I have a confession to make. It’s a big one. At least it is to me.
I almost failed English 12. Yep. At 17 I was heading on a one-way train ride to no graduating with my friends, embarrassment and the stigma that goes along with failing grade 12.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? I guess, but as a writer, it feels pretty serious.
Let me give you some background.
I was the genius in our family of two. While my sister excelled in athletics, I aced any subjects that required reading a book including, math textbooks and science journals.
My genius however, was limited to elementary school and grades 8-10. After that, things went to hell in a hand basket. We pulled up roots before the beginning of grade 11, moved to Vernon and left my sister and my grandparents behind and I hit a late puberty and six feet.
My height, long blonde hair and budding breasts got me noticed. Did I want brains noticed along with that? I was 17, what do you think?
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a conscious choice, I just kind of slipped into mediocrity, learned how to have fun skipping class, smoking pot and people watching in downtown Vernon. Not overly conducive to getting good grades.
By the time grade 12 rolled around, my love of reading was gone, I was scraping by in most grades and I didn’t like my English teacher.
Enter Barry Millar. My hero. My inspiration. My remedial english instructor who, after 25 years (I looked him up and called to let him know I was a writer and had just won an award for a short story) still remembered that Beth Hendry was the tall girl with the long hair always bemoaning the fact that she didn’t have a boyfriend and who played Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerec with incredible passion.
In his class of misfits he found his true calling; making young people feel like they had a voice and that they mattered. Not focusing on exact spelling, or grammar placement or a properly constructed sentence, but instead zooming in on what our young hearts wanted to say.
We studied the classics and not by discussing every ounce of enjoyment out of them. NO.He had us take turns reading out loud sitting under the trees, at the front of the school, in the warm spring sun while our friends and peers slogged away in a classroom fighting to stay awake.
Barry gave us an opportunity to share what was in our hearts, talk our angst out and not fear judgement or condemnation.
And every thing we produced in that class earned an A+.
I still struggle with grammar. Just ask my 96 year old boarder. She edits my articles and keeps trying different metaphors to describe how and when to use a comma. Last week, she did give me credit for improving though. She sees that when it comes to grammar I learn, not from hearing how it works, but experiencing it, practicing it, finding the pattern in it on my own.
Barry let each of us in that class find our own patterns, develop our own way of communicating on paper, and not once did he say our way was wrong.
Sometimes I feel like an impostor. How can I call myself a journalist? How can I make money from writing?
And then I think of the people who have come into my life, like Barry, like Lorraine, like Goody, people who told me I had something, people who believed I could write and improve and grow as a writer. People who had faith that the words I had inside would come out in the right order, with the right meaning and spill out on the page to be read by others with enjoyment, interest and curiosity.
Yep, it all started under those trees, the sun warming our faces, grass tickling our toes and the acceptance of a respected teacher helping us believe in possibilities.