My heart thumped in my ears and my feet dragged on the scratchy institutional carpet as I made my way to the oak desk where my grade twelve English Advance Placement teacher’s eyes bore down on me. I felt sweat forming between my shoulder blades when my downcast eyes took in the red marks across the essay I had worked on just days before laying underneath his arm as if he was embarrassed to show it to me. I heard his intake of breath while I held mine tightly within my chest.
“Lesley, I’m unsure what to say to you.” His voice soft as I felt all eyes of 29 other students behind me leaning forward wanting to hear. His pale blue eyes were also soft but the truth that was displayed beneath the grey bushy eyebrows had me almost release my baited breath into a sob, so I held it even deeper.
“This was horribly written, you do not know how to write at all,” he said sternly pushing the pages towards me. I couldn’t bear to look at him or the pages filled with red lines and scratch marks with his writing, it looked like the red colour of shame I could feel creeping up my neck, so I looked down at the spotted floor with coffee stains and aged old gum instead. “I want to believe you can do better, but I’m not sure if have the skills or the talent.”
I nodded my head and reached forward to take the essay away from him, wanting to protect myself from any farther embarrassment. His hand touched the edge of as I peeled it away and looked straight into my milk chocolate eyes now rimmed with tears I didn’t want to show. “I think you should read more. I’m not even sure how you made it into this class considering your writing skills. You must do better, or you’ll be failing this class and won’t be graduating”.
I gathered the strength to walk back to my desk in the furthest row away from him and placed my essay facedown on the beige Formica desk and stared out the window. A dreary autumn sky danced around me and laughter started to bubble up in my chest as I thought of his last comment. Read more! I thought to myself if only he knew how many books I’ve read this past week let alone in my lifetime. I was reading The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien by age 5, I read a lot.
I carried his comments around with me for years, and when I think back on that memory I can still feel shame creep up my neck as if I was facing him today. Despite being an avid reader I believed I didn’t know how to write so when I think about the fact that I started an online blog before they were cool and let everyone know how poorly I could write, I laugh.
Those early blog posts look and sound like they were written by a child because his comment cut me to the core. Instead of trying to prove him wrong I decided to be someone who couldn’t write. Until one day someone came along and told me they could tell I was trying to write but didn’t know how. They took me aside and showed me the basics of what I needed to know so I could write properly – not even well.
When I saw how letters could be stringed into sentences, that looped into paragraphs and built mountains of pages further than simple sentences like ‘I saw jack run to the house’ my heart fluttered and the hair on the back of my neck prickled with excitement.
My wings were no longer clipped, I could write and I began to soar.
I wrote daily and continued publishing more online content knowing I was fumbling and flailing, but I was learning. The desire to write stayed strong and learned that writing could be more than just writing my thoughts but could be deliciously detailed with symbolism and narratives I knew understood before.
Out walking with a friend on the polished streets of Den Haag I let words slip from my mouth and didn’t even realize that a desire I had since I was a young girl had been shared with her until she wrote to me the next day “I think you should get in touch with this publisher, she is always looking for new authors and I think you’d get along really well.” In her email were the contact name and number of a highly regarded publisher in the Netherlands. As I scanned the publisher’s website I heard the words of my grade twelve English teacher whisper in my ear “you do not know how to write at all” and let shame find a place within my writing once again and stuffed the email away never returning to the publisher’s website.
When I think on the fact that I’ve written a novel since then and a blog that has had thousands of visitors at it’s doorstep with people asking when I’ll be posting next or that my writing has impacted them I wish I could go back and stand before him and say “I may not be able to write today, but you just wait. One day I’ll be creating worlds bursting with colour and emotions so raw you’ll be wishing it was you who wrote them. But more than that you’ll have wished it was you who saw the diamond in the rough and polished it until it gleamed.”