When I was 12, I wrote my first short story. It was called "The Trials and Tribulations of the Seventh Grade", and it was awful. It was about about seventh grade students that teach their overbearing teacher a lesson of her own when they set a liquidy water trap that sends her careening down the hall. This stunningly ridiculous incidence is enough to cause introspection within the offending teacher, and an apology to the class. A happy ending ensues with the teacher and students doing crafts and singing Kumbaya.
I issued four printed copies of this masterpiece, covered with gruesome, hand-drawn illustrations of seventh graders that were, apparently, part ape and part skeleton. The only person besides my mother who read the story, cover to hideous cover, was my seventh grade teacher, Ms. Stoops.
Ms. Stoops thought my short story was amazing. Ms. Stoops, herself, was an amazing person. Ms. Stoops thought all of my creative efforts, including short stories, poetry, and historical mobiles, were worthy of praise. She wore crazy, colorful clothing, and when I'd bring her one of my nauseatingly trite poems, she would act it out in front of the blackboard, bringing life and drama to the flat words scrawled in my green poetry notebook. She encouraged me to be as creative as possible and celebrated each of my artistic accomplishments in her loving, theatrical style. She challenged me to have a bigger impact, to take bigger risks, and to share my inside with the world around me.
This blog exists, in no small part, because of Ms. Stoops. Because I trust that other people may find value or amusement in what I write, as Ms. Stoops once did. My lab exists, in no small part, because of Ms. Stoops. Because someone once pushed me to develop creative ideas of my own making.
I am grateful.
I am grateful I told her what she meant to my life and my career. I learned today that she has died at the too-soon age of 55. I am grateful that she impacted scores of other children during her life, and I know the world is a better, more interesting place because she was in it.
It is my hope that each one of us has a Ms. Stoops somewhere - someone with a big mind and a big heart to validate our fantastical efforts and to encourage us to move beyond the ordinary.