January 10, 2004

Journal-ism 101

I still remember the poster on my sixth and seventh grade English teacher's wall, "Everything I ever learned about life I learned from a cow." As I remember it, she really liked cows. There were pictures of cows, cow coffee mugs, cow pencils, cow everything. I do not remember exactly what she taught me, probably something with sentence diagramming, but I remember cows.

Everyone in school had their favorite class, whether it was because the quirky Math teacher liked algebra too much, or because the science teacher mixed sulfur and magnesium in the aluminum pan, lit a match and started the year with a blast, literally. These experiences make school memorable because a certain class no doubt touched one in some way. What affected me most deeply in my twelve-year school life is journal writing, taught to me by my English teachers. That skill was fundamental in my life because it trained me how to write. Without the journal writing, I would have never seen what I could do, and I would have missed traveling upon my road of self-discovery.

After the split from elementary school at my parochial school, my education sped up. They split up the subject of English into two parts, Literature, and English. In English class, (the same one with the cow lady) all we did was diagramming, vocabulary, spelling, more diagramming, more vocabulary, and even more spelling. I hated grammar. It did not matter to me if I spelled something wrong, or used a word right, so I just did what I had to do. I did not do well on the tests, mostly because I did not want to understand it. I was bored, and interest is all to me, so I took my B and went on my merry way. This happened in sixth grade.

However, in seventh grade she started making us do journals. My handwriting was awful, something I had been famous for all my life at school, so I was skeptical at first. We worked in it daily, usually with a proofreading of two sentences, and then we could do whatever we wanted with the rest of the page as long as it pertained to writing. I do not actually remember when my attraction to writing took off but I believe it was the journals which spawned it. I started writing jokes, such as the ones off a cereal box, I wrote small poems about childish things, such as kites, colors, and clouds, and I wrote random trivia from Pop Up Video, a show I was obsessed with at the time. The fact that I was forced to write down whatever was on my mind made me think about what I was going to do that day. This place was like a secret between me and the teacher. She had to read them for a grade, but she would only score the ones we marked. Red pen characters reading "Good!" "Great!" was a good motivation for me. By the end of the year there were amateur poems, better jokes, and sections called "Creative Knowledge" which had questions and observations about the world from my perspective. My writing progress is recorded in these journals that I still have to this day.

In eighth grade there was a new teacher, who did not like cows as much and her classroom was not decorated with the well-known farm animal, yet she did have colorful inspirational posters. However she incorporated something familiar into the class; the journals were back. This is where my writing started to mean something to me. Sometimes she gave us topics to write about. All the other times I got to write anything I wanted, and I was in heaven. We had a deadline of each week to write so much, like five pages or so. I wrote until I was finished with something. Sometimes it was a long story, sometimes it was a series of poems; it was all in there. I wrote at all appropriate occasions.

Looking back through that year's journal I see my odyssey became more apparent. I was writing stories, coherently, descriptively, with dialogue, with humor, and with seriousness, and poetry expressing what I was feeling and being in my life. The interest had developed into a talent, and it showed. It gave me something to express pride in, especially when I was one of the ostracized kids in the small class of thirty-two. I could write, and that was unique, (although the irony caught up with me, because my handwriting was my own language so to speak, and it still is.)

Sadly, I had to pick up my journals and move to high school. I was making a new start, with a fresh attitude, a pristine reputation, and with a talent in hand. English was incredibly fun that year, mostly because I met two good friends in there, and I was in an Honors Class, which to me was the coolest thing ever. We had "journals" but we only wrote in them once or twice, so they collected dust on the cabinet shelf instead of multitudes of ideas and fruitful art. We studied literature in the class as well, fortunately, for I enjoyed reading and this time blocking out grammar almost altogether. We had another poetry project that year, which I enjoyed immensely, not just because I had done one a year before and received praise from the teacher and encouragement to keep writing, but because I wrote new poems, updated and edited the old ones, and organized my thoughts even better.

I was inspired to write everywhere because of this class. Emotionally my freshman year was not a good year at all, so poetry helped me escape. I wrote in math class, I wrote in Biology, I wrote at lunch. I even wrote during Chorus before we started, or during days the teacher was gone. I wrote in P.E. after the written tests. My grades did not suffer because of it, I think on the contrary that if I had not written any of my thoughts, then they would have exploded and my grades would have slipped even worse. I also would not have written some of my greatest works if I just wrote in class.

Seventh grade was the beginning of my writing, but ninth grade was my pivotal climax in inspiration. Even though journals have disappeared, I have them this year in my college credit class, and I am estatic. Sometimes I have to force myself to write in them because of the lack of time, and possibly interest, but they might help me in the end. What remarkable things are going to go through my mind this time around? Will I receive new inspiration from these experiences and thoughts? It is too early to tell, but I am optimistic about the situation.

The journal in my life has been a symbol of a transition. I developed a talent through my English education that I probably would have never guessed would be inside of me. The journals have helped me to such a degree that I am applying to a prestigious school for a writing scholarship. Yet, I have an interesting muse to thank, that cow poster in my sixth grade English teacher's room. It is true in my case, for that cow adoring teacher taught me so much about myself that I learned to write, and have discovered about myself in the process. Her journal encouragement was exactly what I needed at that point. I have been through five years of Journal-ism 101, and now I have turned to Journal-ism 102, which will take me to places, I have never dreamed of going.