It seems now, looking back, that I sleep-walked through much of my time at St. Thomas Aquinas Grade School in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s Far West Side. I know I didn’t do poorly. If I had, there would have been hell to pay from my parents. But I don’t have any memory of doing particularly well.
Then, in sixth grade, there was this wonderful teacher, Miss Joan Krueger, who opened my eyes to the world. She was new to teaching. But she’d traveled extensively, spent a long time in Europe. And she treated us, not as children, but as, what we were, young minds hungry for the wonder of life. Miss Krueger sparked in me a love of history and words and literature.
I did a lot of book reports for Miss Krueger, including one on the Russian Revolution. That might have been in eighth grade when I had her a second time. I typed most if not all of these reports because my handwriting was so bad. (Miss Krueger said my mind was working so fast that my hand couldn’t keep up with it. I loved her for seeing it that way.) My typing, I have to admit, wasn’t great either. Working with a manual typewriter (and being a pre-teen), I didn’t have the ability (or patience) to erase my typos, so I’d just X them out and then go over the Xs with a black pen. As a result, my papers had all these small black rectangles where errant words or phrases had been.
But I remember how those reports looked: Here, on these blank pieces of paper, were my words — MY words. My ideas. It was like they were in the newspaper or, even better, in a book! And, in typing those words with a hunt-and-peck approach I’d taught myself, I’d hit down so hard on the keys that you could see the vehemence of my thought, the excitement I had in thinking and creating and communicating, right there on the paper.
You could pick up a page and feel my words on the back of the paper.
It was then I became a writer.