I credit Mrs. Jones. She planted the seed. She made me believe I could be a writer.
I remember coming into my second-grade classroom, excited and proud to show my lovely teacher a story I had written over the weekend. Though, looking back now, I’m not entirely certain the story was my original idea. In all fairness, I may have “borrowed” the story’s plot from an episode of Sesame Street.
In any event, Mrs. Jones loved it.
Later that day she handed me a “book” she had made for me. A book with a yellow construction paper front and back cover. A book filled with the “good paper” – the white paper with the blue lines. That was special paper. Our class only used it for final drafts. For everything else, we used the brown paper – the more easily torn, not-as-nice-looking paper. Yet Mrs. Jones had given me a book full of good paper.
I was deserving of the good paper. My stories were good-paper worthy. Mrs. Jones conveyed no doubt. No skepticism. No criticism. Her gift conveyed absolute encouragement. I told her I wanted to be a writer. She told me I could do it.
Mrs. Jones didn’t just impact my writing. Her belief in my dream, her confidence in me, was something I carried with me and applied throughout my own teaching career. I always made an effort to encourage my elementary school students. To express enthusiasm, curiosity, and interest in anything they spoke to me about. A love of pandas. A desire to be a dancer in music videos. A wish to be a veterinarian. A strong calling to become a doctor who cures cancer. An interest in vegetarianism. A passion for the violin. A creative LEGO-building interest. These were my students’ passions. And I wanted to be a cheerleader in their corner. The person who said, “Go for it. Of course, you can do it.”
For many years, I was a teacher. And only a teacher. I still liked writing, but writing was what I did in-between everything else. Until it wasn’t anymore. Until I couldn’t keep denying the fact that I had words and ideas in my head that wanted to live on paper. Words and ideas that I wanted to share with others.
I began by following the often quoted, “write what you know” advice. I wrote about my teaching experiences. About choosing to rent instead of owning a home. About my small diamond wedding ring. Not all my personal essays were published, but many were. And I knew none would be published if I didn’t submit them. If I didn’t believe in myself enough to give them a chance and send them out.
Years later, in a creative writing class I took for personal enrichment, another esteemed teacher, the writing instructor, told our class something I have never forgotten. She said, “Writing is a verb. If you write, you are a writer.” So, I kept writing.
First, I wrote on random scraps of paper. Then I got organized and wrote in spiral notebooks, the same ones I provided my students. I filled my spiral notebooks with ideas, and paragraphs, and lists. Then I typed my stories, printed them out, and put the pages in three-ring binders (again the same ones I provided to my students). I was, in effect, making my own books.
But I would enviously gaze at other books. Leather-bound journals. Hardcovers and paperbacks. Journals with embossed covers. Journals with Monet prints on the cover. Journals that looked too pretty to be written in. I’d visit my local bookstore and my local office supply store, and my eyes would wander. I’d think, “Someday I’ll get those for myself.”
One June, a student gave me an end-of-the-year gift card for our local bookstore. I wandered the shelves, trying to decide what to buy myself. And then I knew. “Someday” had become “this day.”
My words – rough drafts, scratch-outs, in any and all forms they took – my words were worthy of these pretty journals. My words deserved to be on “good paper.”
Mrs. Jones said so.