Fat Mum Slim got me thinkin’ about “That thing that happened in high school that pretty much changed your life forever.” It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a prompt like that and a blindingly obvious answer hit me upside the head.
High school wasn’t exactly a piece of cake for me, but it had its moments. Remarkably, one of the life altering ones happened as a direct result of that crappiest of all moves: the one that dropped me in a tiny New England town for my senior year.
I can’t for the life of me remember if I ever did get around to writing a post about that – I know that I meant to – so here’s the quick and dirty version: I’d gone to high school in Virginia Beach (big navy town) for three years. The school was enormous and overcrowded to boot, so I was used to being anonymous amidst a swarm of teens. I had my friends, I worked my job, I played soccer. Done. But then the navy said it was time to go, dad said no way was I staying behind for senior year, so I went to the Boston area where I ended up in a teeny tiny town where I felt even weirder than I already was.
That tiny high school in that tiny town is where my life changed.
I don’t remember many of my teachers, which BrightSide finds a bit odd since he can rattle off the name of every teacher he ever had, but there it is. There are only two names that are stored in my long term memory.
Mrs. Hildebrand, my third grade teacher in New Jersey, is one of them. I was in her class right after a move, and that woman patiently waited while I took forever to adjust. I don’t know how many times she let me go to the office to call my mom, complaining about a stomachache, never saying an unkind word about it. (I do remember her patience outlasted my mom, who finally told me I was just going to have to tough it out and quit calling home every day.) Mrs. Hildebrand was the teacher who praised my first (age appropriately hideous) poetry.
Fast forward nine years to that small New England town where I met Mr. Emmons, my twelfth grade English teacher. He seemed to understand the bizarreness of being dropped into a classroom of kids who’d known each other all their lives, and I think I picked up on that empathy. By senior year most teachers are product driven – kids are supposed to come to class, work hard, and concentrate on getting into college – but he was different.
It was one of Mr. Emmons’ assignments that ultimately changed my life. We’d read “Waiting for Godot,” a play by Samuel Beckett, and were given the choice of writing a paper or a third act. I don’t remember spending a great deal of time deciding; the choice to write in play form felt almost second nature, though I hadn’t done any playwriting before then. All I knew is that I sat down at my typewriter (yes, I’m that old) and the words flew across the paper effortlessly. In all honesty the whole thing came so easily to me that I assumed the work couldn’t possibly be that good, but the writing flowed so naturally when I reread it…I knew I’d never write a paper to match it. So I turned it in.
You can’t begin to imagine how shocked I was when copies were passed out in class to be read aloud the following week. That my work was being praised as an excellent example of playwriting.
What?? But I just wrote what I heard in my head…
(Yeah, it was a long time before I told anyone I heard things in voices ’cause, you know, that doesn’t exactly sound good.)
Mr. Emmons talked with me outside of class about my assignment and encouraged me to explore writing. He allowed me to use the computer in the teacher’s workroom during study hall to begin a play of my own and gave me feedback on my work. By the spring I submitted my play and it won second place in a statewide writing competition.
I got involved with the drama club, my first experience with theater, and found that I enjoyed everything about it. (I also learned that I pretty much stink as an actor.) I met other kids in school who were interested in the arts, and I began writing another play. By the time I left for college Mr. Emmons had mentored me through completing one play, beginning another, and helped me learn about workshops and editing.
The writing bug stuck. I went to college on fire only to find that they actually had entire rooms filled with computers I could use, 24 hours a day. When I was in the zone I’d plug in and write late into the night…it was wonderful.
By the beginning of second year, Mr. Emmons sent my new manuscript to a friend of his who was a playwright. His friend’s feedback helped me hone my work until it was ready for publication. I’m extremely proud – not only that my play was published, but that it’s been performed in multiple states as well as several different countries.
Now here I am, back into writing, enjoying my blog and dreaming of bigger projects to come.
Who says teachers can’t change your life?