The Gift CNN iReport
It is no secret to those who know me that I have a passion for words; the spoken ones, the ones that are sometimes yelled with colorful expletives and especially…most importantly, the written ones. As a senior manager, I am expected to communicate effectively and I take that responsibility very seriously, sometimes to a fault. My emails are unusually very long and descriptive. This is who I am and have been in one form or another for most of my adult life. It has not always been that way and I can remember being voted most likely to skip English class in high school. Not really, but I cannot recall having read a single book before I was twenty years old and my disdain for it in my last two years of High School nearly cost me my diploma. Had it not been for a determined English teacher, this might have actually been the case. I can recall a conversation that she and I had late in the year where she took me outside of the classroom and out onto the front steps of the school. I will never know if she did that for dramatic effect, but right from the beginning she had my attention and I knew she was going to tell me something I did not want to hear. I had failed the first semester, failed all but one grading period of the second semester and was on the verge of failing the final grading period of the year. My grades were a product of either not attending class or not doing my reading assignments and subsequently not being able to pass the tests. I don’t remember all of the words that were spoken in that conversation but I do recall her telling me that she actually felt as though I had squandered a gift. I think I heard things like that all of the time from my parents so I would normally tune it out, but this time I was listening and she had a deal for me that day that I was not in a position to refuse. I was already in the Army’s delayed entry program and she made it very clear that if I was going to go into the Army after High School like I had planned, I was going to need that diploma, which meant that I had to pass my final exam with an above average score. Considering that I had technically failed the first semester of English, she really went out on a thin limb to help me. This is where I made my first connection between effort and reward.
In hindsight, if I had only given her half of the effort that she was asking for during the year, which was not much compared to what I was truly capable of, I would have breezed through that class. I was not a bad student, just a bad example of a good one. So hindsight being what it is, and knowing how badly she wanted me and all of the rest of her students to succeed, I see it now as having failed her as much as myself.
Late in my second term in the Army while deployed to Desert Storm, I sent a letter to my parents from the battlefield describing what I experienced during the initial ground assault into Iraq. That letter somehow ended up on the front page of the Living section in the Pensacola News Journal with a horrible picture of me in my Class A uniform. It probably did not hurt that my sister worked there, but well written or not, it was an interesting read for a fresh generation of patriotic Americans that were years removed from past wars. For the first time though, I really put a lot of thought into describing my experience based on the emotions that it involved and what occurred to me was that, in a sense, my teacher was right. With every book I brushed aside and every assignment I failed to read, I had lost a valuable opportunity to experience the writers triumphs and failures, their joy and their pain. I missed many adventures of mystery and suspense. I missed perspective and with it, opinion and debate. I could not accept, from that moment on, a life without any of those things. A writer’s words are a gift to the reader, given selflessly, vulnerably and candidly with emotion and deep passion. As a reader I have learned to honor that gift and as a writer I have that same driving addictive desire to give it.
Eventually I married and started a family. Life happened and my opportunities to share my gift became few and very far between. I would later resurrect my desire to write in a more creative way and I have since become the most prolific thirty page novelist on the planet. As frustrating as that can be to an amateur, it is far better than losing the passion for writing all together. Today, I continue to write though my blogs, short fiction and poetry, knowing that of all the things I love to do with my time, reading and writing are at the top of the list.
Despite my early unwillingness to accept what my English teacher genuinely wanted for me, I made an A on the final, began my career in the Army and eventually embraced my love of words vowing, rather insistently, to honor her commitment by making one of my own, and so I write. As with all of the things that make me who I am, a soldier, teacher, counselor, advisor, brother, father, son and friend, being a writer is not something I simply aspire to be, it is exactly who I am. I am not a particularly good one and I do not expect to be on a Best Seller list anytime soon, but I still have the gift and an insatiable desire to share it. My only regret is that I had not accepted it myself all those years ago. Better late than never.
Thanks Mrs. Venotozzi.