Has it ever occurred to you to think “why am I reading this?”
And, no, not in that way; I mean in the way that’s more like “why is this guy writing in the paper?”
For the answer to that, I just point you back to two very strange years in American history, and two seemingly innocuous statements.
The strange years were 1986 and 1987 (just look back at the fashions in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and you’ll see what I mean), and the statements were little things teachers said that acted as pebbles hitting still water — the still water being my brain.
The first statement came from my junior literature teacher, Becky Porter. And, oddly enough, the little statement was actually a rebuke of me. Being the little suck-up that I was back then, one of the first questions out of my mouth after getting a new assignment was almost always “will this be graded?”
And, finally tired of me at one point, Ms. Porter turned to me one day and said, “Why? Why does it need to be graded? Why not just do something for the sake of learning?”
And then there was 1987 and my advanced composition teacher, Ms. Diana Kinsey.
After spending the better part of three years learning how to write essays with five paragraphs and three supporting factoids in each paragraph, she was the first teacher who finally said, “If you can make your point in 10 words or less, do it.”
I’ll wait a moment while the irony of that sinks in, here on word 366.
But seriously, Ms. Kinsey was the one who finally taught us that writing was like sculpture: you pare it down until there is only as much left as is absolutely essential to make your argument. This finally freed me from the constraints of form, and I learned to love writing.
Good or bad, or whether that is a matter of pride or embarrassment for them is something only they would tell; but to say that the ripples of small acts and dropped bits of wisdom resonate through time is an understatement.
Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.