I got in about an hour ago from hanging out with AJ, Faye, Ben, Manda, and Dan. We played Cranium and sat around shooting the breeze for hours; it was great. I got back here and caught up on my online reading (webcomics and the AMRN, which Sam has just jump-started), and I should be going to bed, but I wanted to mention what happened today while I was at Wal-Mart shopping for the cookout we had this evening.

An older woman with yellowish-white hair and a calm, confident face said, “Heather?”

I stopped my cart in the middle of the row, looked at the woman. It’s Mrs. Braden, I thought. But I wasn’t sure, so I said, “Yes?”

“It’s so good to see you! I’m glad it was you; I thought it was. Do you know who I am?”

“Mrs. Braden?” By now I was pretty sure, but I was still relieved when she affirmed it.

Mrs. Braden was my AP English teacher, senior year of high school. I last saw her in 1997 I think, when I visited my high school to see all my teachers. Since then I believe she has retired.

“I wondered whether or not you’d remember me,” she said.

“Of course,” I replied. “I think about you all the time.” It’s true; Mrs. Braden was the reason I was able to write college papers without taking the 101s. She helped me to understand that you can write in any writing style you need to, and that you should tailor your writing to your subject and your audience for maximum effectiveness. This is a lesson that I think many people don’t learn; they’re afraid that their writing “voice” will be lost if they try to micromanage their style. By refusing to edit themselves, these people are holding themselves back, refusing to craft. I’m glad that I was brought to understand early what it means to write with a purpose–even if I was lazy and ignored the lesson for years afterwards.

“I was thinking about you just the other day,” Mrs. Braden replied, which surprised me, as she has had literally hundreds of students, “and that final portfolio of yours.”

Kentucky instituted a new standardized test system under KERA, the Kentucky Education Reform Act, in 1990, while I was in middle school. These tests, then known as KIRIS, replaced the old CTBS tests. Part of the system required students to compile portfolios of works in order to graduate from both middle and high school. When I was in eighth grade, KERA had only recently been enacted, so while I created an English portfolio for that year, it wasn’t as important as the one I had to make for high school. (I also had to put together a math portfolio for high school.)

These portfolios were a collection of a student’s best work done in that segment of education (e.g., anytime during high school). Students compiled the papers, revised them, ordered them, created a table of contents, wrote an introductory letter explaining what the works were and why they were chosen, and handed in the final result in a professional-looking folder. I personally found the portfolio creation process to be a lot of fun, mainly because most of the work was already done (I’d done the research and the writing work for class, and revision wasn’t a big deal), and because the final product seemed so impressive.

For my English portfolio, I included a huge report on Benjamin Banneker that I’d labored on for my sophomore year social studies class–a report that my teacher, Mr. Galloway, said I should try to get published in a magazine; a grant proposal for an archaeological dig to find the burial place of Llewellyn ab Gruffydd, the last true Prince of Wales, which I had created for my senior year anthropology class; the beginning of Randes’ tale from my still-unfinished “Warrior” saga/novel/whatever, which I had been writing on my own; plus two other works–I remember there were five, but I don’t remember what they all were.

In the end, my portfolio was huge. Two teachers (I won’t say who they were because they weren’t supposed to do this) took me aside the day after I handed it in, told me it was amazing, and said right off the bat that I was obviously going to get a Distinguished for it. (There are four “grades” for portfolios, and for the standardized tests, too: Novice, Apprentice, Proficient, and Distinguished. If you’re interested, I got a Proficient on the math portfolio.)

“Are you still writing?” Mrs. Braden asked.

“Not really,” I said, thinking of this journal and how it’s all the writing I do at all anymore, especially now that I’ve quit the AMRN for good.

We spent awhile catching up–I assured her that I’m in remission, told her that I got married and about my job, and gave her my contact information, and she told me about her brother who is also in remission, and how she herself has been battling skin cancer–and then as we prepared to part ways she said, “You really should start writing again. You’re so gifted.”

I was sort of embarrassed, and looked away and said, “Well, I journal, but that’s about it.” I really wasn’t sure what to say.

I don’t know what to say, even now. I could condemn myself for being lazy, or for being afraid to try to write because of what I and others expect from my writing. I could complain that I have nothing interesting to say. I could muse that it seems like whenever I try to write something, it comes out terrible. But I don’t know, I’m tired of going over and over all that stuff. I want a better answer, like I don’t write because I don’t want to, or that I am planning to write again. Something that isn’t me sitting around in limbo.

Right now, though, I really need to get to bed. Gotta catch an early afternoon flight tomorrow. Hope I wake up in time.