I’m a firm believer that teens do better if they have a “thing.”
Preferably not heroin.
Ideally, the thing might be football, chess, sewing, soccer–some activity that helps navigate the journey toward self-definition. When we’re young and don’t yet know what we are or who we’ll be, having a “thing” can clarify.
For me, the thing that buoyed me during high school was being on the speech team. Not only did it provide me with the opportunity to apply all my many words to a purpose, it also connected me with like-minded peers. I could talk SAT scores with my speech peeps as we bemoaned the number of college essays we had to write before December. What’s more, participating in speech taught me how to fake confidence–how to wrap myself in a cloak of bravura and save my tears for the bathroom.
I still use this technique today, in my teaching life.
One other significant thing that came to me thanks to my love of Original Oratory was a relationship with and affection for the coaches. Mr. Fisher. Mrs. Hall. Miss Bach.
It felt novel and special to have a non-classroom-based relationship with these teachers at my high school. They never graded my work; rather, they got on buses with all of us forensics kids and rode for countless hours around the state of Montana. We went to meets in in Missoula, Havre, Glendive. We stopped at Country Kitchens and 24-hour diners. We looked over the judges’ ballots together after each meet. We laughed and laughed together. These coaches were our mentors, chaperones, and friends.
Now, thirty years later, Facebook has reconnected me with two of them. Over the years, I had kept in contact with Mrs. Hall, as she was the coach I worked with for my event; always, I have loved her. However, I had lost contact with Mr. Fisher and Miss Bach. But then: Facebook. So now I am friends with Miss Bach, and it’s been grand to have that point of communication and contact, especially because she is an English teacher. We speak that shared language.
The re-connection with Miss Bach has never been more appreciated than today. You see, as I’ve tried to pitch my writing at online publications in recent months, there have been lots of rejections–and, along the way, a few successes. First, there was this piece at Mamalode, which I posted about previously: Sweet Like Sugar. Then, last week, I had a piece run at The Good Men Project: Raising a Gentle Boy in a Violent World.
Now, today, I have an essay on Mamalode. Their theme this month is “men,” and so I submitted an essay about my dad. If you are so disposed (Be disposed! Be disposed!), you can read it here: The Air That I Breathe.
Of course, the best part of having one’s writing reach an audience is the sense of a shared moment.
I just had the best shared moment with Miss Bach, when she sent me a message about today’s essay on Mamalode. She wrote:
When I comment on your writing, I can never quite go the cast of thousands FB approach. I loved this piece. Having lost my own father in January, so unexpectedly, setting my siblings and me on our own orphan train, this resonates profoundly. I have to believe that anyone who has loved or been loved deeply does not die alone and therein lies solace.
The greatest tribute I can pay you–I am realizing I need to begin to write, and you are giving me the courage/inspiration to begin the journey.
Immediately, as I read this message, my eyes filled with tears. Miss Bach was a seminal figure in my teen years. She helped shape me. She is one of the many reasons I teach English. She is one of the many reasons I write.
With her message today, she treated me as a respected peer. I am humbled.
I am having the best day.