November 7, 2006

explore your influences

just an assignment I had to turn in, thought I'd share...

To find the genesis of my life long passion for reading and writing there is no need to look farther than my mother’s refrigerator where the alphabet, in magnetic letters of various colors and sizes, has always been stuck to the door. Over the past 40 years the height on the door of the jumbled letters has depended on the size of the child or grandchild most recently in the kitchen, where my mom has been working on spelling or reading or simply playing. While she did the dishes or made supper, we spelled our names or created words and pictures, all the while making the sounds of the alphabet or singing the ABC song. The alphabet was not just a means to occupy our attention, words and language was part learning and part fun, it was something we could do together with our mother, it was time and an experience shared.

Further evidence of Mom’s influence and impact on my enjoyment of the language arts is on my sons’ overstuffed bookshelves, where three generations of treasured children’s stories are stacked and stuffed, well used and much beloved. There are inscriptions written inside many of the covers, in books that had been given as gifts over the years on holidays and special occasions, from “to Candy, 1945” to “for Joel, Christmas 1968” to “happy birthday Jace, 2005.” My mother always read stories to us, and most of the first books were ones her mother had saved from when Mom was a little girl. She read us those and we continued to add new works to the collection, many sent from my Grandmother. Recently I opened a box from my parent’s garage that had been sealed and stored for at least 25 years, and sorted through the books making piles for my siblings and our children, and I was impressed at how many very memorable books had been chosen for us by my grandparents. I should not have been surprised, since someone had to instill in my mother a love for reading so she could pass it on to her children, but I had not realized where this family tradition, the hereditary love for books had begun. I recently thanked my Grandmother for her good taste in gifts, and for the love of reading and appreciation for quality books she helped instill in me. I don’t remember ever discussing books with her, talking about what I liked to read, but having those books must have been a major influence. And not one of those books I received as a child and have now read to my children had been based on a movie or television cartoon, or had any type of fast-food kid's meal tie-in.

Reading and writing in school has also been a major influence, there are several experiences with positive encouragement regarding my language development that helped me to enjoy language assignments. In 2nd grade my teacher held up my creative writing project for the entire class to see, saying she was proud of my good work. I don’t know how good the story could have been, since the paper was the type with the top half blank for illustrating the action of the story, and the bottom half for writing consisted of three lines over an inch wide for our gigantic grade school printing skills, which does not leave much room for plot or character development. In the 8th grade our English class had a writing assignment due every week, fiction or non-fiction was our choice, but no matter how good the story was, grammatical errors resulted in a failing grade. I received several large red F’s on the front page, but also earned comments like “are you going to be a writer some day?” This encouraged me to read and write as much as I could, I wanted to read and get ideas for my own stories, and I wanted to write the stories so well I would continue to impress my teacher.

I have continued to read as an adult, sharing and discussing new finds and favorites with my family as we pass along recommended reading to each other and spend a lot of gift money at the bookstores. Most of my writing over the past twenty years has consisted of Christmas cards, love letters, and performance evaluations at work, until I returned to school a few years ago and was re-introduced to essays and written exams. My brother has also been a great influence in my return to creative writing, as he began an online "blog" ( ) to keep his friends and family, now spread out across the states, updated on the adventures of his family’s life and also to share some of his creative writings. Yes, his talent impressed me, but sibling rivalry mandates I must try to get more attention than my brother, so I have also began writing more, attempting to rekindle the creative spark I had when younger. So far I've succeeded in only producing a lot of smoke, but it's more in the effort and exercise, appreciating the process of putting words from inside my head down on paper (so to speak). There is also the strange sense of community when someone reads your words, even if they read from far away exotic locations like India or Canada, and a sense of connection when they share their own writing.

Returning to the roots of a life long passion for reading and writing is exponentially rewarding when you have children of your own to share the experiences. My sons were as excited as I was to open the box of old children’s books, and we had to stop ourselves from reading them all the first afternoon we took them home. It is with great joy that I read to my children before bed, or that they beg to stay up a little later to finish a chapter. Having passed the torch on to the next generation is a reason to be proud but also a challenge to myself, I cannot slack in my own reading, I need to be ready with recommendations and be able to discuss as they grow as readers and writers. I hope to echo the positive influences in my life into their experiences with the language arts, and to help create an impact that will last them a lifetime.


work in progress said...

What a great post! 2x4 and I have been a little dismayed that his children don't seem to share the passion for reading that he and I have, prefering the movie versions of many books. We set aside reading time when we can, so that they may have the experience, and see how much he and I connect over, and love books.

The other day I had The Girl pull an old tattered Shel Silverstein book of mine off the shelf and read the inscription. It had been a gift to me from my step mother when I was The Girl's age. She wrote "You'll enjoy Shel Silverstein until you are 100 years old". Since I had her read that inscription she has snuck away every reading time with my ratty old copy of "Where the Sidewalk ends" tucked under her arm. We've since read our favorite selections to each other, and connected over the book.

I can entirely relate to having treasured copies of books that were gifts to me as a child.

twobuyfour said...

What a fabulous post/essay. I hope you got a passing grade. I can't wait to get my grubby hands on some of those books out of Mom & Pop's garage/library.

I thank you for the generous praise, and whole heartedly encourage your sibling rivalry. "Do better than me! I will do better still"

I never thought much about our passion for reading and writing as being something that came from any further back than our parents, but I suppose you make a good point - they had to get it from somewhere themselves.