Although I’m uncertain as to when writing isn’t creative, my first serious attempt at it took place in Miss Walden’s third grade classroom at G. M. Sims Elementary. The building still stands, but the school no longer exists, having gone the same way as the Dodo Bird and my high school. In fact, the only one of the schools I attended in Port Arthur that is still in use is the junior high that I loathed, although it’s now named ‘middle’ rather than ‘junior.’ Call it progress, poetic justice, or just plain luck of the draw, the fact that the formative educational spaces of my childhood and youth are long since obsolete makes me feel rather ancient. But I digress. Back in third grade I wrote a pathetic piece of science fiction that so impressed Miss Walden that she made an appointment to come to my home and speak to my parents about her promising student, their son. Sandi Walden was beautiful (she still is), and had captured my heart by about day two of the school year, so the thought of her coming to our home was equally exhilarating and terrifying. I played out possible scenarios like chess moves in my head, each of them ending with her in my arms despite the perceived “minor” differences in our ages. The infamous evening arrived. My parents greeted Miss Walden at our door and ushered her in. They exchanged pleasantries and at some point in the conversation, my mother came looking for me. I was hiding in my bedroom and not easily found because I had wedged my nine year old body as far under my bed as I could possibly fit. Innate timidity trumped romantic love, and I refused to come out from under until my teacher was ready to leave. My grand opportunity to make a positive impression did not go according to plan, with no one to blame but myself. I received an A+ for the writing, but failed my social test. The science fiction I wrote is memorable not because of its quality, but because it was undoubtedly my first time to write without constraint. It may prove to be the most truly creative piece I ever compose.
My next concerted effort in explaining myself on paper that I remember came in Miss Goldman’s high school English class. We met on the second floor of the now defunct Thomas Jefferson Senior High School on Stadium Drive, and I’ll never forget her entrance on the first day of class my junior year. She strode in, her diminutive five foot frame stretched erect as a general, and marched silently but swiftly to the blackboard and wrote in white chalk, “Before the high gates of heaven, the gods placed sweat.” She turned and glowered at us, daring anyone to speak and give themselves away as spineless, lazy, or a combination of the two. We were in for it. She demanded perfection from each of us and refused to be what she termed “our crutch;” we were to figure things out for ourselves. Involuntarily at first, I eventually learned from her the enormous power of words and a well crafted sentence. I promptly went out and purchased my first dictionary and thesaurus from the money I earned mowing lawns.
This thing of writing is madness. To think the world needs one more clamoring voice, much less cares about its motive, is lunacy. Why, then, must I write? What force compels expression? In base manner it comes forth as narcissistic Facebook posts or mundane quips. Higher forms we customarily term ‘literature.’ In between is every manner of utilitarian utterance and philosophic postulating, and somewhere in the rainforest of words I wield my own, like an African panga that cuts a pathway through strangling undergrowth. In final analysis writing is the heart’s desperate attempt to shout, “I was here. I mattered. At least for a little while.”
I’m in the final stages of preparing to publish a new book entitled, “Ordinary Glory: Finding grace in the commonplace.” I hope you’ll choose to secure a copy and in so doing, discover a comfortable companion for the journey, or a memory you didn’t know was yours but that you share with others. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my title, my writing, or your own experience of finding grace in the commonplace.