Recently, I was at dinner with my mom and I was telling her how I’ve been writing lately. She said that she was happy that I was getting a chance to pursue my writing. I’ve been writing since elementary school. I would torture my parents with short stories about girls and bears and turtles, oh my. As I grew older, my stories got better to the point where my Mom actually didn’t mind sitting and reading my stories. In seventh grade, I had one of my favorite teachers. His name was Mr. Victor Levin. Mr. Levin was an adult, but he enjoyed cartoons and his room was plastered with Wil E. Coyote. He taught in a way that was receptive to me as a kid. He made learning fun by making catch phrases and jokes that forced you to remember the work even when you didn’t know that you did. The most rewarding thing he did was teach and nurture writing.
I never told anyone about my desire to write and how much I loved reading books. The first week in Mr. Levin’s class he announced a writing contest. It was simple. We had to write about baseball. I think it had to be at least three pages or something like that. I went home and sat down and banged out what I didn’t think was a remarkable story. I turned it in and didn’t think much about it. We continued with our lessons and then a few days later, Mr. Levin announced the winners of the contest. He read each winner’s entry. He read the third runner-up and it was a nice story about baseball. He read the second runner-up and it was an equally nice story about baseball. Then, he read mine. I didn’t even recognize it. I had never had anyone read my work the way he was reading it. I found that story a few years ago and reread it and I was impressed. The story was told from the point of view of the final baseball player that stood between his team winning and losing the world series. It described his struggle as he missed the first swing and the second swing. I mean there was sweat on the pages. Then there is the triumph as the final swing connects and he rounds the bases. It had suspense, angst and elation. I don’t even know how my seventh grade mind created all that. From that moment, I knew it and he knew it too. I was a writer.
The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”- Dalai Lama
Mr. Levin took special care to nurture my talent, then he did something simple that changed everything for me. He asked the class to read S.E. Hinton‘s “The Outsiders”. I listened intently as he told the class that the writer was a teenager when her novel was written and published. Later, he showed us the movie that was adapted from her book. Before that, I didn’t attach movies and books. Suddenly, I had a dream. I wrote about my feelings about S.E. Hinton and my new dream in my journal. Mr. Levin pulled me aside one day after class and talked to me about my writing. He asked me to bring him my work and let him read it. He said that he would help me revise it. He read it and he loved it. He loved it so much that he encouraged me to read it in front of the class.
I have to admit that I was scared. As a writer, it’s one thing to write to yourself. It’s another to show or read it to someone and open it up to scrutiny. I felt vulnerable and sensitive. What if my peers didn’t like it? What if they tortured me outside of the protection of Mr. Levin’s class. On a Friday, Mr. Levin told the class that we wouldn’t do any work that day because I was going to read a story that I wrote. I had already made friends with that statement. I sat before the class and I read this story that I wrote about a girl that wakes up in a closet full of bones. She emerges from the closet and finds that she is in a locked room where there is blood on the walls. I know, it was very dark and gory. I read a lot of Stephen King when I was younger. As I read the story, you could have heard a pin drop in the room. No one said anything. My story didn’t really end. The heroine was left in sort-of a cliff-hanger as she almost got away.
I looked up from the page at the faces of my peers. They looked worried. One person’s hand shot up and Mr. Levin called on him. He said, “So what happens next?” I breathed a sigh of relief. They didn’t just enjoy the story. They loved it. They had so many questions and I tried to answer them all. Mr. Levin encouraged me to continue the story. I did and I ended up writing several short stories following the story and reading them to the class one Friday of the month. It became a thing. Eventually, I wrote a full novella and Mr. Levin printed the whole thing and ran off copies. He included it in his curriculum. I couldn’t believe it. I felt a sense of accomplishment. I felt like an author.
When I graduated from eighth grade, Mr. Levin presented me with two writing awards. It was such an honor and I remember how fortunate I felt to have someone see something in me that I didn’t know about myself. He gave me a dream and that is the power that teachers have. When he showed me how to see myself as a writer, I saw myself as nothing else. Unfortunately, as time and life went on, I lost sight of myself as a writer. I went to an academic high school instead of a performing arts high school. It was drilled into me that I had to go to college, be something and get a job. My creative nature wasn’t rewarded or nurtured. Eventually, I convinced myself that writer was a lofty career and I should be a journalist instead. I didn’t pursue either. The act of ignoring my dream depleted me and I was no good for anything. I became a hard worker for all the wrong reasons and all the wrong things.
Now, I am writing every day and the stories are crafting themselves in ways that I can’t even describe. I also write poetry which was another love that started in Mr. Levin’s class. Writing is like air to me and I realized that I can no longer deny myself. In the restaurant , I told my mother that I feel like the writing comes through me. I don’t always know what is going to happen to the characters. I feel like they are telling me their story and I have the privilege of writing it. I am a voyeur or an insider and I am learning the story just as my reader will. It’s wonderful. The reason why I know that it is what I am meant to do is because it makes me happier than I have ever been. It feels rewarding to me even when it’s hard and no one reads it. I do it anyway because it feeds my soul. I am in love. My first love is writing and I’m never going to give that up for anything in this world.
“Man is not born to solve the problems of the universe, but to find out what he has to do… within the limits of his comprehension.”- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe