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Inspiration

"Where do you see yourself in ten years?" This is a writing prompt I annually give my tenth grade English students. Of course, there answers vary considerably. Some will be famous singers, actresses and actors, athletes, and politicians. Or so they desire. Others will be married, running businesses, traveling the world, and living out their dreams. Or so they hope. We never talk about those who will be divorced, incarcerated, working dead end factory jobs, raising four kids by the age of 22, and working for cash to get out of paying child support. Or so they think "that will never happen to me. But my students responses to "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" caused me to reflect and see just how close I came to falling into the category of "that will never happen to me." It caused me to pinpoint the pivotal moment in my live. Beginning high school, I two had gigantic dreams. If I couldn't be a rock star, I wanted to be a NFL linebacker. Unfortunately, I could neither sing nor play an instrument. As for being a football star, a 5'10'' 180 pound frame squashed my hopes. I would probably drive truck and farm like my father or work at the beet plant like my brother. But then something happened. It was the fourth week of my freshmen year in high school. We had a new English teacher added to the faculty that year, Amy Christianson. She had sandy blonde hair, an armada of cardigan sweaters and skirts, and a slender frame. Mrs. Christianson was also in her first or second year teaching, so she still had some blood pumping in her, unlike the older teachers I was used to who seemed to come out of moth balls or formaldehyde every September and return at the end of May.

Why do well in school? I thought. It was boring. I just need to get C's so I could play sports. After all, I didn't need to know the presidents, geometric formulas, and the periodic table to drive a truck, farm, or work at the beet plant . While school was torture, there was one thing I enjoyed: books. Well, horror books. In grade school I read the usual Hardy Boy's mysteries and a couple of Louis Lamour yarns, but nothing really grabbed my attention. Then I discovered Stephen King. His novels lead me to other writers like Anne Rice, Clive Barker, and Richard Matheson. Soon I was devouring more books than our small public library could order. I practically slept through the first few weeks of Mrs. Christianson's English class. For it consisted of boring stuff like simple and compound sentences and verbs and pronouns. That all ended when we began a short story unit. For whatever reason, Mrs. Christianson decided to start the unit with a story called "The Lottery." Now I admit I didn't read it. What was the point, I figured. It was for school; thus it had to be ancient and boring . The next day Mrs. Christianson led us in a discussion of the story. As usual I began to tune out and scribble in my tablet. Then I heard Mrs. Christianson ask what we thought of the conclusion. I ceased my doodling forever the second I heard a student reply, "When Mrs. Hutchinson won the lottery, she was stoned to death by the town's people." I was shocked. What did I miss? This sounded interesting. It wasn't about a boring minister and some weird black veil. Nor was it about some old man in a boat on the ocean . So that night I read "The Lottery" by some Shirley Jackson. Mrs. Christianson had me hooked. The next day she introduced us to Edgar Allen Poe. First she recounted his life. I was shocked again. The rock stars I read about had nothing on this guy's wild life. Next Mrs. Christianson

read "The Cask of Amontillado." This time I didn't even think about doodling. For the first time in my life I sat riveted in a school desk, gripping the edges as she narrated Montresor's hatred for Fortunato and his wicked revenge. Then as soon as she translated that ironic last line, the bell rang. I was astounded, prying myself from my chair. I hadn't looked at the clock once. Before we left, she gave us an assignment. "I want you to write a prelude to the story. What could Fortunato have done to Montresor to make him respond this way? Or is it all in Montresor's head?" she said. I remember the raised eyebrows and open mouths on my friends, who were bolting for the door, as they saw me stop, open my tablet, and begin writing the assignment down. That night was the first night since grade school that I actually did homework. Only it wasn't like homework at all. I sat at my desk rapidly writing my prelude until my hand ached and the "Tonight Show" was on. The next day I proudly passed up my four-page (front and back) response. My prelude dwarfed the others in my row. My classmates turned their bewildered heads at me as they felt my paper in their hands. Then Mrs. Christianson told the class, "I will grade these and read my three favorites on Friday." I froze. What if she reads mine? What will my classmates think? Nah, she won't read it. What do I care if she reads it anyway ? But secretly I desperately wanted her to read it and like it, but I never admitted that to myself. Friday finally arrived. I was standing outside Mrs. Christianson's door waiting to get in. That was another first.

As everyone found their seats, Mrs. Christianson said that she enjoyed reading all the responses, and on each she commented on our strengths as writers. Usually whenever I got a

paper back, my spelling errors were emblazoned in red ink. I had more than enough of those comments. I just wanted her to read the stories, especially mine. She began the first one. Nope, not mine. So I examined my tablet, feigning disinterest while I secretly analyzed it and compared it to mine. Unoriginal, was my verdict. If she had chosen this one, there was no way she would like mine. She began the second one. Strike two. Not mine. Oh well, I thought. At least I liked my story. Finally, Mrs. Christianson lifted up the third paper. I looked down at my tablet, not wanting to look up and see if I could recognize the paper. Plus, no one would see my

disappointment. Then she said, "And now I am going to read my personal favorite. This is incredibly original. It should be an example for all of your creative writing. This piece actually scared me since I was reading it late Wednesday night." Then she read . . . my words. I couldnt believe it. I tried to act nonchalant, but I beamed. She reveled in my narrator's twisted logic and morbid sense of humor. She delighted in the gore and carnage I created. When she finished, she walked over to me and set her personal favorite response on my desk. All of the blood in my entire body rocketed to my head. I felt like a thermometer in boiling water. My classmates were astounded. I had never done anything worthwhile in my classes before. Let alone anything worthy of praise. In her comments, which were scrawled all over my paper, she noted how I used great suspense to build up to the story's climax. It wouldn't

be until later, much later, that I actually understood what those terms meant. But she liked it. She saw my potential and gave it the motivation it needed to flourish. I never thought about driving truck, farming, or working at the beet plant again.

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