Let's get something out of the way: I know that I can write.
I don't mean for that to sound like a brag, and it isn't intended as such. When I say "I can write," I mean I understand the structure of writing. I studied grammar and language in college, I practiced numerous formats, I produced a varied body of work. I can write because I know the mechanics of writing and have demonstrated (and been evaluated) in my understanding of the task.
But why do I write?
I started my career as a writer in 2001. I had written before then, and been told my stories were worth something as early as fourth grade. My teachers encouraged my efforts and applauded my successes. I was blessed with dedicated instructors, men and women who instilled a love of knowledge and the written word.
Mr. Brian, my fourth-grade science teacher, taught me that science can be really weird and fun. He let me bring in a loaf of moldy bread and leaf it in the room for six months. Every few weeks, we pulled that stinky hunk of garbage out and watched how bacteria consumed the food to create something new. He made science real to me, a tangible thing that affected every part of my life.
Morah Ilana (Morah means Teacher in Hebrew) taught me that languages are beautiful and complex. She showed me that learning new languages meant learning new cultures. She helped me speak, and think, as another version of myself. I would be remiss not to mention Morah Batya, who took the foundations Ilana gave me and cranked them up to eleven.
Mrs. Helen made me read books. Her tests were so granular, Spark Notes simply wouldn't cut it. I clawed my way through Little Big Man, Grendel, The Scarlet Letter, and the garbage fire known as The Awakening because she insisted. And when I graduated from high school, she said she expected great things from me, and I know she meant it.
Why am I thinking about all this right now? Well, I'm preparing to step up my writing game. I have to, because the competition is fierce. For all that I do know about my abilities, I have no gauge of my real talent compared to the THOUSANDS of writers out there. The only variable I can control is how hard I work. So I'm going to work harder than anyone else.
I pulled out all of my writing books, and I'm going to read them again and again, ensuring the lessons are ingrained. I'm going to begin my transition to writing full time, and it started last night.
When I went through my bookshelves to collect my homework, I found myself staring at my very favorite book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I want to say now, without hyperbole, that is the book that made me a writer.
Not just the existence of the story, nor the talent behind each and every word. I mean that specific copy. It's faux-leather bound, an ultimate edition that includes every work and short story in the series. And on the inside cover, printed on fancy paper, is a lesson from my high school principal, Dr. Sharon Meng.
Dr. Meng gave me that book senior year, shortly before graduation. There wasn't much fanfare, just a quick meeting between her, my English teacher, and myself. We spoke briefly, she thanked me for being a strong student, wished me luck, and gave me the gift. It meant something then, but I don't think I appreciated it enough.
The inside inscription is long and flowery, but the ending is important. While the beginning talks about "the word" and the power it holds, the end is deeply personal.
"Never forget the night you were the most important gift this school could give to the world."
I read that last night and it floored me. Now, before you start throwing full glasses of scotch at your screen, let me clarify. I do NOT think I was the most important person at my school. That distinction clearly goes to Jessica Gonzalez, my friend and literally the coolest person to ever live. I think Dr. Meng was trying to give me the last lesson of high school.
Each of us has a precious gift: Our time. It is limited, coming to a definite ending at some unknown point in the future. Every moment we spend in this life is traded for experiences, for material, for relationships. Every second, we become more complete versions of ourselves, shaped by the world around us.
The night the inscription mentions was graduation, the moment I crossed a stage and took a rolled up piece of paper from my principal's hand. In that moment, she had done everything in her power to prepare me for the world...but also to release me into it.
Each of us had that moment. It doesn't to be a graduation. You don't have to have a diploma to have that moment. What I mean is the moment when a mentor sets you free. When they have taught you everything they can, and now it is up to you.
This past weekend, I worked with many great mentors through the Writers Guild Foundation Veterans Project. I met incredible people and learned more in 48 hours than I had in the last few years. It made me think about the first mentors I ever had: My teachers.
So why do I write? I do it because I love it. I write because, if I don't, I can literally feel myself wasting away. I write because the thoughts in my head don't belong there, they need to be on the page. And I write because my teachers said I should, and I don't want to have wasted their effort.
Take a moment today, and every day, to thank the best teachers of your life. They donated precious time to make you better, and there is no greater gift you can give.