A nun in parochial school pretty much told me I could write this column.
I’m not talking about this specific column. She didn’t say, “Years from now you’ll remember me and write about me. Be kind.”
She didn’t even tell me, generally speaking, that I should write columns for a living. I was only in sixth grade at the time and it still was a bit early to be giving me career advice.
What she did was assign those in my English class to write an essay over a weekend. It could be serious or funny, fictional or true, about friends and family or people we hardly even knew.
I unabashedly ripped off James Thurber’s title “The Night The Bed Fell,” and wrote my own hopefully humorous words beneath it. The following week, after using our work, the nun asked me if I would – along with a handful of other pupils – read my work in front of the class.
When I did, my classmates laughed – mostly in all the places they were supposed to giggle. I’m not bragging. We laughed easily in that class. The nun liked it when we laughed. Especially in English. It made the grammar lessons and spelling sessions more palatable.
I do remember vaguely thinking, though, after I read my words and was on my way back to my desk, that I could do this – for the rest of my life – and be happy.
For the last 45 or so years, with you as my cherished “classmates,” I’ve been blessed to have gotten that chance.
Learning skills in high school
That spirit of creativeness was fostered by teachers in high school, sometimes at unlikely moments when times I didn’t even initially recognize it.
I took a creative writing class in high school that included a segment spent on writing poetry. I don’t remember liking poetry or even reading much poetry before that portion of the class, but I do vividly recall writing the poem that I submitted to the teacher for a grade.
When she handed it back in class the next day, my teacher hesitated at my desk. She quietly said to me, “I read this poem several times, and each time your grade went up.” And she smiled. “Keep writing,” she added.
Now, I never became a poet because of the compliment, but it was praised enough to cause me to continue writing poetry as an exercise in maintaining a conciseness in my words.
Praise is good, and it leads to growth, as long as you don’t become so confident you hand back writing efforts to other teachers who give you bad grades for the work, asking them, “Could I ask you to read it again? “
Finding creativity and a passion
One of my most supportive professors in college wasn’t a writing teacher at all. He was a world history prof who assigned an essay that could be written on any topic in history each student chose.
I wrote mine on “The Rise and Fall of The Spanish Empire Under Philip II Compared to the Rise and Fall of the New York Yankees.”
There really turned out to be more similarities than I would have imagined.
The professor apparently thought so too. I passed the class.
When I went to the professor’s office to talk about my grade, two or three graduate assistants were there hanging out. One of them answered the door.
“You’re the Yankees fan,” he said with a pointing finger and a smile.
There apparently had been a discussion before I arrived.
We’ve all had teachers – mentors in large and small ways – who supported us. I’ve been blessed to have had more than my share.
None of them told me exactly what I had to do to be successful in my career. That’s different for everyone. Most of my teachers merely taught me things that they thought would be useful on my journey, then pointed me in the right direction.
When our time together was finished, they encouraged me to find my own unique path.
And each of them, as a result, bestowed upon me gifts that I never knew I had been given.
Reach Gary at [email protected] On Twitter: @gbrownREP.