahead when I entered Mr. Caldwell's 11th Grade English class, followed by Mr. Fuhs' senior year class. Both challenged our class with Faulkner and Hemingway, Joyce and Shakespeare and more. They were equally unfaltering in their critiques of our writing and stretched our vocabulary with weekly tests. By the end of my senior year, I was not only well prepared for college English classes, I excelled. English Literature became my major and I immersed my reading and writing into medieval English Literature, 17th Century, a semester on Shakespeare, a semester on American writers--mostly Mark Twain. At my public university, Northern Illinois University, I learned poetry from Lucien Stryk, a poet himself and international translator of Zen poetry. I joined a writers group and had week night poetry sessions with him a a handful of others "invited" into his dusty living room where we ate crackers and cheese and drank sparkling wine.
The years have passed since then (1971) and, in all of them, I have continued to write and to learn to write. As I wake each day in my 69th year, I read daily poetry, bits of nonfiction, everyday comics, and nightly fiction that lulls me to let go of reality.
I am grateful to all of my teachers and--through my past years of teaching writing to GED students, graduate students at the UA, and tutoring a family of second language elementary students--I hope I have helped others enter the wonderful world of writing.