I love writing. I wrote a book, and now it’s going to be published by Algonquin Young Readers, which has me unspeakably excited. I still have my very first books, though, and I think they might matter even more. I wrote them in the first grade, and they have laminated, construction-paper covers, fancy plastic binding, and the stories that I made up and illustrated all by myself. I never properly forgave my teacher’s oversight in accidentally pasting one portion of my text alongside the wrong illustration, thereby ruining the essential juxtaposition on the final page… but only because I did not know the word “juxtaposition” in those days. I was five.
Those little books were my first exposure to the concept of publication. They might have been very small, indie printings of just a single copy each—probably for the best, given copyright laws and the fact that Batman and the Ninja Turtles featured heavily in my narration—but they came with the knowledge that making up stories was not off limits. Anyone can write a story. I can write a story. It started something that never stopped as I got older.
I teach High School Language Arts now—which I love tremendously. I try to let my students enjoy words, and to remind them to be proud of their own. In turn, they surprise me with their ability to play with ideas in mature, sophisticated ways, and with their imagination and enthusiasm. Sometimes. Some students… those who have not already had the joy of language educated out of them.
For all of my fellow teachers and parents, never forget how hugely important encouragement is for the kids who look up to you. For my students, and especially for my son, never forget that you can. Sometimes it will be hard (everything worthwhile is), and just when you feel like you’re getting better, it will get harder still—but you can. You can write awesome song lyrics or brilliant legal arguments or powerful poetry. It’s not off limits. You can write a story.
And for my first grade teacher, thanks. If I never said so back then: I forgive you for that final page mix-up. They’re still a couple of the most important books on my shelf.