When I think about my formative years, I think about crippling shyness, bad hair, worse poetry. What I couldn’t say out loud – which was a lot – I wrote and wrote and wrote. And I remember, too, making the conscious decision as a senior in high school that it was my writing that would define me. I claimed it when, in what seemed like the boldest of moves in my 18-year-old brain, I wrote and delivered a speech at our baccalaureate. And a big part of the reason why I owned my voice was because of my creative writing teacher, Ms. Calder.
She was a free spirit who wore fluid, printed tops and glass beads, who shared slide photographs of her trips to Egypt and Greece on the classroom’s overhead projector. She oversaw the regular publication of a collection of student writing, Word Drops in Literary Puddles, but mostly, she entrusted the bulk of the work to her most eager and interested students. And in my eleventh and twelfth grade years, that was me and one of my best friends.
Everyone in her writing classes had their work featured and it was our job to select from their submissions, to solicit a cover illustration and to design and layout each publication. There was a considerable amount of drama when someone turned in the lyrics to a Barenaked Ladies song, claiming it as their own, and when the just-right accompanying piece of clip art could not be found for my latest poem about heartbreak. Weren’t they all about heartbreak?
But Ms. Calder didn’t judge us as I fear I’d judge my melodramatic teenage self. She was patient, encouraging and had a wry, appreciative wit that I sometimes think was wasted on high school students. She regularly pressed us to submit our writing to a regional publication for student writers and celebrated with the class every time someone’s poem or short piece was selected for publication. When I graduated, she bought me a beautiful pen and a photo album. I still have the photo album but I’ve lost the note she’d tucked inside. I wish I could remember what it said.
Ms. Calder passed in 2013. I just learned that this morning, before I sat down to write this, to remember her and the ways she trusted me – taught me to trust myself.
She treated everyone like a writer before any of us were worth reading. It was a gift.
And so was she.