Actually, this post has very little to do with any of the above-named dead people. This is more about my love of Wordcrafting that they inspired
With the help of my Senior English Teacher
Who is very much alive
To the Praise of Her Family, and, last night at least, in my prayers and thanksgiving unto GOD.
One day, in Senior English, our teacher gave us an assignment: write an amusing, true story.
‘I don’t have any amusing true stories,’ I thought. ‘I’ll just make one up.’
I’ll try to get the gist of the story below, with my tribute and thanks to one of the Energizers of my own creativity, even if she doesn’t yet know it. Oh, that one of my students would come up to me, in 50 or 60 years, and inform me that he/she had found me as Inspiring as I found this Young Lady, this TEACHER to be. So here’s my best attempt at relaying that information to another Beautiful Soul (trigger warning: the following may contain a few anachronisms and other instances of poetic license–let it slide, buddy, it’s fiction):
While a senior in college, I was asked to serve as one of the judges in a writing competition for freshman literature, for a lame $500 prize that some lame local celebrity had organized. Some of the staff had suggested a student co-judge, this particular year, and, because my serialized fiction in the school newspaper was somewhat popular on campus, I was asked. I felt obligated, so I begrudgingly accepted. Okay, and I had a crush on the professor whom they had sent to ask me. This particular part of the story is of no interest, here, but I wanted you to know all of my motives for accepting the duty/curse of reading OTHER PEOPLE’S writing. I would rather have had a hot poker stuck in my eye. Little did I know, at the time, how excruciating the whole affair was going to be….
The stupid parameters of the judging: we were all given a single submission to read without knowing the identity of the author; we were to read it, then interview the author, then submit our assessment. I wasn’t on the final judging committee, thank goodness, so I welcomed the fact that I would only have to endure the condescension to commonality but once.
“Oh, GREAT!” I thought as my assigned literature arrived, “a Mystery! Just what I would have chosen for myself, IF I WERE CHOOSING MY ROOM 101 HELL IN 1984! (Which, at the time, was only a few years away.)
So I read it with all the enthusiasm that I could muster: ZERO. And then I sent notice that I was ready to do the interview. And it turned out that it was a WOMAN, of all things! ‘Women can’t write! Women can’t be creative! Look at this ____! I should have known that a chick wrote it!’ I thought as the nervous student approached me in the quad.
“Hi, I’m Philo. What’s your name, Miss?” I asked, trying to pretend that I cared.
“Aggie,” squeaked out the mousy little thing. Mousy little FEMALE thing.
‘What an ugly name,’ I thought. But I said, “Why do you want to be a writer?”
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she began. “I–”
At which point I cut her off with, “Okay, let me be straight with you. I hated it. I hate the genre, and I especially hated this, your excreted submission to this contest. Go back home, get a job in a lady’s shoe store, get married, have some babies. It’s the best that you can hope for. Oh, and Aggie, what an ugly name. If you hope for any kind of success, change it.”
I had never seen such a look on another person’s face as that which appeared over her visage upon her hearing these words. I could not quite interpret all of it…at that time. But it frightened me.
Turns out that Aggie won that $500 prize.
Years later, while working as a clerk in a men’s shoe store in SoHo, I received a Special Delivery Package: a signed copy of “Murder on the Orient Express” with a note which read, “Thank you for participating in that writing contest when I was a freshman. Your participation encouraged me to write better, and to become a better person toward others.” It was signed, simply, Aggie.
Our papers, in Senior English, received 2 grades at the time, along these lines, if I recall correctly: Mechanics and Content. Mechanics covered typing/spelling, grammar, formatting, etc. Content covered, well, content, the gist of the story. I don’t know exactly how I was graded for this particular project, this true story which wasn’t true, but I do recall a note from this TEACHER to the effect that she didn’t believe that it was entirely true. It amused me, and, given that I had not submitted a project that quite fit the parameters, I recall that the grade was, well, much more generous than I had been toward Agatha Christie.
I cannot name her. But the intellect, the passion that she had for her job, the passion that she instilled in others, they inspire me still. Her inspiration, her generosity–and Agatha Christie’s–helped to make me a better wordcrafter, a better person. I thank GOD for writing this Beautiful Woman into my life.