*Day 26 in the Dear Gratitude project is by yours truly again–only four more days of this project left!*
You have shaped who I am, and you’ve shaped what I do.
Thank you, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ann M. Martin, E.B. White, Francine Pascal, and the rest of you who wrote the children’s literature I still love. I carried your creations with me everywhere. I crawled under my bed, books in hand, with a flashlight night after night. I fell asleep there, midway through a fascinating story that transported me to Wilbur’s pen or to Sweet Valley High or to the woods of Minnesota.
Because of you, I started writing my own stories, complete with intricate concrete descriptions of characters and settings. I stole phrases from you and learned to incorporate figures of speech and theme and symbols into my stories. My mom thought I was a genius; I’m sure my stories weren’t much better than any other fifth grader’s. But her encouragement led me to write more, and as my former creative writing professor, Andrea Hollander, wrote on my poems countless times: “Keep writing!”
So I did.
I kept reading, too, because I discovered more of you as I grew older, and reading your words helped me write my own. I developed my own taste for literature, and I pooh-poohed the notion that I ought to read classics for the sake of reading classics. I probably annoyed my college professors at the small, private, liberal arts school I attended, who touted the likes of Faulkner and Shakespeare incessantly. I had no real use for those guys. I knew what I liked, and I did my best to avoid wasting time reading things I didn’t like. I tried reading awful books like Wuthering Heights on multiple occasions–my mom always taught me to try something more than once before deciding to cross it off my list. Those same professors introduced me to some of you who are now my favorites–Cormac McCarthy, Sherwood Anderson, Chaucer, Nye, Kinnell, Wordsworth, and Steinbeck.
I stopped spending time with all of you after graduation. I was sick of you, honestly. I needed a break.
I took one for several years. Then you, Tolkien, reminded me how wonderful it felt to curl up in a warm blanket on a cold night, mug of steaming cocoa in hand, and turn the musty pages of an old book to the tune of my cat’s contented purr. I was hooked again. I started reading all the books I’d bought in college but had only half-read due to time constraints. To my surprise, I liked some of them. I formed relationships with more of you–Welty and Joyce, to name a few. I dug into non-fiction, too, and my perceptions of the world were altered by you: John Eldredge, Wendell Berry, and Dan Allender.
Thanks to all of you–writers who moved me–I decided to go back to school to pursue my Master’s in English Language and Literature. And now I’m teaching students how to write, how to use words as tools, how to shape the world with language.
Thank you, writers. Thank you for teaching me, inspiring me, transporting me, entertaining me, and changing me.
I hope my words do the same for someone else someday.
I just realized why I’ve felt drawn to your blog from the start of my blogging days…..it’s because you are an English/Literature teacher! In school, I was one of those geeky kids that endured all my other classes by looking forward to my english and literature classes! I could always see through the eyes of all the writers out there at a time when I couldn’t see things on my own…..
I’m the same way, Mark, and always have been. Thank God for the fine arts and humanities :).
Bethany – this is wonderful. I so enjoyed reading this and you do indeed have a gift with words. I would encourage you to keep writing but also keep reading – maybe even try Wuthering Heights again!
Thanks! I might try it again, LaDonna!