I have enjoyed writing stories since I was a small child. I remember in second or third grade the teacher handing out the piece of paper with a place to draw on top and sets of three lines on the rest of the page. We wrote a sentence or two to tell a story and colored a picture above. It was always great fun to write out the adventures that were running through my mind.
When we moved on to fourth grade we started getting entire pieces of paper that could be written on and I didn’t have to think of any pesky picture to draw. Which I was not good at. I could write and write and never had any problem filling up the pages. other kids, not so inclined to write struggled with getting a full page. I asked for more paper.
I suppose the thrill I got reading just flowed over into wanting to write. But as in many things I do, I was (and am) inpatient and felt most happy breezing through the story and affixing the last period and calling it done. No proof reading or editing for me. The story was pure and unadulterated and that is how I liked it. Free flowing stream of consciousness.
In ninth grade English Mrs. Bickford required us to write a journal. I thought that by that age we were too old for that and was quite a stinker about it. We were to start off with a story about how we spent our summer. So I reported that I had been in the hospital suffering from a rare heart disease and not expected to walk again. No idea what one had to do with the other, but that was the story and I was sticking to it. I topped it off with a flourish by surprising all the doctors and nurses and my parents with a surprise walk and wouldn’t you know it? Just in time to play softball where I was the home run hitter of the summer! A little Secret Garden meets Marcus Welby, M.D. meets Matt Christopher. Mrs. Bickford was not amused.
I took a class, in preparation for college from Ms. Hall my senior year at Glacier Senior High School in Seattle. Now it is called Sea Tac. And the school is closed. The class was to prepare you for college writing. I loved the class but had a rude awakening when one day I was writing an essay about music. I started it out with “Everybody loves music.” She stopped me right there. She said it was an incorrect statement. Not everybody likes music let alone loves it. Some don’t like it at all. I wanted to say “I don’t care if people actually love music or not, I want them to either feel like they do , or feel like they will challenge my premise as they begin to read my essay.” But you didn’t say things like that to teachers then. It was a hook and I wanted it but I had to remove it because I could not risk my GPA. That may have been the first time I had to choose a battle! I felt something sort of go away. That freedom to just pour things out on a page was now muted. I liked the “jazz” version of writing…scat, improve.
I trudged off to college in the fall of 1979. I remember countless nights sitting at my desk in Alford Montgomery Hall on the CWU campus writing essays in my little composition book. Not for class, but for me. There was some good stuff in that book. I lost it in a move from Washington to California. I have always missed it and never been able to recreate the stories within it.
In law school I got another big slap in the face. By then I was in my forties, and though I didn’t write much, I fancied that it was my strong point and it would be something I excelled at. WRONG! Professor Strong pointed out to us that legal writing was like nothing we had ever done before. Not like creative writing or technical writing or scientific writing. It was an animal all its own and nothing we had done would give us an advantage. When I got my first writing back and his tiny block letters in red filled the margins and any other open space on the paper, I was crest fallen. Professor Strong was a nice guy with Urkel glasses and riveting stories about clerking for a federal judge while his roommate clerked for Justice Scalia. He also had a pension for Bush Bashing any time he could fit it in to lesson. He was a good writing teacher and I appreciated all the time and ink he spent on my that semester. I still feel my legal writing is not as strong as my other writing skills, but I still like it anyway. IT is a challenge and a challenge is good. It also created the ability to look at my non legal writing and actually do some editing, proofing, outlining and planning more than I had in me free-form youth.
In 2011 I started to blog. I had done some other dabbling in blogging but WhelanTrek has been the blog I have stuck with, though off and on depending on if I was doing a lot of outdoor activities to blog about. After the blogging for the Everest adventure, I wanted to write a book about it all. But I have not. But now I am in the mindset that perhaps I should write a book. So that is the real question all of these 900 plus words are leading to. Should I?
While most of my blog entries are about hikes and paddles and treks, every now and then it is about something else. Today I write about the fact I love to read and write. That my father instilled in me a love for, and pride for my ability, to read. He always did the children’s crossword puzzle in the Sacramento Bee with me as a small child and then monthly word power quizzes from The Reader’s Digest. Seems silly to say out loud. Doesn’t it. That a person would be proud of being able to read well and talk about that pride in their 50s. And I loved to read so much I wanted to write stories like I read.
We were a very verbal and expressive household. Dad told epic tales of growing up in Bellingham in the countryside. Imagination stimulants like how he helped an old guy with frozen up hips with his honey bees. Dad loved honey bees all his life and always swore bee venom helped alleviate arthritis pain. Mom told of growing up in a logging camp and being shy and not liking to read out loud at school because she lisped and got teased. But man when she sat down at the piano and banged out the chords for a good old rendition of Cool Water there was no shyness and no lisp! Kathlene always wanted to do roll playing games when we were tiny tots. But she made up her dialog and mine. I was happy enough to just go along with it.
Brother Joe wrote on the school paper and was a great story teller, even if he did laugh so hard half the time that you had to wait impatiently with baited breath to really find out what he was saying.
I went to Sunny Terrace Elementary School in Seattle. What stands out is fourth grade. First was a fun time, but second and third were sort of hard. I didn’t quite feel connected with the teachers. Mrs. Hergert had been my first grade teacher and I suppose I got used to her and wanted it to remain the same. I am not good at change. But second grade dished up Mrs. Wilcox. She was tall and stern and seemed removed. Mrs. Mansburger from third grade was mean and didn’t like my hand writing so she put it up on the bulletin board as an example…of bad work. The only good thing about that was it caused a legendary appearance by my mother, who walked into the room unannounced during a lesson. She walked right over to the bulletin board. The class was by then completely quiet aside from Mrs. Mansburger having offered “Can I help you?” Mom reached up and removed my scarlet letter….and Mark Lawrence’s too just for good measure. She turned, looked across the tiny heads of riveted third graders and proclaimed “And I never want to see Karen’s work on the board again unless it is because it is the best.” With that, she turned on the heel of her shiny pump with her back combed hair and perfectly coordinated outfit and was gone. After that it was instant celebrity! When she came on to the school property, all the kids were in awe.
After the long summer between 3rd and 4th grade, we all piled into our new status as a member of the “upper grades”. My class was to be in the far end building right next to Mrs. Cole’s class. My sister was in Mrs. Cole’s class so I had the comfort of help being in proximity in case I needed it. I had a new teacher. Her name was Mrs. Reeder. Linda Reeder. She was young and tall and pretty and had this yellow dress that I will never forget. But she also had all this really “cool stuff” for us to do with reading. We had a reading comprehension module called SRA and were challenged to read as many books as we could and do projects after each one; dioramas, reports….more that I cannot remember. I can still smell the class room on a rainy day holed up with my book, dreaming of my post book project and wondering what book to read next. I was president of the Matt Christopher fan club as well as the Beverly Cleary fan club. I read all the “Trick” books (The Limerick Trick, The Home Run Trick etc.) I even got a letter back from the author Scott Corbett when I wrote after reading one of those books. Yes, that was a choice too, write to the author.
Mrs. Reeder remains famous around the Whelan house. Back in 1970 teachers hand wrote their report cards. There was a place on each one for comments, which I was always most interested in reading. Upon receiving my card I burst into the house filled with excitement, smile from ear to ear for inside was THIS little gem: “Karen has the gift of gab.” A higher compliment I could not receive. More proud I could not be. In a family as expressive as mine I had come into my own. With a father now known as The Watch Maker because when you asked him what time it was he told you how to build the watch, I had the GIFT of gab. GIFT! My parents were kind enough not to burst my bubble and let me in on the truth, which was that I talked to much and as a result was a bit of an interruption for the teacher. And here I am over 40 years later working in a profession that requires me to gab and write and express. Thank you Mrs. Reeder, for letting me be me and find all the expression I needed!