After reading my blog last week, a friend of mine asked me how I got to be such a good writer. When I stopped blushing (thank you for the great compliment, M!) I began to think hard about the answer. My response to her question was certainly true...what makes me a good writer is the fact that words create pictures in my head. Whether it comes from a book I am reading or words I am putting down on paper (or on a computer screen as the case may be,) I can see it as if it were a vision. By doing something as simple as changing one word, I can change the entire picture...and words not only bring visions to my head, they create strong emotions. An excellent book is one that makes me laugh out loud one minute, and brings me to tears the next...those are the stories I read over and over again, and they will never bore me!
The more I thought about my love of reading and writing, the more I began to think about all the people who have influenced me and helped this love to grow. I talked about my mother in an earlier post, and her stories of animated vegetables that she would tell me late at night when I couldn't sleep...that was definitely the beginning moment that sent me on the writing path, as I could see pictures of The Giant Rutabaga in my head, clear as day. And if you are just logging onto this blog for the very first time, you may want to backtrack and read some of my earlier posts such as the one entitled The Many Gifts (otherwise that comment about the over sized rutabaga will make NO SENSE, and it might just seem a little crazy!) Though the influences didn't stop with my mother. My father has been another big influence for me...he really taught me the meaning behind words, and exposed me to a higher level of language, pushing me to look beyond the norm. My father loves to use words that most people no longer use...I in turn love to tease him about it, but in all seriousness my knowledge of language has grown over the years because of it! (Though I still roll my eyes when he says he has to 'write a precis' instead of just saying 'write a summary.' I mean, who TALKS like that??) Suffice it to say, I was very lucky to have grown up in a world of language, and with parents who encouraged the tasks of reading and writing at every opportunity.
And of course, there were a few teachers who influenced me over the years. Overall, school was pretty difficult for me...not because I couldn't do the work, but because of all the physical challenges I had to deal with. The more time went on, the more changes I went through as my disability progressed. As you can probably guess I didn't always have the highest self esteem, because in a lot of ways it was hard to see past the differences between me and my peers...I mostly just felt like I was inadequate. Though there were some parts of school I really loved! Reading and writing came so easy to me, it almost felt foreign...here were some things I could do very well, and I didn't even break a sweat! And with language, I no longer felt that inadequacy...for once, I felt confident that I could tackle any task given to me. No matter what teasing I went through (from kids and even some teachers,) all of that faded away whenever I picked up a book, or a pencil. And there was one teacher in particular who didn't focus on my physical inabilities...my 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Smith. He encouraged me to read anything I could get my hands on (which was just fine with me!) and push myself with my creative writing. Most of all, Mr. Smith never put me down or harped on what I couldn't do...he seemed to only see what I was capable of, which made me fall in love with language all the more.
I wasn't a teacher for very long in the grand scheme of things, though I did try to be an influence to all of my students, especially in the many areas of literacy. The kids I worked with were no strangers to the feeling of inadequacy...these were children who faced obstacles that I could sometimes only imagine. Not only very challenging physical issues, but in most cases emotional issues as well. Something as simple as reading a story to a group of children (which happens in classrooms everyday,) had to be learned and practiced...the thought of leading a 'reading group' where each student had their own copy of a book we would read together, was a daunting task. If I'm being totally honest, I would have to tell you that it scared me a little. Okay...A LOT. Here was something that had always come so easy to me, yet I was faced with children who had never even picked up a book, and had no idea how to sit in a group of their peers and listen to one being read. Sounds like an easy thing to just sit and listen, right?? I was shocked at how difficult it was! Proper behavior for such a task had to be taught from day one...how would I show these kids how wonderful reading and writing could be when the willingness to stop and listen wasn't even there? Even now, I'm not exactly sure just how I did it...but I didn't give up. Eventually we learned how to function as a group, and my students started to listen...and learn. They learned secrets that I had known for years...that books could take you anywhere, and you could learn about people who led completely different lives than the ones you had always experienced--or even better, you could read about others JUST LIKE YOU. And when you couldn't find what you wanted to read about in a book? Well, you could just write your own, and let your imaginations run wild! The pictures in your head could come alive, just by picking up a pencil. Eventually each student was sitting and participating in reading groups, where no one was ever put down for their mistakes...and by the end of the year every child also wrote and illustrated their own books, creating amazing stories! I can't tell you if those children are still choosing to pick up books and pencils once in a while, instead of turning on video games or TV...though I know at least I managed to pave the way. I'd like to think my parents and my teacher Mr. Smith would be proud. I certainly thank them for their influences and encouragement, as it opened up the world for me!
So wherever your talents may lie, whether it's in reading and writing, math and computers or arts and music...share these talents with others--especially people younger than yourselves. Provide them with positive influences and teach them what options are out there...it will pave the way for their own unique talents to flourish, and their world may just grow a little larger!