More of a journalist by education, Jennifer Branton does the occasional ramble in the form of fiction.
In the life of every student, there is one teacher that stands out.
One that took us by the hand when we needed guidance, taught us to come out of our shells,or gave us new eyes to see the world. I had always liked to write from my earliest scribbles in grade school but even thought I wanted to scream my words to the world, I was painfully shy and felt judged for what I said.
My family had no interest in the arts and from grade school I was told there was no career in writing so they were later outraged when I majored in Journalism.
My family didn't understand as a kid why I had so many books, often writing notes in the margins on how to improve the story and adding my own detail and dialogue. In third grade an essay that I had written about a friend of the family's dog having been hit by a car, had survived the surgery and now had a limb as he had six pins in the bone of his rear leg; was read by the teacher at a Parent Teacher Night. While everyone I was told was impressed by the detail that I could muster, my parents didn't seem to care.
Writing was my escape from the unhappiness of my childhood.
I could be anyone, do anything.
I wrote again and again about being part of a large family with several pets, contrast to reality where I had one dog and a brother.
I had so much to say, and most of my teachers encouraged me in school work and outside projects. With one of my sixth grade teachers I shared a novella I had written about vampires that pretty much stole ideas from every work on the subject I had ever read.
I forget that teacher's name, but I know that when he handed back the spiral that bound my story, he said he wanted a copy when it was published. I never did. I change my mind about writings as soon as they flow from my fingertips I hate the words and wish I could take them back and change them to something else as nothing ever encapsulates how I feel.
By high school, I had a wonderful teacher who used to write editorials from magazines before coming to teaching. She really knew her stuff. Mrs. Brund made it her purpose as an educator to push us both in the classroom and out and for the first time I was expected to freelance my work as part of our coursework.
Write It Again!
Writing for the school paper wasn't enough for Mrs. Brund and we were all expected to have a listing of freelance publications and market our work, as our instructor edited it.
I used to feel offended when I would get back my latest edit from her all marked up with ink all over the margins the way I would write in my childhood books. Mrs. Brund was always asking questions next to each paragraph. "How did it feel? How did it smell? Tell it like a memory. Write every detail you remember then write it again, and again until someone else can see it from your words."
I appreciated her editorial eye, but I was a stubborn teenager, getting in many a battle with her in the hallway when I insisted I didn't need another rewrite on something. Without fail Mrs. Brund would always find some sentence with improper punctuation or a typo and send me to do a rewrite wanting on her desk again the following afternoon.
I would complain about all the other homework I had, she never cared.
We were expected to make our deadlines.
We were expected to sell three articles to outside publications by the end of the school year. We were to make her proud.
Jessie And The Easy Interview
The assignment was to conduct an interview with someone in the community. Mrs. Brund had used a connection to get the ten best articles from all of her class sections published in a town newspaper. Although we would not get paid for our submissions, it would count as one of our freelance articles for the school year.
Everyone in the class seemed to know someone interesting.
I thought about the circle of people I knew. What did any of their parents do for a living? There was no story there. I thought about adults I knew at the store where I worked part time, but no one wanted to hear about a shift manager that worked with teenagers at Hallmark.
As the deadline loomed, I figured I would fake it and decided to interview a friend that had a part time job at the pool hall and talked herself up to sound like some sort of shift manager. I thought if nothing else I could write about the tournaments and clientele that came in.
I was still shy. I hated interviewing anyone, I still do to this day and fumble over my words in features.
I sat in the pool hall one night with the notebook I always carried and scribbled notes. I tried to get some actual quotes between Jessie waiting on customers, but ended up manufacturing most of the content making it sound like a busy night when perhaps only two tables were in use.
I ended the night tell Jessie I was turning it in and she was OK with it. I never thought this article would be chosen for publication.
Mrs. Brund could see through the slop that I had halfheartedly written and and knew that I hadn't done the assignment well. Rather than have the story pulled, she said my punishment was to have it out in circulation and have people know that it wasn't a well researched and factual story.
After graduation, I hadn't thought about high school at all, losing contact with most of the people I knew as I moved on to college media. I spent most of my years in the newsroom, friendly with the other editors and staff writers.
In my freshman year I had become the editor of the Tempo Section and with lack of anything interesting ever turned in, I wrote most of my four page section myself- inserting someone's CD review, or write up about a movie they had seen.
I was adding real content to the newspaper. Authoring the first interview with a rock band, I had always saved a page later for whatever band was in town that I could score a phone call with although I was still too shy to say anything they hadn't heard a billion times. I wrote musings, some hard hitting articles on things going on around campus.
I was becoming known for my work even if I hardly said a word to people otherwise. My words in print spoke for me.
Strangely, I never read myself in print...ever.
I just knew that I would see what came out and be too hard on myself the way Mrs. Brund has trained us.
I hadn't thought about high school in a long time, until one of the student ministry members that I had passed in front of the dorms had mentioned to me he had received word of our former teachers passing. I was stunned.
Going back to the newsroom where my current favorite teacher was sitting, I asked him how to put into words the story of how I was inspired by this high school teacher that never let me give up on myself. I wrote two drafts, then we discussed it, before I went back to the computer and revised my draft into what would appear as the front page of the Tempo section.
Giving Up The Pen
The world outside college was not what I signed up for when it came to writing opportunities. In fact as far as I knew, only two people in my small graduating class even had a Journalism job lined up in the next year as most of us took on full time jobs doing anything but and freelancing when we had opportunity and inspiration.
I was still writing about music which was my number one passion and I got some great stories from backstage at local concerts, only my credit card bill was out of control as I was never making enough back selling the story to cover the costs.
I threw out all my copies I had saved on the past publications in a fit one day and said that I was retiring from writing. I had nothing left to say. I was bitter, nearly in thirty and broke.
I had spent my life thinking that this writing would mean something. That I would inspire someone perhaps the way Mrs. Brund inspired me.
In the last year, I have felt a glimmer of inspiration again after a long lapse from writing. I want to have new stories to tell to my children.
I want them to look at the world and be able to put their every experience into words so real I can feel them.
I want to thank Mrs. Brund for her knowledge and friendship during that hard period of my life when I was finding myself. I wish I would have told her in the years after graduation how much her class had shaped me for the relationship I will have with writing for the rest of my life.
Sometimes, words and I are enemies. I avoid them when I can't get out what I mean to say. Other times, they are as close as a lover's embrace.
I don't even know if I managed to say what I wanted here. There is always so much more to the story.