open letter to my teacher 1: “screenplay-o’-life”

You know I love learning. I think it says it in my About page. So, it only makes sense that I lovelovelove when I have great teachers. And I have been blessed with some of the greatest teachers around – in all my favorite subjects, too: English, German, and music. I have had other ridiculously good teachers in other subjects, but here I want to recognize the four who’ve known me the longest, and, conveniently, are in the subjects I love most. Three of them are high school teachers, one extracurricular, but I still consider them all my secondary school adjunct professors: all of them teach with a heaping dose of real experience. They all teach something about life through the perspective of their respective subjects – and that is all I could ever ask for in a teacher. I write to figure out life – heck, all forms of writing point to humanity in some way, whether it’s directions in a computer manual or an award-winning screenplay – so when I can learn and figure out life, it’s frickin’ amazing!

In the more-or-less four weeks anticipating my graduation, I’ll publish a letter each Sunday. These are not only thank-you-notes: they also function as a mirror, showing enthusiastically “this is what you taught me!” I could guess what my teachers like and buy them a thank-you-gift, but the most precise and rewarding gift I can offer is three hours of my Sunday writing an acute account of why I will remember them.

So, without further ado, here is my first letter. They are not ordered in any specific order except the order in which they write themselves in my mind.

~ ~ ~

Dear Ms. CH,

English has always been my best and most favorite subject. Unfortunately, until high school, English class was incredibly boring. I forgot everything I read and learned. You – along with your neighbor teacher Mrs. S – were the first English teacher I had who talked about characters in stories and poems like real people. And I LOVE THAT SO MUCH YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW.

From what I can tell about your humorous and perhaps somewhat embarrassing life stories about your family, it might be easier for you to live your highly eventful life viewing it as a cast of characters for your upcoming screenplay-o’-life instead of just, like, you know, “normal.” It’s like a dense novel: a highly organized chaos that will eventually mean something. I do something like that sometimes – although it was more frequent when I was younger – where I picture the people in my life and me as a characters in a developing story. I used to narrate in my head what I saw, even when it was boring. (Nothing a few spicy adjectives can’t fix!) Since I’m a quieter, more observational person, sometimes I could picture myself sitting in the middle of a play when I camouflaged myself on the couch of the highest trafficked room of the house and watched my family members enter and exit as if on cue, exchanging ideas in passing, all for the pleasure of my eyes.

To be frank, I never connected these possible similarities of us viewing life as if scripted for performance until this very moment of writing, but I still smiled each time in class you told us a new entry to your screenplay-o’-life. I thought it was unbearably cool. Just like on “Poetry Fridays,” when I actually said aloud after a spectacular point was made, “Wow that was really good,” or “Nice!” – which, perhaps, may make me one of the nerdiest English nerds ever – every time I figured something out, I felt like I was in the presence of a god or something: it was unbearably cool.

When I began looking at characters like they were real, figuring out stories and poems became much easier (not easy, easier). I also flipped that around and began looking at people in my life as characters, and understanding them became much easier, too. I saw their life like a series of stories; I appraised the cast of characters in their life, their setting, their motivations, their necessities, their values, their goals: people have become so darn interesting to me these days that life, itself, is gradually becoming unbearably cool, too. In fact, now that I have the tools to look at characters AND techniques of the creators of those characters, EVERYTHING is becoming unbearably cool – skits on SNL and comedians are striking me with awe as I look at their craft; movies are becoming a smorgasbord of technical grace and precision because of all their moving parts; food is a masterpiece, even when it’s just butternut squash and garlic; art, poetry, even, like, furniture is becoming awe-some. What have you done to me, Ms. CH?!

I think English class has the potential to teach an open-minded perspective if one is open-minded enough to learn it and the teacher is open-minded enough to teach it. (If one can read The Shipping News and think those people are plausible and relatable, then they are ready to sympathize.) And you definitely allowed for that perspective to grow in me. If I were a horse, you lead me to that trough of wordy water and I lapped it all up. I always knew I loved reading and writing, but now I know why: because it’s unbearably cool. It connects ideas, people, feelings, in a currency we all understand: story.

Stories have become my official currency. Most popularly people use stories for pedestrian gossip, but I’ve decided to make it my professional currency as well. And I can’t thank you enough for showing me that life is reflected in stories, whether it be in prose, poetry, or something else, and it’s really worthwhile taking a look.



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