I Don’t Say This Lightly
One of the negative sides of being an English teacher is that I have to force kids to write. Sentences, paragraphs, essays, research papers… even poems, and most kids fight it the whole way. Every now and then, however, I have students who like to write. I always encourage these kids to keep it up, to express themselves, even if their writing shows very little sign of voice, talent, or individuality because I think it’s an important outlet. Besides, who am I to be the sole judge of their talent?
The frustrating ones, though, are the reluctant writers who have that thing. You know that thing. It’s voice, it’s talent, it’s individuality, and it all clicks together, audibly, in the writing they care about. When that happens, I share this with the student. “You are a writer,” I tell them.
I had a teacher in 9th grade, which was in the junior high school back then, I think her name was Miss Andrews (it’s been several decades!), who took me aside one day and told me, seriously, “You are a writer. I can hear it in your writing, even if your handwriting is shameful.” I already knew that I was a writer and had horrible penmanship, but her endorsement make me feel like I’d been selected, knighted even. So when I tell a kid, “You are a writer,” I never do so lightly.
Several years ago I had a student called Dan Whitely. He hated writing. His formal writing was hit or miss, largely because he didn’t really give a crap. Every now and then, though, when he was trying to be a smart ass, and he’s been a champion smart ass at least since his freshman year of high school, I’d catch a glimpse of that thing. He didn’t care. It wasn’t his thing, you see. Science was his thing, and he didn’t see that one didn’t exclude the other.
When it came time to pick a college, he very happily told me that he had chosen a program in which he would not have to take an English class. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was going to be writing, writing, writing regardless of that, but I did groan and chastise him for running away from writing. “You’ve got voice,” I told him. “You’re a writer.” “No,” he said confidently, “I hate it.”
I think this is why he tagged me on his latest Facebook note – a beautiful poem that made me literally cheer and post, “Ha! Double HA! I love that I was right about you and writing. Beautiful!” I love being right about these things, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.
Therefore, with his permission, I present to you, “The Likes of Angels” by Daniel Stephen Whiteley, who swore up and down that he wasn’t a writer, he was a scientist. As you will see, he is surely both. Author bio follows poem: