The Passing of the Baton


29 Oct
29Oct

Hello everyone! Exciting news!

MY FIRST ARTICLE IS NOW LIVE!

Thank you, Her View From Home, for publishing my story!  https://herviewfromhome.com/im-the-old-mom-now/ 

I would love for you to check it out. Also, at the bottom of my website is also a place where you can sign up with your email to receive future posts if you are interested.

Published. Wow! Excited is an understatement! I don't like to use all caps usually, but this warrants it!

Today, as I was getting the news ready to share with you, my mind slipped back into two memories - “how” I learned to write and “why” I began to write.

Will you allow me to share one of those with you? Thank you. Cue the reminiscent music back into my foray of time.

******

When I was 17, I won an essay contest - without an essay. 

Yep, I did.

These were the days of big hair. Stirrup pants. Crimping perms. Breakdancing. Go ahead and picture that in your mind as you imagine school-age me. Yah, I’m cringing, too.

As my mind flinches at the fashion of the 80's, it also remembers a class in which we crafted Vietnam War essays to be entered into a writing contest. 

As I peeked at the final version of my entry, my heart sunk. I hadn't done very well. To be fair, what I crafted wasn't really an essay; it was more of a narrative story with a hidden point so veiled, it was lost even to me. Honestly, I had no idea what in the world I was saying. Yet, all the same, the C- circled on the bottom of the paper screamed out lies to me.

I can't write. I'm a loser. My mind doesn't think the same way as everyone else's. Writing is NOT for me. 

And with the words I tossed to myself, shame attached itself to my story in that moment.

Writing had always been difficult for me. The way the words would tumble around each other in the text often confused me. Certain sentences would swim away from the page. Letters in words would rearrange themselves without my consent. I would often put the last words of the sentence into the beginning. Spelling was tortuous. Just kill me now. Yes, if you are guessing correctly, I unknowingly suffered with dyslexia.

Yet this dyslexic girl ended up doing the impossible - she won the essay contest. 

You know those big fish stories? Well, I don't fish, so this is going to be my own version. While I can only confirm the contest was broader than a school-wide contest, I'm sure it was a national contest. Yep, must be. Okay, my big fish story is finished.

Regardless of the scope of this contest, I do remember being given an award in an assembly at school - and then promptly coming home and throwing the certificate into the trash. 

What? Why?

Because I believed a lie.

I can't write. I don't deserve this. This win is just mocking me.

This lie attached itself firmly into my mind and I began to find evidence for its truth. Hello confirmation bias. But I didn’t see that then. I was simply a girl who couldn’t write well and never would.

I’m not as smart as everyone else. I’m such a loser. 

Just fake it until I make it. What other choice do I have? 

Enter Dr. John Worst.

As a Music Education major in college, I delighted to take a class in 19th and 20th century music literature. Thankfully we did not have to analyze baroque chordal structures anymore (never my strong suit), but we did have to write weekly papers. I thought it was a fair trade, but I knew I’d stink at it.

I felt the air leave my lungs as my first paper was returned. If I thought I had seen a lot of red ink before, it never compared to THIS. My paper rivaled downtown graffiti. I didn't even receive this much critique in my college English class, in which I did well enough. As with most papers, a large letter grade graced the final page. I sat on a solid B-. Not horrible. Not good.

Thankfully, though, these edits came with a string attached: revise the paper with his suggestions and the former grade will be replaced. 

His deal was like rubbing aloe on a very bad burn of mine. And revise I did. I dug into EVERY suggestion. I learned to avoid ending sentences with prepositions. I learned how to tie paragraphs together with transitions. I learned how to make what I wrote make sense. I learned the word “juxtaposition” and that I actually love learning new words. I learned how to spell the word “nectarine” while writing an avant-garde flute composition. I learned that I don’t naturally spell well, yet it still really matters. Thank goodness for modern day Spell Check, right? Horrible spellers unite!

During Professor Worst's office open hours, I would find myself asking him the “why and how" questions. Why can't I end with a preposition? Why do I need to be more descriptive? How do I tie these paragraphs together? How do I write with an audience in mind? I could literally feel I was in a safe environment to learn. My question were not indicators of how dumb I was, but rather a sign of how intelligent I was. My “thinking differently” was untapped creativity. I waited for him to become sick of me and my myriad of questions, but it never happened. In fact, I think he rather enjoyed them - and me. He even teased me about my friend who would later become my husband. "Just friends? I don’t buy it. Well, I think the two of you make a fine couple. You both are wonderful together!"

Professor Worst shared himself with our class of music majors, and we came to love who he was.  

He described to us the great organization feat that was his closet. Think color-coded shirts, pants, and jackets. I think he even brought in a picture once for proof. He also taught using current music, familiar and loved to our age group. Once we analyzed the rhythmic structure of “The Nighttrain” by Kodac and I was hooked. Loving to go to his class, I even learned to enjoy analyzing those dreaded chordal structures and finding the surprise of a major iii chord thrown into the key signature.

Professor Worst was his own antonym. He was the best professor of my college years. One man, who didn't even technically teach writing, taught me the most about writing. I walked into his class pretty green, raw, and messy. I walked out of his class a competent writer who felt as if she finally knew what she was doing. Better yet, I felt encouraged as a person, heard and seen for who I was. That is a gift that I can never repay him for. (Whoops. Sorry, Professor Worst. Yep, I started a sentence with the word “that” and I understand it is a vague construction. And yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition. Just for you, I won’t edit it out even though it is killing me. Ha!)

While I have only shared with you how I have learned to write, I'll save the "why" for another time. But until then, allow me to say this.

Dr. Worst, if you're out there somewhere and by chance reading this.... thank you. 

Thank you for teaching me HOW to write and for giving me an incentive that would not only change my grade to a straight A, but change my life. You taught a young woman that it is okay to ask questions, it is okay to grapple with subject matter, and it is okay to allow someone in to help. Greater yet, you taught that same young woman that she was worth the effort. 

Thank you for your encouragement, your critique, and your mentorship. You are never forgotten. Because of the beautiful foundation you helped erect, every single thing I write, you have influenced in some way. Over the years I have often thought of you...when I receive an attached paper from my college sophomore with a "Mom, can you edit this for me?"... when I teach my youngest homeschooled son how to write...  and when I create our annual family Christmas letter. I love that you handed me the proverbial red pen during your office open hours and allowed me to craft and critique my own ideas. I use this skill daily. I also appreciate this attitude as I begin working with editors and other writing professionals. I learned from you that correction is not a thing to dread. It is something in which to be grateful. Oh, how this is serving me now. I am detaching that sticky, old shame from the story of my life and running instead with what you handed me. 

This is what true mentorship does. It passes the baton. 

It is very fitting my first published piece also talks about the passing of the baton. I hadn't realized it until just now, but had you not passed onto me the skills needed to learn to write well, I don't think I'd be equipped to do what I am beginning to do. In fact, I know that. But lest I not stick to the point, (another thing you taught me) I had better just simply end this, and say thank you.

Thank you, Professor Worst. You know what? Writing is a blast! Who would ever have thought? Certainly not the 17-year-old nor the 20-year-old me who sat in your office, pages strewn all over your desk. Thank you for your kindness and generosity; both from the young me and the me that I am now. 

Both of us dedicate this first published work to you – red pen and all! 

Enjoy! https://herviewfromhome.com/im-the-old-mom-now/


******

Aleisha Cate



 

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