My seventeen-year-old self returns for a visit

My seventeen-year-old self returns for a visit

Last year I had the enormous pleasure of meeting up with my favourite high school teacher ever – my English teacher from Year 12. It had been nearly 30 years since I sat, entranced, in her classroom at a suburban state high school in Perth.

I was running creative writing workshops at another WA high school last year and learned that the wonderful Ms M worked there. I was overjoyed! This was the woman who, as a very young teacher in the late 1980s, closely supported my early attempts at writing. In her own time, Ms M helped me to pull together and edit a collection of my poems, which she then printed and bound for me. It was my first experience of ‘being published’. And the title of this seminal collection? ‘Frozen Tears’. Oh, dear. Thank goodness the collection didn’t get far beyond the school boundary!

Ms M heard I’d be visiting her school and met me at reception on the day with a gorgeous posy of hand-picked flowers, and a document, rolled up into a scroll and secured with a ribbon. ‘Read this when you get home,’ she said. ‘I’ve kept the original; this is a photocopy, I just couldn’t let it go!’

I read the essay in my car in the carpark before I left that day. I wrote it in my final year at high school; I was seventeen. Terrifyingly, it’s titled, ‘Who am I?’ Some bits I had to read via a half-squint, it’s so earnest, so serious! Other sections show that I’m still the same person at heart; my concerns and ambitions back then are the same ones driving me now.

Something, though, I had forgotten. Or perhaps pushed down. For years I’ve been telling students that, as a young person, I never thought I could be a writer, so I never sought to be one. It wasn’t until my late twenties that being a writer became a distant hope. But once glimpsed, it burned so bright.

In my Year 12 essay, however (penned twenty years before my book, 90 packets of instant noodles, was published by Fremantle Press), I wrote:

One of my favourite pleasures in life is to write. I want to be a famous author or poet one day. I love writing how I feel, how I think other people feel, about people. I love writing and reading poetry. I adore thinking.

(The adult editor in me wants to replace the word adore with pretty well anything else, but for the sake of preserving my seventeen-year-old voice, I won’t. Just please now erase that pretension from your minds.)

I was genuinely shocked when I read this in my car that day. I’d had no idea that I’d held this hope, to be a writer, from my adolescence.

So, if you’re reading this, Ms M, thank you – for being there then, and for being there recently, and probably for being there subconsciously for a lot of the time in between.

As kids head back to school in the next few days, I hope all teachers truly hold close how much positive influence they have on some of their students. Thank you!

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