Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Literacy Autobiography

I’ve always loved reading and writing. My mother was a 3rd grade teacher so, naturally, she wanted to teach me to read. However, being very stubborn and independent, I was extremely resistant to being taught. I wanted to figure it out on my own. My father read to me every night. Soon, I had several books memorized. I looked at the words and matched them to the sounds. My mom said I came into her room one night and just started reading aloud to her. It was a book I was not familiar with so she knew I was reading and not just memorizing. I loved reading because I could lose myself in my imagination. I would sit and read for hours, until my mom forced me out of the house to play. Math, on the other hand, was never so easy.  I began keeping a journal in 2nd grade and keep one to this day. I use writing to organize my thoughts, process my emotions, and brainstorm new ideas. Through reading, writing, and speaking, my brain processes new information and makes connections in ways I never realized before. In high school, I was fortunate enough to have several different, wonderful English teachers, each who taught me something new. All of them were very positive and supporting, always encouraging me to be brave and try my new ideas. My freshman high school English teacher, Mr. Graff, emphasized using imagery in our writing. He never allowed us to use any form of the word, “to be”. This was extremely challenging but resulted in much stronger verb choices. We wrote lots of short stories and memoirs, the latter, which I naturally loved. It’s always easiest to write what you know. I wrote a short story, “The Empty Trailer”, about the death of my first horse, Topper. Every teacher who read it cried, much to my surprise. I felt empowered that I could so strongly translate my feelings to my readers. In addition, my teachers always gave me such positive feedback that reading and writing always made me feel successful and boosted my confidence.

As a senior at The Asheville School in North Carolina, we were required to write a senior thesis on a theme based on several books. I choose death and dying as my theme. Despite its outwardly grim and morbid appearance, I learned a lot about chronic illness and how patients that are terminally ill face the transition to death. I was able to read from many different books on this theme, including Albert Camus’ The Plague to Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying. I gave the theme a whole new perspective, shedding light on how to support terminally ill patients, how to cope with the loss of a loved one, and how to come to terms with one’s own inevitable end. At first, the committee of teachers guiding me rejected my first draft, deciding it wasn’t following the original assignment, which was intended to be more of a literary review. I felt deflated; I had worked extremely hard on my thesis, only to have it be rejected. Just before I began re-writing, my committee called me back for an impromptu meeting. Initially, I was anxious, believing I was in trouble. My teachers told me they had debated for several hours but, ultimately, decided I had gone above and beyond what the assignment required, showing creativity and initiative. They embraced my ideas, and I was successful in changing the teachers’ minds. Upon graduation, I received a special award for my thesis. I felt very proud that I had done something to revolutionize the thesis at the Asheville School.

After high school, I entered college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in molecular biology. Some of my English teachers were disappointed that I didn’t pursue English, but I chose the sciences because I found them interesting and more applicable to a future career path. (I still didn’t know at the time that I would become a teacher). I loved my science classes, although they were all-consuming and very challenging. I didn’t have to take many English classes since I scored so highly on my AP exam. However, I loved creative writing and dreamed (I still do) of publishing my own memoir one day. My favorite class was a summer course in creative writing. I would spend hours by Lake Mendota on the terrace by the Student Union, writing in my journal. I loved having assignments that forced me to write. Each class was an active discussion, review, and critique of each other’s writing. I loved the feedback and learned how to make my writing more convincing and concise.

Upon completing college, I went on to pursue my doctorate in cell and molecular biology at Washington University in St. Louis. All of my reading and writing became science-oriented. I felt pigeon-holed into reading hordes of tedious, technical writing. My professors ripped apart my papers. I had been trained in creative writing, not science writing. I had to re-learn writing all over again, including the technical format of a science paper, the jargon, and never-ending acronyms. Technical writing took all the fun out of one of my favorite past-times. In addition, I feared it would ruin my creative writing abilities.

I resented not having enough time to read novels or being able to write creatively, though I still found time to write in my journal. In addition, I created a blog as an outlet, which highlighted my pursuits and learning experiences in triathlon, an avid hobby of mine. This blog, “Diary of an Amateur Triathlete”, became unexpectedly popular and eventually received accolades in the Wall Street Journal. I will never forget that day. It was quite a surprise. I was on the road to a race, trying to escape the fires of 2008 in San Diego. My parents, who subscribe to WSJ, called me, read an excerpt from my blog, and asked if that was my writing. I was shocked as they read my words aloud over the phone. I knew they didn’t surf the web reading blogs. “Where did you get that?” I asked.
     “It’s in the Wall Street Journal!” they replied. Turns out, the WSJ randomly picked my blog for their column, “Blogs of Note”. That was probably one of the proudest moments of my life.  

Since then, I continue to journal, blog, and write. I’ve been working on changing my triathlon blog of five years into a memoir. I’m on chapter 6. Even if it never gets published, I love memoirs and journals because I can give my most treasured memories immortality.

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