If you read my post on The Alchemist, you know that when I was younger, I wanted to be an author. If you didn’t then I’m telling you right now. That stuck with me for a while, maybe because I didn’t have any better ideas. Though I became less certain about it the older I got, by the time I reached middle school, aka 7th and 8th grade, it was still floating in my head. And, by some miracle, I actually had teachers that encouraged me.
Seventh grade English in our middle school was divided into two classes: Literature and Language Arts. Literature was mostly literary analysis. Language Arts was where we did the writing. And my Language teacher that year was Mrs. Jacobs. She was new to the school, having never taught there before, and never since; she left the place at the end of the year. And she was also the only one on September 11th to tell me what exactly was going on. Parents were picking their kids up from school, but the higher ups decided to keep the day’s events a secret from the student body. Mrs. Jacobs told me the truth. That’d be enough to make her noteworthy. But she did so much more.
In her Language class, creativity was encouraged. We could write whatever we chose, develop it as far as we wanted, and get feedback from her. There was, of course, some direction, but mostly there was freedom. And for a student that still considered being a writer, that was more than I got from any other class.
One of the greatest hits of my life occurred during this year. Mrs. Jacobs had assigned us a picture prompt, where we had to create a story based on the picture. The image was of a woman, slicing up a pumpkin. Naturally, I took this down a supernatural route. Mrs. Jacobs was very impressed by the story I came up with about a woman named Exa (I loved making up names for stories) and asked that I read to the class. Now, this was not an honors class. I wouldn’t make it there until eighth grade. So this class was a bit more rowdy than others, and not always on their best behavior. Also, I’m terrified of public speaking. Yet there was something about this class that made me open to it. So I walked up to the front of the class, took deep breaths as I realized everyone’s eyes on me, and started reading. Every student remained silent as I read aloud, and I was only interrupted by the bell, signaling the end of class before I could finish my story. But not one student moved. They didn’t rush to leave per usual. No, they stayed in their seats and waited for me to finish. I cannot overstate how amazing this was, for this class, and for me. I still recall it clearly, and think of it fondly, because what happened that day was truly special.
There was not another moment that year, or since really, that is as memorable as that. For the rest of seventh grade, I came up with amusing stories, and terrible ones, all thanks to a teacher that allowed me to dream, and put those dreams on paper.
Eighth grade Language was much more structured. Though I liked my teacher, his class was very different than what I had the year before. But I had an elective class this year: Creative Writing, taught by Mrs. Repetto.
Mrs. Repetto often dispensed advice and wisdom in her class, in addition to the various assignments she gave out. This class was not about freedom; it was about perfecting writing. Though there were boundaries, I still enjoyed it. We wrote fiction, and we wrote nonfiction. I remember writing an essay on a particularly traumatizing event I watched my friend experience when I was seven, and I wrote about my mom. And, at the end of the year, I wrote a story about criminals that became lottery winners. This class was the only creative writing class I would ever take, but I believe I am a better writer for it, even today.
At the end of the school year, Mrs. Repetto awarded me the Creative Writing Award for the school. It was a thrilling moment. And I think it was the only award I got on Awards Night. It’s still in my room, in plain sight.
There is an epilogue to this Creative Writing class. It was after I graduated from college, as I languished at my part time job and wondered where I was going in life, my parents attended a party at their friend’s house. And guess who they ran into there? Mrs. Repetto. She remembered me, and asked about me, and my dad told her that I couldn’t stand writing anymore. Which was true. Since her class, all I’d been allowed to write were essays. And even though I perfected the format to a degree, I never liked writing them. So when my parents came home and told me who they saw, something clicked on inside. It’s almost like in that moment I remembered who I used to be and what I had always wanted to do. And it just so happened there was a story I had just thought up that I was considering writing. But I hadn’t written a story in so long! What would compel me to get started? Well, it was that. All those years later, and Mrs. Repetto was still encouraging me. Less than a week later, I started on my first novel, and I’ve kept on writing since.