“A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.”
– Oscar Wilde
I didn’t always dream of being an English major, or a writer. When I was a little girl, what I wanted to be changed on a daily basis depending on my mood. Some days I wanted to be Wendy Darling so Peter Pan would find me take me away to Neverland. Some days I wanted to be Alice so I could fall down a rabbit hole or pass through a mirror and find myself in Wonderland. Eventually I had to grow up, mostly because Peter Pan never came and I didn’t learn how to fly but as my childhood fantasies started to seem less realistic the idea that I somehow could still live in a world other than my own was still possible. Through reading and writing I found a world of my own, a world that allows me to have it all: the wonder and awe that a good story can create, wrapped up in the trappings of reality.
For me reading and writing go hand in hand and they always have. My journey with the written word goes back to before I was even born. My mother was the first person to encourage me to read, and she started doing so before I was even born. When she was pregnant she would read aloud to her stomach the way some people play music to their unborn babies. Once I was born the reading didn’t stop. It seemed as if someone was always reading to me, telling me stories, even singing to me. It helps when you have a family that is as loquacious as mine is, they like to talk and telling stories is one of their favorite ways to communicate and pass things on. I was surrounded by words at a young age and my parents always encouraged me to read and write. I had Disney cassette tapes that came with a storybook so I could follow along as the characters read to me. They came in handy on long road trips and as I grew older I found more books on tape and I would fall asleep listening to stories about Jo March or Nicholas Nickleby. By the time I entered kindergarten I was already writing better than any other child my age and reading at a second grade level. My favorite thing to do was to read stories to my parents before I went to bed, not have them read to me. The biggest thrill to me was going to the library and being able to pick out even more challenging books. My brother called me Matilda for a long time after we first saw the movie because he saw in her the blooming bookworm I was already on my way to becoming. He was even nicer to me just in case I ended up being able to move things with my mind like Roald Dahl’s titular character.
Even as I started to grow up, my love of reading and writing didn’t diminish. I wasn’t a wildly popular girl, I had friends but I relished the time I spent alone. There were times when books were my only companions and I would spend my mornings before classes in the library reading. I even worked in my school library as a helper because I didn’t spend enough time around books already. My book shelves in my room were filled to bursting and yet I could always find a new book I wanted to take home.
If I wasn’t reading, I was writing. By the time I was entering middle school all of my classmates knew I never went anywhere without a notebook and a pen. Sometimes my writing was simply observations, sometimes small stories or poems but there was always something I seemed to be jotting down. Every time I got a harder teacher I worked harder to prove myself and that continued until I was in eighth grade. That was the first time I came across a teacher who really didn’t put her all into her students. I was in a higher level English class and had been getting A’s each quarter but when my teacher wrote out recommendations for our High School English classes my entire class was placed in plain old no frills English. We were told by the administration, after they got angry calls from parents, that we deserved to be in a higher English class, some of us probably even should have been in honors English. However because of that teacher I was only in a certificate of merit English class my freshmen year.
That class would seal my fate as an English lover for the rest of my life because that was where I met the teacher who would help me shape not only what I wanted to be but who I wanted to be as well. My brother had warned me about my teacher, Mr. Gostomski; he was kind but strict, he didn’t give out A’s unless they were earned, and he did not take kindly to students who didn’t do their work. I was nervous but I was ready; I had already read half of our ninth grade syllabus for pleasure. I worked hard, participated in class and got an A on, not only each report card, but also on our standardized midterm and final. When it was time for recommendations for tenth grade Mr. Gostomski looked at me and asked why I was even in his class, it seemed like it hadn’t even been a challenge for me. I wasn’t able to answer him but I did get plenty out of that class. I found a teacher who supported me through the rest of my high school career and was always willing to listen if I needed someone. I learned that even if I didn’t belong in that class I needed to work my hardest and make the best of it and of course I learned that my love of reading and writing was just beginning. Here I am over thirteen years later, and despite some bumps in the road I’m still working hard and moving forward.
My class the next year was the same, I excelled through it and was recommended to honors English for my junior year of high school. It was there that I had my first, very rude awakening when it came to my career as a want to be English major. For the first time I had been given summer reading and projects to complete before class was even begun. I read the books and completed the necessary reports without too much of an issue, thinking it was an assignment I would be able to ace easily. When we finally got our projects back a few weeks into the school year I was shocked and dismayed to see that I had only gotten B’s and on one paper I had received a C. I was horrified and I have to say that I was sent spiraling into an existential crisis that made me question everything I thought I wanted with my life. When I stayed after class to ask my teacher why I hadn’t received a better grade, she knocked me for a loop yet again.
“I’ve spoken with your two previous teachers Samantha, and I think you can do better,” Mrs. McMichael’s told me.
“But I’ve always gotten A’s on my English papers,” I replied lamely.
“Well Ms. Allen,” I remember her voice getting a little frosty. “If you want to keep earning them you’ll have to show me more.”
That was when I realized that maybe I would have to do more. I had been praised so much the past two years that I let myself get comfortable and I had stopped giving my assignments 100% because I thought I was already the best. That year would get me out of that headspace and fast.
I’ve used plenty of words to try and explain the literary path I’ve been on and yet they all still seem to fall short. Without books and words I do not know how I would function. Our language, our stories, are what have help humans build our history, weave ourselves into the tapestry of time. Without words, writing, language and books I believe this world would be a dismal and unrecognizable place. To me words are like air, I need them to survive.