Recently, word reached me that one of my high school teachers had passed. From the time I realized that my future rested not on any physical gifts, but of mental, there have been three influences I never met and three teachers that shaped me. All six can be considered mentors for anything that has been written or created by my hand. Four out of those six have now gone on to immortality.
The celebrity ones include Harlan Ellison, Stan Lee, and the still living Kevin Smith. Anyone familiar with one let alone all three of those creators can see echos of them in any word with my name on it. Granted all three of them found fame directly or indirectly through comics. Good. Because that’s where I want to be. I’m not going to write a Victorian romance novel, nor an in depth study of the salt trade routes through history. On the other hand, there’s a good chance that I have my own deconstruction of super heroes tale, my own epic Odyssean journey, and/or the research and knowledge for a history of a forgotten four color hero. Ellison made literature out of what other writers considered lesser tales of space or horror. Smith let a generation know that it’s okay to question what has been drilled in by previous generations and sometimes point a big middle finger to say, no you’re wrong. Stan Lee showed me that every world is endless. This one, his, and every other in between including those that have yet to be created or discovered.
Then there are the ones I knew. Two teachers in college, and one in high school. The interesting thing about my high school English teacher who just died and inspired this is that in her obituary I discover we attended the same grade school, high school, and college. Oh, and she also had a love of finding and selling antiques. A is for apple which does not fall far away from the tree of knowledge.
My late high school teacher literally changed my life. While many will say that about teachers the line can be a stretch. I have nothing but conviction and proof of this. For those unaware New York state has mandatory tests called Regents which decide whether or not a student earns a high school diploma. Most of these are given by the end of junior year thus giving one more year to either make them up or prepare for college with advanced classes. The English regents is given junior year. I took it, forgot about it, and moved on to studying for the next one.
While taking that final test I was paged to my English teacher’s office when I was done. A great panic swelled. Clearly I had failed the English test, would now have to take summer school, thus upsetting my family and bringing great shame to my name. There are few times in my life where I have been more wrong.
Turns out I excelled. Second highest score in the school. She informed me that she had taken the liberty to completely redo my senior year schedule in order for me to now take AP English. “Where you belong.” I had been walking down to the local comic book shop multiple days after school since third grade. Where I belonged was on the fringes looking in but never feeling welcome inside.
Little did I know that these writers and those that came along after and inspired by them would in turn educate me. Two brothers at war over a kingdom is both Shakespearean and Asgardian. A man doing his best to control his inner demons is Hyde and Hulk. The only son from the heavens with strange powers who comes to Earth to inspire us all to be better is Jesus and Superman. And a kid buying comic after comic after comic with any money he could scrape up built up a vocabulary and love of writing that he wasn’t finding in Silas Marner, but was just as educational. I knew what words meant, I knew how to tell a story, and thus I scored high. Now it was time for someone to hone that.
She taught me how to read Shakespeare and a light went off. Those who have also had that revelation understand, and those that don’t, keep trying. Now these tales of power, betrayal, scheming, intrigue – it’s all there – came alive just as much as anything that went Biff Bam Pow. Heart of Darkness, The Lottery, and from her personal collection as an extra credit assignment, knowing full well what she was doing, Fahrenheit 451.
Most of all I now believed I could read any tale because someone else convinced me I was smart enough. The longest books were no longer a threat. Every tome had it’s own merit. Preferences were great but there’s no need to close oneself off to the world of other genres. Now, she did shut down my request to read On the Road but what white male sometime between 15-25 have a Kerouac phase? I don’t think it was anything against the book or me, but more likely her own desire to not read about it yet again.
One college mentor died a few years ago. One I haven’t spoken to in close to ten years. No reason, life happens and suddenly years have gone by. While it is common place for people to plea to let your family know you love them, I now see a need to thank those who have inspired you. I am positive this teacher didn’t realize how much one grade, and one simple schedule shift, changed my life.