Writing for Life

Madelyn enjoying a rest stop while hiking in Maine

Madelyn enjoying a rest stop while hiking in Maine

As I sit in my writing studio working on the publication of my book I recalled a writing achievement of mine that took place over 50 years ago. What is interesting is that I hadn’t thought about this for a long, long time—funny how long forgotten thoughts often return unbidden. It was at my high school, a private preparatory boarding school for boys in central Maine, where I was sent to prepare for college.  Day students from the local community and surrounding area were able to attend and their tuition was paid by the local towns. It was a great opportunity for a good education and I felt fortunate to attend this school. The focus for my writing achievement came in my junior year when all the students in my class had the main assignment for the year to write an essay that would be graded in both English and history.  It was a term paper of sorts with research, rough draft, foot notes, and bibliography.

In the beginning, the biggest obstacle for me was thinking of the subject. I couldn’t think of a topic for the life of me and it was a night mare that haunted me for weeks and weeks perhaps longer. I was reminded of my dilemma every day at school as this was the hot subject discussed by all my peers. My grandmother occasionally sent my mother a weekly supplement from a newspaper with articles of places and topics of interest. One day I noticed one about buildings of special interest. This triggered an idea and my topic was born, Churches of Maine.  I wrote about the architecture of the edifices, the smallest church, the largest church, the oldest church, unusual designs of churches and even ones with Paul Revere bells in the belfries.

The project progressed by steps that were required to be turned in for part of the final rank and finally the finished paper was completed. I couldn’t type so my mother agreed to type it for me. She was extremely busy and waited until the last minute promising to get it done on time. I went to bed the night before it was due with my mother busy typing away and next morning to my horror the typed paper wasn’t completed. I didn’t want to go to school. This had never happened before; my mother was always so dependable. My mother convinced me to go to school, she would finish typing it and meet me at lunch hour and give it to me. My English class was the last period in the afternoon. It was the worst day of my life!  I wanted to reread my finished paper and I had no time but I did get the paper and made it to class and vowed never again to let this happen.

So much rested on the grade of this essay that I waited in anticipation for the day when the graded papers were to be passed back. Then came the next step of the project, The Manson Essay contest. Once the teacher had the papers ranked, they were passed on to several judges and twelve were selected as semifinalists for the speaking contest.  In English class the winners were announced and to my surprise I was on the list.  We were given a few days to practice and then we met and read part of our essay to the judges. The list was chopped in half and five were chosen as the finalists as the Manson Essay finalists. I can still remember exactly where I was sitting in that English class more than 50 years ago when the English teacher read my name from the list. Then each of us had to memorize our entire essay by heart, practice on stage speaking loudly and clearly, with no microphone to assist us. We were encouraged to enunciate each word, and speak expressively. It was a history essay of facts not humor.

The evening of the performance the five finalists sat on stage each waiting our turn. Being empathetic of our fellow classmates I fully understood their plight as I sat there with my knees knocking, my mouth dry as the desert air and hardly a drop of breath, waiting for my turn. My turn came and I stood up and walked the few feet to the podium and tried to remember my written essay, The Churches of Maine. Everything I had practiced, speaking loudly, remembering to pause between sentences, looking at my audience raced through my mind as I recited my piece. Before I knew it I had finished. As I turned to sit down I heard the applause from the audience and from that moment on I knew that writing would take on a whole new meaning. Every aspect of life is like this, taking one step at a time, climbing the highest mountains, running a marathon on every continent and completing my book for others to share.