Mrs. Rogers

Mrs. Rogers thick, rich accent came from growing up in the south I’m sure. She sat straight in her teachers chair at the front of the room, the east wall, in front of the chalk board she used often. If I had to say a school teacher taught me how to write it was her. Others helped me think a thing through, calculate, experiment and catch a ball. Mrs. Rogers was Serious about English and writing.
She wasn’t interested in our self esteem. She was interested in expanding our knowledge of the parts of a sentence, grammar, how to “sharpen the focus” of an idea until the reader could sit with your mind, be a part of the memory, because you were so clear. I can’t think of a time I ever saw her smile, but I never wondered if she cared. I knew she did. And she was focused!
I sat on the east wall, first row, windows at my back. I don’t think she ever turned the overhead lights on. I wanted an A on something in her class, but don’t remember if I ever managed to get one. Here’s how it went. At the beginning of the year, she told us how many papers we were to write. Then she told us that she expected each one of us to rewrite each paper until it was finished. This meant working on more than one assignment at a time. After I turned in a paper, she would mark down her comments, expectations and corrections in red, then hand it back to me. Now my part was to rewrite the paper according to her notes. The challenge was that she would give us a new assignment before we were done with the previous one. I think I managed to only ever have 2 papers going at the same time, which was no small task.
I naively thought that what she meant by “sharpen the focus” was the same as describing what a camera sees when it zooms in on a single spot. One time I used many words to describe a drop of rain on a leaf. Then I described a world of fairies living in the drop. I was bound and determined to sharpen that focus, even if I had to make up a new world smaller than a dime!
But this isn’t what she wanted. To this day I don’t know how to describe what she meant by “sharpen the focus” but I have my own idea I follow. Follow the focus could be it’s name. Follow the heat, when writing comes alive. Follow the heart, the energy. Follow it even if I’m a puddle of tears on the sofa with my little laptop lighting up my wet face. Be there again, wherever it is, hand it to the reader carefully, but remain open.Beyond this, just write. No editing , no judge, no excuses, no critic. Practice in this way for years, as many days each year as possible.
In a way, Mrs. Rogers gave me a willingness to practice writing like one practices ballet or sketching. During the two years I was her student, her assignments were my main homework, the greatest challenge from the academic side of school. For her work, for her no-nonsense attitude, for the time she must have spent reading our countless drafts, I am incredibly thankful.

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