I’ve always enjoyed teaching at the college level. Many of my students are older, returning to college because they have recognized the value in education. I like my relationships with “non-traditional” students because we have much in common: we’ve worked most of our lives, and we understand each other’s experiences. Sometimes, though, instructors are hesitant to share their experiences because students expect them to be experts. More often than they think, though, writing hasn’t come easily for me, so I like to share my story.
I have always loved words. I have a picture of myself taken right before my third birthday; I am laughing, sitting in a little rocking chair with an open book on my lap. From that time, I rarely put down a book. I read incessantly during the summers, keeping my bedside lamp on until 2:00 a.m., waking at 9:00 a.m., then riding my bike or playing softball all day, until it was time for a bath and to start reading “Nancy Drew” again.
When I was seven, I found my parents’ “Eighty-Seventh Precinct” books in the bookcase next to the fireplace. I loved all the characters, especially Steve Carella and Bert Kling. One day, my father saw me sitting on the floor reading one of those books – definitely not reading material for a seven-year-old because of the colorful language. “Here, here!,” he shouted. You can’t read that!”
“Why not?,” I asked.
“Well, you just can’t!” He then turned and stomped away, harrumphing all the time, and tattled to my mother.
I began writing when I was in the eighth grade. My mother was my English teacher, and it was somewhat awkward, as I’m sure you understand, when I made really good grades every year for four years in her class!
She made us write every day, and so I developed the habit of putting words on paper. Unlike today’s essays that go directly on a computer screen, my essays were written on lined notebook paper first in pencil, and then in ink. By my senior year, I had dropped the pencil and was writing everything in ink. I rarely re-wrote anything, and yet my writing was pretty good. I thought that meant I was so good that I didn’t have to expend much effort.
My first college writing class, however, changed my high opinion of myself. Mrs. Matthews didn’t think I was so hot. She gave me Bs for what I thought was spectacular work. I whined to my adviser that she didn’t like me. After checking into it, he told me that what she didn’t like was my work ethic.
I got a B+ in that class and learned my lesson. I began working harder. Then my adviser, the instructor in my next class, told me that he liked my writing. Unfortunately, I thought that meant I could go back to just coasting.
After an okay college writing career, and after not having any idea what I wanted to do in life, I went to law school. There I found that my particular writing style was undesirable. No one liked what I wrote, and I felt defeated.
I didn’t plan to practice law because of my law school experience, but when Emily was born, I opened my own office so that I could work part time and be a mom, too. That was when, all of a sudden, it all made sense. I have no idea what switch was turned on, nor do I know how it turned on. I know only that I could finally write the way my law professors wanted me to.
I now find that the more I write, the more I enjoy writing. One of my favorite things is to sit at my computer and click out what you are going to read on Saturday. It’s not just for you, though; it’s for me. Somehow, my writing for you makes me feel more connected to where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what I’ve learned that will help me when I get there. So here’s my advice for today: Get some paper or sit at your computer and write something just for you. You’ll be glad you did.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.