One of my very first memories that I can recall was when I was about three-years old and coming home with my mom to find our back door off it's hinges. It was the first clue that we'd been robbed. Since we couldn't afford to replace the TV, we went without one for a long time. It wasn't replaced until her boyfriend moved in with us several years later, and so did his television. Although I loved TV, the combination of being without for so long and not having siblings made me resourceful and creative. One of the things that I did to fill my time was to read. A lot.
I read cookbooks while waiting for dinner. My best friend and I read books about horses: Blaze, Misty of Chincoteague, and The Black Stallion series. We read comic books - Richie Rich and Archie were our favorites. We evolved into pre-teen, reading all of Judy Blume and Paula Danziger's stories. We read every Stephen King novel, although I preferred his feel-good short stories as opposed to his suspense/horror books. I read lots of classics. My two favorites were/are To Kill A Mockingbird and My Friend Flicka.
Over several years in high school, I had a fantastic English teacher. When I was a sophomore, he assigned a project to write a short description of a school locker. It was a lesson in detail, and his advice was to work on it until 'each word fit perfectly'. I remembered including graffiti inside the locker door that read, 'Jimi lives!' Van Halen seemed like a more natural choice since I was such a fan, but I 'saw' Jimi. I felt that somehow it made my description more authentic. Although I had an appreciation for Jimi Hendrix, he wasn't a favorite musician of mine. It was like a compromise: I visualized this fictional locker and reported what I saw - unbiased, in my mind.
When the assignments were turned in, my teacher read the description I handed in without telling the class it was mine. After he finished reading it, one of the guys remarked, "Someone in this class wrote that?" The teacher acknowledged it was my paper and the whole class turned to look at me. I was already crimson from the reading and completely embarrassed. I was also thrilled. Writing that description had been intensely satisfying, and then to hear a classmate's remarks blew me away.
Being an avid reader is one of the best prerequisites for writing that I can think of. About 20 years ago, I saw my former English teacher and said hello. I told him how much his classes had meant to me, and although I am fairly certain he didn't remember me - it was still enough.
Thanks, Mr. M!