The first two months were spent with the teacher (known throughout the school to be a hard ass) demanding rigid sentence and paragraph structure, one line of fact followed by two sentences of opinion, and so on. During the second month in class with terrible grades for my efforts I decided to rebel and write the essay the way I decided it should be written. When the papers came back I was surprised to have the equivalent of a “C.” Instead of reveling in the drastic improvement from previous attempts I decided to visit the teacher the next day before school started to see how I could improve. There were other students there in line all wanting to know the same answer I had come to retrieve. When my time came up to talk with her she looked at my paper for a moment, then looked me over. She stood from her seat and asked me to follow her into the hall. Not knowing what was going on I followed. In the hall she looked over the essay again then back at me.
“Who wrote this for you?” she said.
“I wrote it,” I said. I was floored by the question, yet I also had a ping of elation. It appeared that whatever I did made a difference.
She looked at the paper again for another pause. “What happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“Everything else you’ve turned in this year is nothing like this,” she said. “So what did you do different.”
I told her about my disgust in having to follow the outlined sentence structure she mandated students follow, and decided to write the paper the way I saw fit. She nodded as I spoke, and, in short, told me to keep it up. She assigned me to go over the paper and make an outline of the paper as it was then turn in the outline to her by the end of the week. By doing this I would get a few extra points added to the grade of the paper. Later on in the year she said she could see me doing something involving writing, which from her meant the world.
I continued to read for enjoyment as well as the assigned text as I continued my education. I found it difficult to find something I really enjoyed, in the sense that I was looking for a favorite author. After choosing journalism as a major (it only took me two years to figure that out) and while interning at a newspaper I struck gold. I had the late shift in that I started my day at the paper around 1 or 2 p.m. and did not leave until the 10 o’clock news was finished. I would come in and collect my assignment, most cases the deadline was that afternoon, and I had the responsibility of finding any, and all, information on the subject, sources to quote, and a finished product before 8 p.m. Sometimes I could get a heads up as to what the next assignment would be allowing me more time to research while I sat listening to the police scanner for anything interesting as well as the occasional cellphone call that came through. On nights I did not have the luxury of knowing what was in store for me the next day I helped copy edit the paper, write blurbs, and read. One of the night editors saw me reading one evening, and asked what I was doing.
“Expanding my vocabulary,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows, a slight grin beginning to form, and replied, “OK.”
Anyway, the reason for all that was to explain this. During the daylight hours before work I had time to goof off. One of my regular stopping points was a bookstore. I had read at least two books with out paying for them (I know, don’t judge) by visiting the establishment to kill time reading in one of their chairs. I had just finished Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History,” which I did buy, and wanted something good. “The Secret History,” was Tartt’s first book and I would have poured more money into other works by her based on my enjoyment her novel, but I was unaware that it would be some time before her second book came out and then another 10 years after the second for her third, “The Goldfinch,” entered our world. Then I found it. It was the book that changed the way I wrote. It was a book that blended fiction and non-fiction almost seamlessly. It was quirky, funny, and had everything I was looking for in a book. I found it misplaced and with a collection of cookbooks laid out on one of their clearance tables. I recognized the author name and knew of his most famous work, and had seen this particular cover elsewhere in the store on previous visits. What caught my eye was it’s price, though it was misplaced it was on clearance. I picked it up and read the jacket copy. Nothing registered whether I would enjoy it or not. I realized I had picked this book up once before and placed it back on the self due to the summary. Yet, it was only six dollars. I opened to the first page and read. I finished the first chapter while standing in the spot when I found it, and knew I had to own this book. The book was “Timequake,” by Kurt Vonnegut.