Today is International Women's Day. I can't help but think of the many women in my life who have guided me and helped me be my best. One in particular is a writing teacher I had in the twelfth grade, Jeanne Goff.
I was failing miserably. Not that I didn't love writing, in fact, I had found I was falling in love with the process. However, many of our assignments were to be completed at home, an impossibility for me seeing as things at home were, let's just say, rather blatantly dysfunctional.
Ms. Goff knew this. I could feel it when she looked at me. I'd avert my eyes, but I always felt she could somehow see into my soul. I wondered if she’d once been a girl in my situation. I felt terrible that I would be letting her down by failing her class. And worse, I might not graduate if I didn't turn things around, and quick.
I approached her at the end of class, just two weeks before the grand graduation ceremony was to commence.
“I’m having trouble writing at home, but I really love your class—it’s my favorite—but I’m failing and scared I might not graduate because of it. Is there anything I can do?”
She took out a slip of paper, jotted down some notes, and handed it to me.
Mr. Hill (Sid)
“Do you know Mr. Hill?” she asked.
“Not well, but I know who he is.”
“Good. Go to him and tell him I sent you. I want you to write a paper on Woody Guthrie. Do you know who he is?”
“No. Never heard of him.”
“Good. Mr. Hill knows a lot about him. He can be a good resource. Also, if you can, tell your parents you’re doing a project that requires making use of the library so you’ll be needing to spend more time at school before, at lunch, and after.”
“OK. Will do.”
The next day, Mr. Hill kindly handed me two cassette tapes of ancient sounding snap-crackle-pop recordings of Mr. Guthrie’s work. This was not the East Coast Rap or Hip-Hop music I was accustomed to listening to. This was old, twangy music, beyond anything I grew up hearing. Harmonica, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and passion. Loads of gutsy passion.
With titles such as “All You Facists Bound To Lose” I was certainly in for a treat.
I became absolutely captivated by this man. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as I’d read he was a major influence on Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp as well as many other beyond-talented musicians. I read books, listened to his music, laughed, smiled, completely lost track of time, and began to really embrace our required reading assignment, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, internally. Much of his music covered his personal experiences in the Dust Bowl era, traveling from Oklahoma to California.
Ms. Goff made a giant out of me. I passed the class. I wanted to hug her but knew that would be uncomfortable as I wasn’t much of a hugger anyhow and wasn’t there a law that teachers and students shouldn’t touch? And I had this newfound passion that seemed to trump any fear or stress or dysfunction going on around me. Writing. Research. Knowledge.
I began listening, really listening to lyrics, and relating them to my own thoughts and feelings. I began dissecting Dylan’s songs and my mind opened.
She likely has no idea of the impact she had on my life, by showing just a little kindness, a little compassion, and a willing heart. Ms. Goff, my twelfth grade writing teacher successfully made a writer out of me.
Happy International Women’s Day! Be kind, change lives!