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  • Kali Kuzma

Back To Writing 101: Childhood Memories


Going Back to School

School is about to kick off so I figured for this week's post I would go back to school... figuratively not literally.


I loved school growing up. The thought of learning was so intriguing to me, and I always wanted more. Not only learning, but understanding the material, and doing well at it(A+ student all the way). So unlike most kids I was pretty happy when summer ended, and I could go back. Especially when it meant shopping for new notebooks, binders, color pencils, etc.


There was one subject in particular though that seemed to haunt me throughout elementary and middle school...English class.


Surprising right!


For some reason spelling and writing didn't come as naturally to me as math or science. I always seemed to struggle no matter how hard I tried. I loved telling stories verbally(something I consider a great skill now), but when it came to structuring and whether or not a word had an 'e' at the end of it was my down fall.


Where it all started

During my sixth grade year, I had ended up with the teacher I did not want. Just from the sad expressions on the older kids faces, that had her before I did, you could tell she was not someone you would want to spend most of your week with.


I understood why very quickly.


For a week we'd been going over how to structure stories. In particular, the first paragraph. According to her, the first paragraph to every story needed to have the time and the setting stated. If you, like most people, have read novels or books know this isn't true.


For my story, I'd written several paragraphs detailing the setting. If I remember correctly it had to do with seals laying on the sand basking in the sun as the waves rolled in. My mom, an English major, and teacher herself even looked over it impressed with the writing.


The next day, I remember eagerly walking up to the teacher's desk after she had called my name to check the first part of our assignment.


She took two looks at it, and with her pen crossed a big red X across the entire paper, then yelled at me for not putting the time and setting in the first paragraph. I tried pointing out to her the sandy beach was in fact the setting, and you could tell the time by the way the seals were basking in the sun found high in the sky.


Nope, it wasn't good enough. According to her I didn't say it out right which meant it was wrong.


I walked back to my desk tears streaming from my eyes. Never in my life had I ever had a teacher cross out an assignment like that.


I remember going home and complaining to my parents. They, of course, being my parents threw a fit. Especially my mom, who like I said, was also a teacher and English major.


The next day she went and spoke with my teacher. I remember my mom telling her that no good story is formatted the way my teacher was presenting it. Yes, we were only 12 years old and learning how to structure a story, but it shouldn't be so cookie cutter.


My teacher finally gave in letting me keep the original paragraphs I'd written even though they "didn't tell the time like 4:13pm".


I went on to write an awesome story about a pod of killer whales(I had a fascination for them and still sort of do) who were in danger of fisherman. I even made it a 3D pop up story that I read in front of the class. I still have it!


Even though the big red X still haunts me to this day I did learn in that moment. First, to stand up for your writing, because it's probably better than you think, and secondly, you don't have to write stories in such a structured format. Stand out from the crowd, and be different than everyone else, because that's what makes your work intriguing. Let the readers imagine, and don't write everything out so plainly... it's boring!


The College Years

I did often think of the big red X moving into my later school years, but found myself struggling less as I was placed with loving and understanding teachers who happened to embraced and enjoyed my storytelling.


I've mentioned her in past posts, but the whole reason I wrote Princess Gabriella and the Never-Ending Kiss is due to my wonderful English teacher my senior year. If it wasn't for her the story would've never been told.


Then I started my freshman year of college, and found my biggest fan in Writing 101. My professor loved what I wrote to the point where she would often read my stuff in front of the class. It was honestly uplifting compared to the big red X.


For one assignment in particular, we had to interview someone important and write an essay on their story of resiliency. My professor didn't even let me have a moment to think about options as she automatically assigned me the Student Body President, and the interview was already scheduled.


Somehow my professor managed to secure a deal with several investors to create a book focused on resiliency. In the end, every student in a writing 101 class, on campus, had to do the assignment, but only the best essays would be chosen.


After everyone's essay were written, my professor met with students individually to begin choosing the best of the best essays. I remember sitting in her office patiently waiting as she read mine. Without a word she grabbed scissors from her desk drawer, and like a craft project began cutting my paper.


A flashback of the big red X I received as a child was flooding back.


Tape started flying and the next thing I know she was handing back my paper. "I had to move two sentences around, but otherwise it's perfect," she said.


I remember looking down at my paper confused. She couldn't have just done that with a pen?


"Your story is the best one. I'm going to have it be the first chapter of the book," is all she said then shooed me out of her office.


So, without further ado, here is my essay which went on to be published with a few other hand selected essays.




A Grandmother’s Dream


All it takes is one step.


I finally reached my destination of the little campus coffee shop and stood searching the faces of individuals as they passed hoping one would connect with mine. I should have told her what I looked like. It would have made finding each other much easier. But seconds after this thought occurred, a smiling face appeared out of a crowd. She walked straight to me introducing herself as Teresa.


She offered to buy me a drink before starting, but I hesitated grabbing at my debit card. She insisted. We both ordered a delicious Strawberry Italian Soda and found a deserted table. After settling in, as our small talk gained more depth, the sounds of people chatting, tapping of keyboards, and the wafting smell of freshly made coffee surrounded us.


It’s all about taking that first step...leap... jump at an opportunity to begin the adventure of a lifetime. Sometimes people have to be pushed while others are ready for the path that lies ahead of them. Even though they might be afraid, they eventually land on that path no matter how they got there. These people are known in the community as leaders. They know their direction and will do anything to follow it. But then there are others who decide to sit on the side-lines, and watch as the others follow the path that is ahead of them. These people are known as followers. They do not know which direction they should go... straight... left... right... maybe even backwards. They need someone to take their hand and lead them to where they are supposed to go. This is the place Teresa started out.


Teresa leaned against the café wall, eyes searching a distant memory. “I remember having a conversation with my grandmother when I was twelve or thirteen. I told her I was never going to go to college. She told me ‘I would've given anything to go to school.’ And it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I understood my grandmother’s story about why she had said that to me.” Teresa continued, “My grandmother was the oldest of ten children, and a mother of thirteen, and as the oldest of ten and a girl, she had to drop out of school in the eighth grade, and become a helper. So all my grandmother’s siblings were able to go to school. Then she had thirteen children, and obviously when you are feeding that many kids there is more responsibility on your shoulders as well. So, here is a woman who opened these opportunities for everyone else simply because the door was shut on her.” I found myself speechless as Teresa ended her story eager for my next question. I was so absorbed I'd forgotten everything around me. She looked at me seeing if I had grasped the knowledge of her story. I nodded unable to find words.


Teresa continued on telling how at a young age, she didn’t even want to go on a path that many strive towards. Furthermore, if she wanted to go to college there was still one thing blocking her path- her parents would not help her financially. So, if Teresa wanted to go to college, she would have to do it on her own. The years passed and Teresa started traveling the world getting odd jobs such as nannying two twin boys and becoming a ski instructor, earning her way into the world.


One day, she finally decided to get up from the side-lines, dust herself off, and take the path that had been neglected for so long. She was going to go to college.

I found myself transfixed on Teresa as she gestured wildly, eyes fixed on me. “Going to school was a big decision because my parents were so hands off after high school.” Teresa proceeded as she reached for her Italian Soda, taking a sip. I nodded agreeing with her statement.


Teresa held the cup tightly with both hands as she went on to explain her story. She worked her way through the ups and downs climbing her way to the top with the help of friends and family. She joined the MSU Leadership Foundation where one is taught the skills of becoming a leader. Not only did she do that, but Teresa became ASMSU Student Body President of MSU in 2009 with the help and support of her peers and her then boyfriend, but now husband. There she helped lead the student senate to support groups around campus. Teresa had become a leader. Yet, she does not say that she is a “leader”; she says she is just somebody that has the potential qualities of a leader. She is, “Someone who helps others get to the path that they [might not take action by] themselves.”


After leaving the comfort of the coffee shop and saying goodbye to Teresa, I found myself looking back on every word that had been said about becoming a leader and of her grandmother’s story. Teresa had finished “And so it wasn’t a story that I necessarily understood then, but it’s a story that I get tons of drive for now. My goal in becoming a University President is to give education to those who don’t have a chance which is what my grandmother did on a very personal level. That is what I want to do.” I couldn’t believe the path Teresa had decided to take had led her to such amazing achievements.


Going into the interview, I did not know what to expect, but after talking to Teresa I know anything is possible. Teresa had come so far. It goes to show that when someone takes one step onto a path of opportunities they can go far in life. I understood in becoming a leader, it will be a tough road, but if you just keep trying you will eventually get there. One day, I hope to be a great leader like Teresa. I just have to take that first step to the opportunities that are laid out to before me.


I asked myself what is my next step, and now I ask you, where is your next step going to lead you?

Final Thoughts

Overall, for only being allowed two pages to write, I think I hit the nail on the head for the assignment. While also getting a good story out of it.


I do have to say it was a huge confidence boost to have an essay of mine published, and to have a teacher supporting my writing. To this day, I run into my old professor around town, every few years, and we chat about all the projects we're currently working on.


So, just remember if you're going back to school those big red X's might actually give you opportunities and teach you lessons you didn't know you needed in the first place.


Here's back to school 2021!









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