• Kathleen Lees

Writing: I'm Grateful For Everything

Updated: Jun 16



It's been difficult posting recently because my wedding is coming up. School has also been very busy. Many students are leaving because they got a job, they're moving away (somewhere else in the United States), or they are going back to their country of origin for an indefinite period.


Of course, it's a reality that all students leave. They will at least switch classes. It's sad, but you may still see them sometimes in the hall and chat. But for students that go home, it's always bittersweet.


The first time that this happened for me, a couple from India told me they were leaving. They gave me a handwritten letter, using the most formal salutations (that anyone learning English would), and said I changed their life. They had simply come to class every day-with almost perfect attendance-and put in the time. They did the work. I just guided them. I keep their letter in my office now on a bulletin board.


As lots of students are beginning to leave, I reflect on how they've changed me. All the times we spent in class, the growth in learning, and mostly, the laughs. I learned a lot of ways to be a better teacher and even more than before, how important immigrants are to America.


Using Your Past to Write Your Future

Before my evening class the other night, I sat outside the school and thought about some things, like my lesson plan, how the Internet at Clayton high school never seems to work properly in the basement, etc. And of course, I also thought about this. But not just how people (particularly the students) have and will continue to change my life, but how everyone you meet changes you in some way (mostly for good even if the experience was negative at the time.)


I think about this with my writing. I've had a lot of negative experiences. And I'm not really where I wanted to be at this point (in life and this year.) I wish I'd taken criticism better when I was younger. I wish I'd taken writing more seriously. Humility was definitely not a character trait I learned over night. The only upside to this, I would say, is that you get to meet more people who will influence you and guide you to where you're meant to go.


Sometimes I think about people who influenced me who I didn't really know but saw often or who were striking to me in some way or even just things--signs, a corner store, the unique color of something that triggered several memories from things in the past I kind of remember but couldn't connect to a time or place. They're all important, and they can be used as part of your writing toolbox and other creative endeavors.


Memories

A lot of people didn't like "American Beauty," and many probably don't like it now for obvious reasons. However, I will say I particularly liked the part where Kevin Spacey, who plays the character of Lester Burnham, says you see your entire life before your eyes when you die.


I kind of like to think that's true, only all of the people who influenced us in ways that we didn't realize are also there.


The teacher we didn't like in college who harshly criticized our work--not because they didn't like us, but because they knew we could do better. The Baskin Robbins worker who always gave out free ice cream and abruptly died of stomach cancer. The old man in our neighborhood who always walked his dog at the same time everyday no matter the weather.


These people.


They changed your life, too. And they definitely influenced your writing.





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