Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 12, 2018

My English Teacher Lays Down the Law and Tells It Like It Is

Cross my heart and hope to die, as I live and breathe, I’ll never forget the day. If I live to be a hundred, it’ll still seem like it was yesterday.

The holiday break was over, we sharpened out pencils, gritted our teeth, girded our loins and headed back to high school. Little did I suspect ─ I had no clue ─ it would be the moment that changed my life, turned me topsy-turvy and ─ I kid you not ─ made me the writer I am today.

First period was Mrs. Drake’s Senior English class. She was one of a kind. They broke the mold after they made her: firm but fair, a heart of gold beneath a steely exterior. She laid it out for us, spelled out the requirements for the year’s big project: research reports ─ every Senior’s bête noire, avenging angel and day of reckoning.

Then she gave us some writing advice, and it really rang my bell; you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. It landed on me like a ton of bricks, although for the rest of the kids it went over like a lead balloon. I didn’t know which end was up, whether I was coming or going; I was fit to be tied. It packed a wallop, carried the day, filled the bill, and that very moment, I woke up and smelled the coffee. I jumped for joy and felt like a kid in a candy store. Just wait ‘til I tell you; it’ll knock your socks off.

At lunch in the cafeteria that day, I sat with the guys, Jeeks and Ho-Jo, the genius and the jock. Lunch was the usual: looked like fish, tasted like chicken, smelled like a locker room. We bemoaned our fates, faced with the dreaded specter of the research reports. Jeeks lightened our load with some choice words about being back at school that had us laughing like hyenas.

At that very moment the cutest and smartest girl in the class, the apple of everyone’s eye, sashayed past us. Ho-Jo dug deep and gave her his best shot: “So, Cassie, got your research report written yet?”

Without missing a beat or batting an eyelash, she was on that quip like white on rice and rolled over him like a freight train. She lowered the boom and settled his hash.

“At least I know how to write, Ho-Jo.”

I flipped out, Jeeks blew his cool, snorting with laughter and Ho-Jo simply lost it. He was down for the count, flat on his back, dead as a doornail. She’d laid him low, locked him up and thrown away the key.

Let’s face it, gang, when it came to girls we were all a day late and a dollar short. I was glad I’d held my tongue because there but for the grace of God went I. No doubt about it, those were halcyon times.

What did Mrs. Drake tell us about the secret of writing success that never-to-be-forgotten day? It was the piece de resistance, the frosting on the cake and it hit me like a thunderclap:

“Under no circumstances ─ ever! ─ give me writing that uses clichés. They’re the indication of a lazy mind, the product of careless thinking, and proof you have nothing worthwhile to say. You must be cognizant!”

As you can see, it was a word to the wise and I bend over backwards to put it to the acid test. To this very day I thank my lucky stars. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Katherine Drake was the memorable individual who taught my freshman and senior English classes. I hope she’s laughing, somewhere. If not, I’m in trouble. Thanks, Mrs. Drake.

© Brad Nixon 2018

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Responses

  1. And the irrefutable proof of the wisdom of Mrs. Drake’s advice? Even though this post is humorous, and neatly constructed, and filled with more cliches than I could have come up with, I barely could get through it. About halfway through, I was thinking, “Uh… this is getting tedious!”

    Great post, and a wonderful illustration of a truth too many writers haven’t absorbed.

    Like

    • Thanks. It may not be the greatest testament to Mrs. Drake’s tutelage that once I started thinking of cliches, they flowed from my pen like water through a sieve … oops.

      Liked by 1 person

    • If you’ll pardon me, I have one more thing to say, inspired by a former classmate who commented on Facebook. I started compiling cliches, with no story line in mind. Eventually, I realized that Mrs. Drake was watching over my shoulder, ready to pounce, 50 years after I left her classroom. That kind of teacher. Unforgettable, and always sitting in judgment, in the most positive sense.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had one of those teachers: a professor in seminary who used texts like The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick to impress certain lessons on our minds.

        He was given to approaching one of us in class, putting both hands on our desk and hissing, “Your words are beautiful. Your words are elegant. But are your words true?”

        He also had a sign above his desk that said, “Creato, Ergo Sum. I loved that man.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise, but I probably don’t know that many clichés, and I certainly could not come up with that many cliches to write a coherent story about the subject. 🙂

    Like


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