Reaching inspired roots into my cerebral depth. Gangly boughs affixed with hands so broad - thumbnails the size of bottle caps, palms like canvas - never touching the blackboard but moulding us into free, creative thinkers. Soft spoken like a slow wind through fresh bud leaves. Caught in a proverbial time-warp of polyester pants, brown loafers and almost afros, this giant man-child of the sixties. Each leaf a frond of wisdom to collect and hoard in an old hardcover for moments of self-doubt.
He'd take a wide stance in front or sit on the edge of his desk. Or he fumbled at the turntable until A Hard Days Night hailed us as he matched Ringo's rhythm against his hip with a mighty slap, slap, slap of that mighty palm.
For the first time in my life silence was celebrated, thought was respected, abstract approach was promoted and The Beatles became a constant, impassioned soundtrack - be the first to arrive and own the choice for the day - I fell so hard for Yesterday that I would rush from Biology, a spirited streak of blond and thrift store and knock-off Birkenstocks, to spin the Help! album beneath that perfect, scratchy needle and sink into the joy that was WRITTEN WORD and sharpen my pencil four times because if I used a pen I would be less interesting and he inspired me to be anything but ordinary as I scribbled out the first draft of my first novel.
"Everyone learns differently. If you work well at a desk, do it. If you want to lay on the floor, do it - there are some pillows in the corner. If you want to sit on a cafeteria tray in the middle of the football field and throw gum balls at seagulls, do it. As long as you turn in quality work."
My sixteen-year-old self*
The world is full of teachers. Some are good. Very few are exceptional. I was lucky enough to have one of the exceptional. A blade of grass beneath his far-reaching branches. A sixteen year old girl sitting cross-legged on a dusty school floor being shaped and pushed and permitted to be and say what I felt and dreamed and there was no better gift than this.
* this was actually taken in the football field during an English Writing class for my stint as the school poetry magazine editor