As he was leaving for work this morning, I told my husband I had no idea what I was going to write about today.
“Write about writing,” he said.
I brushed it off. Thought to myself, ‘something will come to me. It always does.’
Then I really started thinking about it, and came to the conclusion that he really is a genius. (Don’t tell him I said that. His ego is big enough as it is.)
It all started with books.
I don’t have the memory of when my parents started reading to me. That’s because I was so young. I do remember, though, my parents switching off night after night, tucking me into bed and reading a stack of books to send me off to dreamland. By the time I was four, I was reading them myself.
I was the only student in my Kindergarten class who could read. My teacher, Ms. Hurley, would sometimes let me read to the class during story time. By the first grade, I was wandering in the library, looking for books my classmates wouldn’t have thought to checkout. I remember having a conversation with the school librarian, who found me in a section with novels. “Honey,” she said, “don’t you want to look at the picture books with the other kids?”
No. No I didn’t. I wanted to read The Boxcar Children. It didn’t matter to me that it didn’t have pictures. I wanted to read a real book.
I started writing stories when I was in the fourth grade. Illustrated books about fictional characters, filled with the childish drawings created with fat crayons. My parents reveled in my creativity. Where other families had lopsided drawings of houses and flowers and Picasso-esque dogs secured to their refrigerators, ours was covered in books and poems and cards I’d written for my family. My parents encouraged me constantly, and the amount of praise I received from them each time I delivered another volume was huge.
By the time high school rolled around, if my nose wasn’t in a book, I was feverishly writing in one of my many journals. I settled for paper folders filled with notebook paper–that way, I could write in class, and transfer the pages to my journal when I got home. I wrote about the usual teenage angst, mixed with poetry and short fiction. If I could dream it, I could write it, and I did.
My junior year of high school, I met Mary Ginny Dubose. My English teacher. When I told her my name, she paused and said, “Now, that’s a name that sounds like it belongs on the jacket of a best seller.”
She had no idea I wanted to be a writer.
|Visiting with Mary Ginny on a trip home from college, 1999.|
Over the course of the last two years of high school, Ms. Dubose inspired me to reach for the moon. Her passion for literature was evident in every conversation I had with her, and she turned authors into rock stars for me. I devoured classics like a starving artist. The Invisible Man, Wuthering Heights, The Jungle. I fell in love with John Keats, William Shakespeare, Saul Bellow, Jane Austen, and Emily Bronte.
My notebooks began to fill with storyline, character analysis, words rich and ripe with meaning. I’d find myself jotting down a turn-of-phrase I liked, or a description of an everyday object that turned it into something extraordinary. I played with iambic pentameter, alliteration, juxtaposition, onomatopoeia.
By the time my senior year rolled around, my passion for writing had come full circle. I was writing prose and poetry for Ms. Dubose’s creative writing class, and receiving nothing but praise. If she received word of a county-wide poetry contest, she would quietly slip me a flyer along with a graded paper or assignment. She whisked me away to a student writer’s conference one spring weekend, where I presented my poetry like a prize fighter. And she was always there, in my corner.
When graduation rolled around, I mourned the loss of this exceptional woman in my everyday life. I called her from the floor of my dorm room on a regular basis my freshman year of college. I shared stories with her over the classes I’d enrolled in: Shakespeare in Film, a literature class we affectionately referred to as “Big, Fat Books,” the English class that had me reading everything from Sci-Fi to psychological theory.
As things often happen, I eventually lost touch with her. School, social life, growing up got in the way, and the telephone conversations eventually stopped. But I always carried her with me. Each time I got an A on an analytical essay, I thought of her. Anytime I proofread a short story I was preparing to turn in, I would wonder if she would have approved. When I read a really great book, I would wonder if she’d ever read it before, and if she had, what notes she’d scrawled in the margins.
I carried her with me to New York City, to a writer’s conference with Orson Scott Card, who told me, about a short story I’d given him to read, that if he’d had the idea first he’d have already gotten it published.
I carried her, and my various writings, along with me as I got my first apartment, met my husband, got married.
|Just a few of my journals, filled with papers, poems, and short stories.|
I often wonder what Mary Ginny is doing these days. I know she retired from teaching a few years ago, and she’s probably traveling the world, spending time in the UK and taking Shakespeare tours through the English countryside.
One day, when I finally make my dream come true, and become a published writer, I hope she’s still around to see it. Because my first book, inevitably, will be dedicated to her.