My Love Affair With Writing Began In Childhood

There’s a book on my shelf that’s not like any of the others. Beside my volumes of poetry, my tattered short story anthologies, and my well-thumbed novels is a picture book by Jay Williams, called Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like. Today, I want to tell you about how I acquired this book, and why it still has a place in my library and in my heart.

When I was in primary 2 (age 6) I had an awful teacher; she was loud, angry, aggressive and controlling. I can still remember her voice shrieking at a little boy who dared to use the Scots word ‘ken’, instead of the accepted standard English, ‘know’. I can still remember her physically dragging a child out of the classroom to go to the higher power of the headmistress. And, I can still remember her anger directed at me following a particularly lacklustre effort at writing a story. I, too, was sent to the headmistress, but remembering the incident of the last child who objected to this directive, I went quietly.

The thing was that the headmistress, Mrs Faulds, was one of the most gentle, generous women I would ever meet, and she genuinely cared about the children under her charge. I can only assume her hands were tied in some way concerning the continuing employment of my class teacher! However, this being the first time I had been sent to her, I had no idea what to expect, or how to handle the situation, and, understandably, what with my experience of authority figures in school, I was, quite frankly, terrified. Trembling, I passed over the meager 3 sentence narrative scrawled in my jotter. She read it over and then looked at me with eyes filled with kindness, tinged with disappointment. She said, “I know you are capable of so much better than this. You have such an active imagination, but your daydreaming is interfering with your work. Maybe you could try writing down your imaginings and share them with everyone else? I’m sure we’d all love to read them.”

Now, I don’t know whether it was her interest in my dreams, her faith in my ability to communicate them, or just the sheer relief that she was so unlike the teacher that had sent me to her office, but her words lit a fire in me. I started to write epics… Ok, well 5 page stories, while my classmates struggled at 2. I began to be known for my stories and my writing. It felt good. It still does.

Anyway, the following year, my family and I moved away from the area. On my last day at school, I was once again called into Mrs Faulds office. This time, I went gladly, confidently. I sat down in front of her desk and she gave me a leaving gift; she gave me a beautiful picture book with an illustration of a small fat, old Chinese man, a village and a colourful dragon floating above the clouds. Later, when I opened the front cover, I discovered that she had written a message in silver ink:

Childhood Mesage

It reads: “Dear Amy – just remember to keep your head out of the clouds and I’m sure someday you’ll write your wonderful book. M. Faulds”

This lovely lady’s encouraging words, first spoken and then, a year later, written, have stayed with me throughout my years as a child and then as an adult. I’ve still not written my ‘wonderful book’, although I remain convinced by Mrs Faulds’ certitude that ‘someday’ I will. In the meantime, I continue to write down my dreams, my experiences, my thoughts. I continue to feel joy in sharing my words. I continue to feel humbled by others’ appreciation of my writing. I continue to read Mrs Faulds’ message from over 20 years ago.

I continue my love affair with writing.

What childhood experience inspired you to go on to become the person you are today? Did you have a teacher who gave you the confidence to follow your dreams?

P.S. This is a post for Joanna Young’s group writing project, My Love Affair With Writing over at Confident Writing. You can still join in as the closing date for entries is the 28th Feb, and if you do, let me know and I’ll add a link to your entry here.

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February 24, 2008. Tags: . Creativity, Inspiration.

15 Comments

  1. Linda R. Moore replied:

    Did you know that there was a minuscule smily face at about seven o’clock to the Submit Comment button on your site? πŸ™‚

    This is a really lovely story.

  2. amypalko replied:

    DO you know, Linda, I hadn’t, but once you pointed it out, I had a look at other wordpress.com blogs and noticed they all have it. Isn’t that strange!
    Glad you liked the story πŸ™‚

  3. Joanna Young replied:

    Hi Amy, this is such an interesting piece… it feels like part one to a much bigger story that’s still unfolding.

    There was something about what your headteacher said that gave you the power or the inspiration to write – but it seemed to be two things, to keep your head out of the clouds, but also to *write* your imaginations – as if the imaginations are valid, have meaning, but need to be brought back down to earth by you using your power to write them?

    And you know I really want to hear more about the fat Chinese man, and the dragon, and just what he is doing floating over the clouds, and what the dragon has to do with writing. Is it because the dragon can breathe fire… just like a writer ? πŸ™‚

    Joanna

  4. wonderwebby replied:

    I love those teachers who took me beyond the standard curriculum. When I was 9yo my teacher kindly instructed me to write poems in a special book, instead of doing spelling with the rest of the class. Later when I was 14 my art teacher was horrified to learn I was giving it up to take a science subject. I completed art right up to matric (year 12) and ended up studying animation at uni.
    Sometimes it takes somebody else to point out our strengths and potential.
    Thanks for the story. Love your blog by the way.

  5. Marcia replied:

    Amy, I actually teared up at this. One person can make such a difference. I’m so glad you experienced it.

    I don’t remember a specific teacher as much as being allowed to check out a brand new book from the school library before it was even put on the shelves. I was the only one in class that was given that privilege; I have no clue why. It was a biography of Paul Revere and I was fascinated by him at the time. I just know that I was extremely shy back then and it made me feel so special.

  6. amypalko replied:

    Maybe I’ll need to write a follow-up post, Joanna, where I describe the story and how it relates to writing. In fact, I find I’m already composing it in my head!

    I think it often takes another person to point out our strengths and potential, Wonderwebby. Also, I think that if someone has taken the time and attention to give that gift to you, then it raises your awareness of just how powerful that gift is, and how important it is for you to pass the gift on to others. Thank you for your comment, Wonderwebby, and welcome to Lives Less Ordinary πŸ™‚

    One person really can make all the difference, can’t they, Marcia? And I think that feeling special is such an important component in our self development. When we experience it early on, it’s easier to cling onto when reach adulthood. I’m glad that you were allowed to tap into your ‘specialness’ as a child πŸ™‚

  7. Brad Shorr replied:

    Last night I was watching one of my favorite movies, “Mr. Holland’s Opus”. Your story reminds me of that film. You are blessed to have Mrs. Faulds, your own Mr. Holland. How different our lives would be without those inspiring teachers.

  8. barbara replied:

    What a very wise woman.

  9. Identifying Dragons « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

    […] Identifying Dragons Posted by amypalko under Creativity, Inspiration   Following on from my previous post, I want to share a little bit more about the book, Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks […]

  10. Damien Riley replied:

    Great memories. I would have to say though that great writers need their heads in the clouds. They also need their feet on the ground. Keep those head IN the clouds!

  11. Glenn replied:

    Hey Amy,

    This was a great post; I think a lot of writers have had those one or two GREAT teachers who really inspired them to pursue writing… I know I have, at least, which is probably a primary reason as to why your entry appealed to me so much.

    This has been a great testament to the impact the Confident Writing group writing project has already had — I have tracked down a few other bloggers who entered, and all the works have been superb. Great job.

  12. amypalko replied:

    How different indeed, Brad! I’ll need to try and watch that movie someday – I’ve been meaning to catch it for years.

    She was a wise woman, Barbara, but most of all, she was a compassionate woman who wanted the best for her students.

    Yes, I think you’re right, Damien, it’s a case of balancing the two. If you keep your head in the clouds, you don’t get the words on the page. If you keep your feet on the ground, you lose your inspiration. I’ll let you know once I’ve managed it!

    I’m one of those, Glenn, who believes that teachers appear when you’re ready for them. You never know when or where you’ll find them, but they always seem to find you at the right time. Joanna’s wonderful group writing project has helped me find new teachers, and for that I am extremely thankful. Glad you enjoyed my contribution πŸ™‚

  13. Deb @ Three Weddings replied:

    Sorry I’m late joining in, but your title was so close to what I was writing I wanted to wait till I got my own thoughts down. This was sweet story. I love how your teacher encouraged you. So many times people go into teaching but have no real gift with children. It is so nice to find the ones that encourage and strengthen you. You were truly blessed. Good luck on your book.

  14. Karen Swim replied:

    Amy,

    Mrs. Faulds was right! You are gifted! Thank you so much for keeping your head in the clouds and sharing what’s up there with the rest of us. This was beautiful!

    Karen

  15. amypalko replied:

    I completely understand, Deb. It can be difficult to write originally once you’ve been influenced by another. I’ve actually just read your entry this evening, and I loved it! Well done πŸ™‚

    I’m so pleased that you think so, Karen! I do think that it’s all in trying to maintain that balance between allowing yourself to dream, but remembering to share it with others. But then, I’m clearly preaching to the choir here. You write so beautifully yourself; you already maintain that balance so beautifully.

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