Tuesday, October 18


Sometimes you just need to write, and write, and not think about what it's about or who or how. My first memorable English teacher was a cranky old crone in the eighth grade. She laughed at me when I asked if I could write my assignment as a poem. I got a D+ in her class. The next year there was an old fart that taught me the way of my words. His name was Gordon Cottrell. I could have been thirty or sixty or twelve to him and it wouldn't have mattered. He was a man who could see into the soul of a person and find what creative thread wound round their heart and force them to pull it out themselves. Being the emotional, pubescent teen I was, my mind was in a constant wandering state. I remember very clearly the changes I would go through in a day, from feeling completely shut up inside of myself, to feeling like life couldn't contain the beauty I gave it. I remember everything because that was the year that I came alive. It was as if everything before was puppetry. For a brief space of time I was lonely and happy. There are few times when those two words meld into each other, but it doesn't make it any less true. I knew that I had always been a loner. That no friend was ever actually a friend, and that something about my family kept me from feeling a part of the human race. Maybe every 14 year old girl feels that way? But for that brief period of time I enjoyed it. It was in part for a little thing we did every morning in Gordon Cottrell's class called a free write. Sometimes it was a word. Sometimes it was an unfinished phrase. But there wasn't a day when I walked into his class, sat down, opened my spiral notebook, or any piece of pressed lumber I could find, and didn't opened my mind. Back then I was over analytical. Overly critical of myself, overly confident, in as much as I ignored every other human being.  But when I closed my hand around my pen and Mr. Cottrell would announce 'today's free write' it didn't matter what it was. He could have said 'donkey butt' and it would have sparked the same enthusiasm in me as a line from Edgar Allen Poe. Because what I needed wasn't someone who understood my problems or someone who would push me to polish my grammar. I needed someone to give me the first word.

I imagine now, opening myself in that way, making myself vulnerable. At the end of the ten minutes, when he would finally tell me that it didn't matter how far we had gotten, I had to stop so we could go on with the class, I had written something so completely personal and free flowing that I'm glad that he doesn't remember it. He was an old fart then and he's an older fart now. I saw him in a store a few years ago when I just found out that I was pregnant with my second child. I heard his voice from the other side of a display and it filled me with the same liberation I felt as a fourteen year old girl opening her heart about the mundane, the spiritual, the creative: explorations in words. I had to introduce myself because he didn't remember me. And to be honest it gave me a pang of shock. Someone who was so influential to my growth and who probably didn't actually read, so many many very personal, constantly changing, things; and I was just a passer bye to him, one in a hundred students he had in a day.  But it doesn't change the impact he had on me or my writing. There was a time in my life, when I felt that I could not be a whole person without writing every thought down in a journal. I look back at those journals, and though it's entertaining to see the things I felt as a growing young human girl, most of it is pretty useless. Now I'm trying to find my words again. I'm back to where I wake up in the middle of the night with clarity and words that never come by day. And I think I'm brave enough to share them. My kids actually let me get enough sleep that I'm half sane the rest of the time too. As I watch them grow, I want them to find people like Gordon Cottrell, who are accepting of every stage of creativity. We as humans are unlimited in our ability to make something from nothing. And though I've enjoyed making lots of other things, babies, bread; turned sand and dust into rock and glass; I'm glad I finally found my words again.


Lisa and Andy said...

You captured Mr. cottrell perfectly! He brought out the creativity in even the most confused and rebellious of us. The best teacher I had in school.

http://the-tao-of-michelle.blogspot.com/ said...

Andrea, are we the same person? I couldn't have said any of the things you said better. And, ah, Mr. Cottrell, such an awesome person - from his Beavis and Butthead impersenations, to skipping with me the in the halls, to just his genuine caring nature for all of his students...he always knew how to provide inspiration and enlightenment to an otherwise odd and confusing time in life - and he is the only teacher that I remember for all the right reasons. I've often wondered what has become of him. You have inspired me to try and do 'free writes' every morning again; I always felt liberated when doing that. I just wish I had the same old man to provide the key phrase to get me going - it's going to be a challenge without that, but I, like you, hope to find my words again; i miss them.