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October 3, 2013
Learning to love writing came from years of mentors, experiences

Not too long ago, I was asked if I could recall when I first realized that I liked to write and if there was a teacher in my past that influenced my interest in writing.

The question caused me to pause and think.

I have always liked  writing and public speaking. Working with words has always been an interesting art form for me. Searching for the perfect word that conveys the exact shade of meaning that I have in mind is fun. Forming a story so it flows in a logical sequence that both entraps the reader while illuminating the mind is an exciting interplay of words, sentences, paragraphs and sequence.

But when did I first learn to enjoy writing?

My father was a high school English and journalism teacher; maybe working with words is in my genes.

The question caused me to search back through the vaults of my memory for happy memories of writing intersecting experiences with my teachers

My mental journey started with college and went backwards in time.

When I graduated from high school, my graduation gifts included a Webster’s College Dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus and an Underwood upright pica typewriter.

I refer to it as an upright typewriter because it resembled an upright grand piano and weighed nearly the same.

With that typewriter I penned my first college papers, including a treatise on ethics and politics and a short essay on my philosophy of education.

One of my college teachers wrote on the top of one of my first papers for his class, “very concise and cogent.” I had to use that Webster’s College Dictionary to look up cogent. After reading the definition, I assumed cogent was good.

Thank you Dr. Briggs for the encouragement.

My college career was full of writing papers, and I fell in love with my thesaurus as it opened up a whole new world of words to me as my vocabulary expanded. I was like an artist that just discovered that there are many shades in between red, yellow and blue.

As I searched through my high school memories of writing, I could not retrieve any memories of high school English classes.

There was a poetry class I took once and enjoyed but later regretted because I had no idea how to write a 10-page research paper on poetry.

I also remember getting stuck in a literature of the Far East class, because it was combined with history of the Far East and I needed a world history credit to graduate.

We were supposed to read Herman Hesse’s Siddartha for the class. I didn’t. I have read it cover to cover three times since then. It’s a good book.

I did discover a profound understanding of the connection between literature and history from that class. My head now wraps around cultures in a Gestalt kind of form. So if you are still alive and happen to read this Mrs. Hawthorne and Mr. Kerrihard, your efforts to educate me were not totally wasted.

The high school teacher who taught me the most about writing was my science teacher. I had Mr. Bennett for three consecutive years for freshman honors science, chemistry and physics.

In his classes we did multiple lab assignments where we had to complete an experiment and then write a report that included our hypothesis, an explanation of our procedure to test the hypothesis, our data, and then a conclusion.

We worked in groups and I often volunteered to write the first draft of the conclusion.

Mr. Bennett read my conclusions and offered insightful comments that helped me with both my writing and analytical skills. Presenting a logical argument supported by data was something I enjoyed.

Leaving high school and going back to junior high, there are two teachers that stick out in my mind that contributed to my love of writing.

Mr. Carlson was the adviser of my junior high newspaper. I served on the paper’s staff for three years. In eighth grade I was the editor.

I remember learning the five W’s and hanging out in his room after school writing many stories.

Mrs. Keller was my eighth grade English teacher. After she returned our graded papers, she came over to my desk and told me how much she enjoyed reading my papers. Then she would tell me that she would enjoy them better if I took time and used better handwriting.

I don’t know if she really liked my writing that much or if she was just trying to get me to write neater.

Her encouragement made me enjoy writing because I enjoyed the attention and positive feedback. My penmanship is still lousy.

In grade school, my memories go back to a specific assignment in Mrs. Ness’ third grade class in the old Bordeaux school building in Shelton, Wash.

Our classroom was on the upper floor of an old wood framed building. The hallways squeaked when you walked, and the rooms had a distinct school room scent. A perfect combination of wood, paper, paste and chalk dust hung in the air.

Mrs. Ness wrote on the deep black chalkboard, most likely made of real slate, a series of questions in her perfect school teacher’s handwriting.

Our assignment was to write answers to the questions in complete sentences on our grade school lined paper.

Some of us must have stayed in from recess to finish the assignment; I don’t remember her being in the room when I started writing the answers.

One of my classmates noticed me writing away and said, “I don’t get it.”

I took a minute and explained how you turn around a few words in the question and then add the answer to the end of that so it all makes sense when read by itself.

I think this was the moment I realized that writing was fun and that I could help people understand things.

I was awkward at baseball and kick ball on the playground at recess. I was slow when it came to arithmetic. But words were fun. Crafting those first complete sentences was a memory that has stuck in my mind.

Thank you, Mrs. Ness.

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