With few exceptions, reading fiction does nothing for me. Since I know it’s not real, I don’t have motivation to remember it. I sucked at writing stories in school and I didn’t care about the books I read in English class. I read, but I can’t tell you what happened, in Beowulf, Pride and Prejudice, and don’t even ask me about anything Shakespeare wrote unless I’ve seen the movie. (On my bookshelf, I have a copy of Hamlet in Klingon – Shakespearian English on the left and Klingon on the right. I like to say I have a book in two languages, neither of which I can understand.) Looking back, I have no idea why we were ever tested on the “facts” of any story. It would have been much more interesting to use excerpts from books to learn about their historical or cultural significance, or merely tools to learn about literary concepts.
It never crossed my mind that I would ever be a writer – until I was required to take expository writing during my senior year of high school. That was the class that taught me the art of ranting on paper and being a truth-teller (well as least as we knew it as a bunch of 17 year-old kids).
Ms. Donovan taught us that not all writing needed to be academically correct or high-brow impactful. She exposed us to different styles of writing that demonstrated that being raw, direct, and creative was powerful because the writer didn’t get tangled in the minutiae of how he/she wrote and focus on the what message they wanted to convey.
This was the first class I ever took that provided a truly creative platform for my thoughts, where rawness and thoughtful feedback was encouraged. I still remember some of the essays we read, things I wrote, and I’m pretty sure I have some of the notes from my classmates in my memory box.
Taking expository writing challenged me to give a voice to my perspective and values – an undertaking I face every time I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. This was the course that taught me not to worry about being right; just be real. Being a writer is one of the most usable and transferable skills in my arsenal. For the rest of my life, not matter what I do, I hope I can honestly say, “I’m a writer.”
I am thankful that St. Vincent High School made me take this class and I am especially grateful that Ms. Donovan was there to lovingly nurture me (and I hope my classmates) to not only create quality works in her class, but become writers for life.
Ms. Donovan still teaches at St. Vincent High School in Petaluma, CA. I hope her students know how lucky they are to have her.