From as young as seven years old, people have always told me I’m “good at English.” It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to accept that, though.
It must have all started with the diary entries. I’d go to elementary school for the day, come back home, grab my highly esteemed blue furry Littlest Pet Shop notebook, and write for hours about anything that felt relevant. The notebook had a lock on it, and I prized my privacy about as much as most children do. Anytime my parents encouraged me to grow my “natural talent” or they wanted to read my work, I’d blush and shy away, claiming it was nothing. I wrote like that for years until I changed my outlet in middle school.
One of my best friends in middle school, Maggie, had a knack for writing too. At that time in my life, I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly, but Maggie took the time to connect with me through my writing. During chapels or after school during lazy afternoons, we’d fill up a composition book with an episodic novel we daringly named Hostage. I spent all my free time designing a juvenile book cover with flames and dramatic font on it for our joint novel, and I remember eighth grade being one of the best years of my life thanks to Maggie and that after-school project.
In tenth grade I took a general classical literature course with Mrs. Martin, and that class stoked the fire inside of me that needed to tell a story, that needed to find the most efficient way to communicate. That class resembled an awakening for me in so many ways, from realizing I had chronic social anxiety to the short story I’m most proud of. I still remember the mandatory public reading of the Odyssey that Mrs. Martin required, where everybody had to read a paragraph of the epic, and my heart pounded waiting for my turn to read a work I adored yet dreaded reading out loud. I realized then that I dreaded the spoken word like someone dreads a breakup. I knew public speaking was inevitable, unavoidable, yet the most dominant feeling I had surrounding public speaking was pure, unmitigated fear. I couldn’t get my words out right, I didn’t have time to think through everything as I spoke, and I certainly wasn’t as eloquent as I knew I had the potential to be. The anxiety posed a heavy burden for a fifteen-year-old. But that dread explained the solace paper held for me. The paper on my desk always listened, allowed mistakes, and emanated patience.
And I believe that’s why I slaved over the short story due at the end of that class. I believe I titled it “The Missing,” or a title along those lines. The story followed a girl’s hike in the woods until she stumbled upon a clearing with hundreds of missing posters tacked onto the trees. On the posters were missing dates for every single person, and the girl gradually grew more and more afraid until she turned around and saw her face and name on a missing poster. The missing date was the day of her hike, and the story ended with a blood-curdling scream. The short story was a little cheesy, but my teacher praised the work with public and private positive feedback.
I didn’t write on a regular basis following that experience until my two years of AP English in high school. The teacher for that class had quite the reputation: Dr. Massengill, the stalwart, critical former college professor. By the end of my first week in her class, I knew it was going to be my favorite class I’d ever taken in high school. She was so perfectly ruthless in her feedback and lectures, and far too many people confused that with callousness. But she was also kind, gentle, and caring, and most students didn’t realize that because they only ever interacted with her when they received a bad grade on a research paper. I felt like an untouched bonsai tree in her class, and every lecture was her best attempt to selectively snip the critical thinking and writing habits that were extraneous while maintaining the framework that needed to stay. I stood amazed at most lectures as she represented every day an opinionated, well-spoken woman that also had a remarkable character and compassion to her. I hadn’t witnessed the presence of many women like that up to that point in my life, besides maybe my mother, and for the first time in my life I felt as if maybe I had the potential to be gentle but also to speak loudly, to combat error aggressively when needed. I cultivated my ability to form arguments and recognized that thought patterns I could never efficiently put together in the spoken word simply fell onto the page in the written word.
By my senior year, I harbored a growing desire to be an English major in college. But, for some reason, my surroundings convinced me that to be an English major was to choose selfishness. I had always been decent at studying, and my parents claimed I had phenomenal book smarts. Now, street smarts, that’s another matter for me. But I knew I could apply myself to almost any major, and I questioned if there was even any way I could help people as an English major. After all, I was a Christian, and compassion had always been a guiding force and motivation in my social circles. So instead of choosing the major I adored, I chose to major in communication disorders. Communication disorders specializes in speech therapy and studying how the body produces speech, and I loved that major too, just never as much as English.
For my freshman elective, I decided to take British literature for fun. It was my first class with Dr. McNeely, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I still remember the first time I read “Tam O’ Shanter,” a comedic Scottish poem, and the energy and humor with which McNeely taught it. We also spent multiple lectures studying “Goblin Market,” a lengthy Rossetti poem warning against materialism. My, I probably called so many friends and family from home to excitedly tell them about both works. Dr. McNeely could show and spread excitement about any topic, and I wanted to be capable of that same enthusiasm. You couldn’t possibly imagine how giddy he gets over Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Yet, I remained at school as a communication disorders major, and I probably would’ve passively continued in that major my entire time at Bob Jones University if the Lord hadn't shaken my life plans and ordained a gap year for me during my sophomore year.
I traveled home to Raleigh, North Carolina, for my gap year. My, I should’ve predicted where the Lord was leading my life. I literally read classic literature in my free time, and I plowed through Anna Karenina that year when I wasn’t at my nannying job. I also honed my poetry writing that year, a hobby I'd had since 2017 but didn’t take seriously until my gap year. Toward the end of my gap year, I self-published a small collection of poetry on Amazon, and it isn’t necessarily a monumental literary feat by any means. But it was enough for me to wake up and realize I was going to be miserablefor the rest of my life unless I was working with words. Paper symbolized an abundance of comforts for me. I loved how the same paper that listened to the works of Homer, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde could also choose to hear and store my works.
Within forty-eight hours after publishing my book, I called Bob Jones University and changed my major. Although the change caught my family and friends off-guard, no one was surprised, including me. After all, I was only honoring the dreams of that diary-obsessed seven-year-old, the scribbling middle schooler, the hopeful tenth grader, and the enamored high school graduate I once was. The next semester I excitedly marched onto campus and enrolled in so many courses I got giddy simply imagining. Multiethnic World Literature with Dr. McNeely, Early American Romanticism with Dr. St John, Late Shakespearean Works with Dr. Rose. I felt like a girl wandering in a flower field in those classes, and every bit of knowledge and experience was an untouched, pure flower I picked up and put in a bouquet. My bouquet is significantly larger now than I ever expected, and I hope to continue gleaning from brilliant works and brilliant professors for the rest of my life. No words, although that’s essentially my major, could ever describe how indebted I feel to my major: for the confidence and security and curiosity my field has blessed me with. I’ve always had people tell me I could make a splendid literature teacher, someone who could genuinely get excited over the works of Virgil or Thoreau. I’ve always combatted the idea, but who knows? Maybe I could become the next Dr. Massengill or Dr. McNeely, inspiring the next generation of thinkers and writers that find clarity in and on paper.