If You Want to Read This….Thank a Writer!

snoopy-writing1Ok, wait, before any one gets upset,  I know the common maxim is “If you a can read this, thank a teacher!”, and I want to give credit to those folks that taught us how to read and those who teach our children. I work for a school district, and I am so impressed with their organization, patience and mission to educate and nurture the next generation. Believe me, they do not do this for the pay. But, at the same time, I’d like to extend my gratitude to the wonderful writers who have helped shape our personalities, slipped into our childhoods and left lasting memories and images through the written word, and even as adults continue to challenge, illumine and comfort us in our earthly journeys.

A writer is not only an author, but could be a playwright, lyricist or poet. Whatever medium from which they come, their words can change and definitely enrich our lives, and without their wonderful words, lyrics and sentences, what would we read?? The ingredients to the shampoo bottle, the toilet cleanser or soap box.  Here are a few words that have knit themselves into the fiber of my being.

Robert Bolt wrote the play, “A Man For All Seasons”, the story of Sir Thomas More and his confrontation with Henry VIII. Written in the early ‘60’s, it still feels like Bolt was recording actual conversations from the early 1500’s.  Paul Scofield brought Sir Thomas More alive on the stage and the screen and whose voice was the perfect vehicle for Bolt’s lovely lines. Faced with imprisonment and possible death, More’s daughter urged her father to sign the Act of Supremacy to save his life, but More  beautifully states:

“Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping. If I can take the oath, I will.”

I tell my kids that they love poetry. “Huh?” The songs they listen to are filled with all different kinds of poetry. We all have song lyrics that beat within our own hearts. What could be more wonderful than beautiful words set to lovely music? I can’t list all the song lyrics I love….there are so many. What parent is not brought to tears by the poignant lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game”? Or whose heart doesn’t swell with pride when anyone sings “America the Beautiful”? Even Tupac’s “Dear Mama” brings me to tears, probably because one of the kids said they were gonna play it at my funeral. And Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s hauntingly beautiful love song “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” must be the most romantic of all the love songs – “that in your eyes I may not see forever….forever…” Ahhh, truly sublime.

Who doesn’t have a favorite poem? I have many, some have changed my life. My old boss was posting some poems on Facebook not too long ago, and he posted this one:

someone's poem edit

That poem was a revelation to me, it was like God took one of those little flashlights you get at Walgreen’s, pointed it to my soul, and said, “See, I know you.” That’s what poetry does, that’s what good writing does. It helps us discover ourselves.

You see, reading is more than just filling out a job application or doing your taxes. Reading for some of us is as essential as eating or breathing. I read all the time much to the annoyance of my children, I can’t help myself. I do thank my teachers for teaching  me to read, but I thank these writers and others for fueling the desire to read.

Sixth Grade

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In the fall of 1970, I started sixth grade at Brook Hill Elementary School in Santa Rosa. The few years we lived in Santa Rosa will forever remain with me as an idyllicism (made up word) of the highest form. Block parties on 4th of July, warm weather, our school across the street and sixth grade.

Sixth grade is where and when I came alive. Everything that excites and moves me was born in the last classroom in that plain school building. Although I was writing at an earlier age, the subjects that would activate that skill were taught to me in sixth grade.

I have learned that school is like a buffet feast. There are so many foods to choose from. In order to appreciate everything, you take a bite from each plate. But the ones you really like, those become your favorites, your comfort foods. So as with education, you taste as many subjects as you can, but the ones you love, the ones that make you come alive, those are the ones you return to, the ones you pursue.

Mr. Caudill, my sixth grade teacher, set a grand table. Of the many things he taught us, these are the subjects I have returned to, the ones I have pursued.

First was poetry. Each week, I believe, we got a new poem. I remember smelling the newly mimeographed paper anticipating a new tale. “Gunga Din” and “The Kid’s Last Fight” were two of my favorites. “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer, when you’re quartered safe out ‘ere…” I would bellow in a bravado-ish brough that would send my sister under the covers. Sadly, all my papers from sixth grade were lost in the move to Daly City. But the spark had been lighted, and still burns.

Second was music. Mr. Caudill handed out sheets with contemporary music lyrics. “Blowing in the Wind”, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” were a few of the many songs we learned about. I still know these lyrics by heart. I have written a few songs myself that remain in the confines of my journals; but because I learned to appreciate the music and lyrics, I can discuss any song with my kids. I help them highlight what their favorite musicians are trying to say. And as a by-product, I have come to love their music as much as my own.

Third was geography. I learned to love maps. I’ve always had a map on the wall. Even now, living in my parents’ house, I have an old ‘80’s Hapag Lloyd map up. I need a new one though; there are so many new countries since the fall of the Wall. In sixth grade, we studied South American geography and cultures. We used to have map contests to see who could find a nation’s capital the quickest. I was good at that game. I loved it. I learned that there were other people around the world with different customs, beliefs and ways of living. I did a report on the Incas in Peru. We sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in Spanish. Here was my first taste of that beautiful language. I am working my way to fluency even now.

I was eleven when I was in Mr. Caudill’s sixth grade class. I was eleven when I learned these subjects. But I didn’t just learn them, I ingested them, they became a part of who I was. They came to fruition in my English degree, my many Spanish classes, my missionary interests and my feeble attempts at creativity. I watched “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” last year. There is a scene where Control and Smiley were leaving Circus Headquarters, and in the background, there were maps all over the walls. I had an “a-ha” moment. I should have been a spy!

http://pacifica.patch.com/articles/sixth-grade