You may or may not know that it's Teacher Appreciation Week (and yesterday was the actual Teacher Appreciation Day). As a writer, the people who influenced me most happened to be artists, too.
Here are three:
1. Michael Morton, my high school choir teacher. I knew about him long before I entered North Garland High School because my brother sang in the show choir, then my older sister continued the Stephens tradition. I worshiped the strawberry-blond-haired man before I sat my butt down for the first time in the great big, daunting music room. He taught me, more than anything else, patience. Be patient with the artistic thing you love. But yell at it, too, a few times, if it gets unruly or doesn't want to work. (We choir students could be little shits, giggling and chatting and joking, while Morton leaned over and banged his head against the black sheet-music stand.) Oh, how I loved Mr. Morton and wanted him to love me more than anyone. He was good and patient and kind and a believer in all of us, and I knew I wanted to be that kind of person, too. He's retired now, and still visits with past students. I think I'll call him.
2. Sherry Mendel "Harper," my Creative Writing/English teacher from high school. I was really bad at creative writing, and barely scraped into that special class. I remember not only the creative writing exercises, but my telling her in the quiet hours, my personal and private demons; I remember her Audrey Hepburn-esque black pants and ballet flats she wore one day, and her reading some student's astonishingly good short story to the entire class and wishing it were mine. She made me want to write, not only for the product, but for the process. And she made me realize that although I was capable of loving abundantly, I shouldn't always do so.
3. My mother, Miss Bobbie, who was my Kindergarten teacher and surrogate mother to all the other students in her Kindergarten class (and to her First and Second Graders now). Mother has been the greatest teacher of all. Even she kindled the fire for writing: I was delighted and awed by her poems and stories that she kept hidden in her dresser drawer. I pulled them out when she wasn't there and read them over and over.
If anyone embodies unconditional love, it is her. From her, I learned everything:
how to read and cook and ask important questions, how to believe when everything tells you not to, how to hope, how to let go. To be curious about nature, to love animals and respect insects, to forgive, to be skeptical, to research, to dig for truth, to trust that you won't always find evidence of something that is there. Devotion, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, forever.
How could I ever thank you enough, Mother?
Take a few minutes this week and think about who inspired you in those malleable years of your youth. Who made you see the possibilities in the world, nurtured your creative soul, or told you that you have something unique to offer? Who appreciated you when you didn't have the sense or the vision to appreciate yourself? Tell them.
And a special video:
This morning, I woke up and saw this, posted on the Scobberblotch blog (Thanks, Karen, for sharing it).