Project Description

Where it Began:
A Love of Reading & Writing
by Chelsea Catherine
Blog 1: 11/6/2020

 

My second-grade teacher placed me in the lowest reading level because I often mixed up letters. Girls became grills. She thought I was behind. Maybe not a good reader, and certainly not where I needed to be with my writing.

She was wrong about me. By nine, I could eat through a chapter book easy. As an only child of much older parents, I was home alone a lot. My earliest memories are of writing. I sat at the kitchen table, curled between stacks of books, newspapers, and magazines, and sketched out multi-level family homes. I created characters that lived inside of them and wrote their specifics. Age, name, favorite food.

In the fourth grade, I wrote a poem about war, inspired by my father’s experiences in Vietnam. In the sixth grade, I requested a private writing tutor, convinced I would someday become a novelist. My teachers provided some support as I passed into high school, but none as much as Martha Morris.

I spent the summer before my junior year with Mrs. Morris. The class was Honors English, and I needed to take it early so I could spend the first half of my senior year volunteering in Central America. Mrs. Morris was recently retired but came well recommended. The school provided us with a classroom, and we met three days a week.

Mrs. Morris assigned five books a week. Since I was the only one in the class, I didn’t have the luxury to not read them. All her questions, all her inquiries and thoughts were pointed directly at me. I tried my best to keep up with her.

At first, she stuck with the classics. I had to learn them, she said. But once we got to know each other a little more, she decided to let me read what I wanted. We switched to Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, and H.P. Lovecraft. She let me write stories along with essays and encouraged my flowery style of critical writing. My thesis was on the creation of psychological tension in “The Telltale Heart.” I left every day feeling like someone had seen a part of me and understood it, even if it was just through our love of books and stories. At the end of the class, she even presented me with a gift, a poem called, “The Last Honors English Student.” I would be the last person she ever taught.

I went back to normal high school when the summer was over, sitting with twenty-five other kids in a class and struggling to adjust. I missed my Honors English class. I missed how closely Mrs. Morris and I had connected over the work, how we’d recognized each other through the books and common love of storytelling.

Mrs. Morris died in 2013, while I was applying to graduate level creative writing programs. Her obituary was published in our local paper on my twenty-third birthday. She was only sixty-seven.

I grieved for Mrs. Morris for a long time. She had not only been a fantastic teacher and a wonderful mentor but a consummate supporter. She had seen my love for storytelling and opened that part of herself up so we could share it together.

To this day, that remains one of my favorite things about writing. I love to share stories, to connect with people over something we both care about. Most of all, I love to see and be seen. There is nothing more special than talking about a story with someone and seeing their heart light up, all their great love and joy spilling out.

– Chelsea