In the spring of 1963, I was a junior in high school going nowhere and trying to fit in somewhere. The worst thing anyone could ask me was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I didn’t know.
It was assumed in a southern “Cinderella” fantasy, by my hopeful family, that SOMEDAY I could find a job, “meet the right guy,” date, get married, and be a “homemaker.” I wanted something, but this scenario was not my agenda.
Spring was wonderful that year; you could smell the new earth and a promise of renewal in the air. You felt you could do anything, accomplish any dream. The buds on the trees waited to burst out. It was getting warm, and everyone welcomed the season. I had a wonderful English teacher that year, Mrs. Clancey. She was so short she reached just five feet in spike heels, but she was a power to be dealt with. She taught us from Adventures in English Literature, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dryden, Tennyson. We chanted of “The Ancient Mariner,” “Water, water everywhere,” and we read Dickens in depth. She was someone you could talk to, and a mentor you listened to. When she said write, we wrote. I blossomed in grammar, composition, and vocabulary. I loved going to her class. I felt productive writing. It was an outlet for the creativity of my fantasies and the non-normality of my life.
I became pleased with what I was writing, and after months I took a chance on asking what she thought of my efforts. I had written what I felt was a short, sharp, and funny composition that had been read before a group of “cool” people who thought it amusing and laughed. On a fine day with gentle sunshine, I saw an opportunity to ask her during study period in the school cafteria. It was a quiet time when homework could be done. I went up to her as she walked the aisles between tables, and I asked, “What do you think of my writing?” She looked at me, someone who never appeeared interested, who had never really made an effort. She thought for a long moment, watching me wait for her answer. She finally replied, “I have other students who write much better than you do.” She smiled at me, and when I didn’t say anything she moved on.
In that one moment my world stopped. I felt the pain of just not being good enough, of failure and disappointment. To this day, whenever I think of that moment, I see the sunny cafeteria full of unfilled promise, full of cool, smart kids I didn’t jive with…I let my writing hopes die. I never bothered to write again. Until three decades later, when I saw a flyer for a writing workshop at Holy Apostles.