With the release of my third book “North of Dreams” set for tomorrow and school starting in a few weeks, I have been doing a little reflection on how I came to be here. Not too long ago, a friend posted about how one year can do a lot to a person, and it hit with all sorts of truth. If you would have told me this time last year while I spent my summer painting, gardening and running through the forests of Northern Ontario, that I would be the author of three books in the same year I probably would have laughed at you. So much has happened in the last twelve months I’m blown away regularly with just how much has changed (I have a piece on that for you tomorrow). And while it was the events of the year that pushed me to go after a life long dream of being a writer, my love for words goes way beyond the recent past.
As I have mentioned, I work in the field of Children’s Mental Health, specifically in the education sector. I see first hand the effect simple word choices have on children and watch the power of mere syllables change worlds – something for the better, and sometimes not. What worries me, however, is the carelessness all around we often see with words both from adults and children alike. Everything that we say and do builds the foundation that these kids will base their rest of their lives off of. I strive every day to be the person I needed when I was younger. There was a quote I saw on this idea when I first started my current job and it has stuck with me. What did I need from adults when I was younger? What do these kids need from me to work towards having a brighter future? How can I be the best role model for our future generations?
My own childhood wasn’t a storybook fairy tale. My parents worked hard for the little that they had, my mother struggled being a landed immigrant and the discrimination that came with that, and my “dad got sick when I was in grade three or four and needed a kidney transplant. My mom was the one who ended up giving up a kidney. While they stayed in Toronto my younger brother and I stayed with a combination of family and friends. We were young and no one ever really explained what was going on. I knew that somehow one of my mom’s organs would be given to my dad to keep him alive. The first time I saw them in Toronto following the transplant I thought they had both somehow become quasi robots (cyborg wasn’t a word in my vocabulary at the time). A few years later, I would realize that the lack of words were sometimes more hurtful than an explanation.
It was during this time that I discovered the power of words. My grandmother had gifted me my very first diary and something about writing always made me feel better. It wasn’t long after that I fell in love with books, finding out that they could provide the same level of comfort as my own texts. In school I started to fall in love with words. I had just made the switch from French to English school for grade five (the year my parents spent a couple months Toronto for both surgery and recovery [medicine has made leaps and bounds since then and the process is a lot smoother now]). History was chalk full of interesting characters who overcame all sorts of mind boggling adversity and English class was endless sea of stories and books whose young protagonists were clever, resilient, and tenacious. I may have been a bit of an odd duck, but there was hope in school and I liked being there. I had the chance to work on designing the sets for the Christmas play, and every time we were assigned to write I was in my happy place. School was where I fell in love with the arts and it was thanks to the teachers at W. Earl Miller for noticing and encouraging my talents. It would only get better from there.
By grade six, I was obsessed with theater, visual arts, music, and of course writing. If there was a chance to dip my toes into the arts, I would be there. While I had a fondness for sports, it was creativity that called to me. One day my Grade six Mr. Johns gave us a writing assignment – poetry. I don’t remember the details but I remember going home being really excited about it. Being an avid nature nut even as a child, I took to what I loved and wrote “My Favourite Place” with a little guidance from my dad (who also used to write poetry). I don’t remember the details, but I remember it being submitted to some sort of contest and I didn’t think much would come it. Later in the school year I was called down to the office. Thinking that I was in trouble, I remember being terrified as I headed down the halls to meet with the principal (a man who I now think of as being on the best principals I was ever lucky enough to have, and a sentiment echoed by many). As it turns out, I wasn’t in trouble. I had received recognition for my poetry in the form of a plaque that held my name as well as the names of previous winners that the school could display as well as the publication of my poem in “Northern Lights” Vol 32 published by the Northern Ontario Council of Teachers of English. I still hold onto the my copy almost 20 years later, now pondering how one simple moment and the actions of one brilliant teacher start a flame in me that couldn’t be put out.
This is that poem.
The teachers at that school shaped me into who I am today. They encouraged me to try everything and helped me excel in the areas where my soul shone brightest. Say what you will about teachers, I know we all have varying opinions on the matter, but the good ones will make an impression on you bigger than even you can imagine. At 28, I sit here now the proud author my three poetry anthologies having chased dreams largely because the teachers at W. Earl Miller (as well as R. Ross Beattie) would see something in me that I had yet to discover in myself. They play a part in a story so much bigger than themselves and that is the beauty of working in education. It inspires me regularly, and I can only hope to have the kind of impact on these young people that my teachers had on me. I can’t wait to one day run into the kids I work with and see the people they turned into. That’s the passion behind the education system, flawed as it may be. The people that dedicate their lives to inspiring young minds, those are just as much heroes as anyone else you would give the title to.
“North of Dreams” is available tomorrow. If you haven’t already, pick up your copy of “Icarus, Anchors & You” as well as “Pearls & Swine”. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you’re wanting to know more about the books, click the link or check out the header at the top of the page for a backstory on each book.
And remember, be the person you needed when you were younger.
Happy Hump Day.