The Teacher Who Turned Me into a Writer.



REGARDLESS OF WHAT WE DO or how we do it, we’ve always had some help along the way. There was always someone who made a difference.

My someone was Myra Adams.

She was tough. She was demanding. She was, at the time, the meanest woman I’ve ever known.

Myra Adams taught high school English.

She must have been a knockout in her day.

Auburn hair.

High heels.

No hose.

And when she looked at you, it was looking down the barrel of .45 caliber revolver.

Up close.

You could smell the gunpowder.

And you knew she wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger.

In those days, teachers were serious about teaching and even more serious about our learning.

Myra Adams had three rules that were chiseled in stone.

No comma faults.

No comma errors.

No comma blunders.

Of course, she wasn’t too keen on comma splices either.

Make one and she quit reading your daily theme, weekly theme, or semester themes. She scratched a big “F” at the top of your paper, tossed it aside, and went on. If Moses had made a comma fault, comma error, or comma blunder while writing down the Ten Commandments, he would have never come down from the mountain.

I feared her. We all feared her. She held our lives in the palm of her hand, and we knew it.

Even in those days, I knew I wanted to be a writer. There was nothing noble about it. I couldn’t add and subtract and Algebra wanted me to look for X, and I had no idea that X was missing or where it might have gone. I always figured X would come home when it got hungry and never bothered to worry about it.

So I worked hard to be a writer in Myra Adams’ class.

I wrote one-word sentences.

I wrote one-word paragraphs.

If I could figure out how to make a sentence fragmentary and incomplete, I did it. After all, I had seen the big boys do it.

Myra Adams called me into her office one afternoon. In the Pit and the Pendulum, her office was the pit. And she knew how to make the pendulum swing.

She looked at me hard.

My heart looked for cover.

Her face was pinched, her eyes narrow.

“You think you’re a writer,” she said.

I nodded.

“You’re not a writer,” she said.

I nodded again.

“But I like the fact that you’re trying,” she said.

I smiled.

She didn’t.

I quit smiling.

“I’m going to make you a deal,” she said.

I waited.

“I will let you use one-word sentences and one-word paragraphs,” she said. “I will even let you throw in all of those God-awful incomplete sentences. But I want you to put an asterisk at the end of each mistake to let me know that you know it’s wrong, but you did it anyway.”

“I can do that,” I said.

One time that semester I saw Myra Adams smile.

This was the time.

“Thank you,” I said.

The decades have passed, and fortunately I’ve been able to make a living with the written word in newspapers, magazines, and publishing companies. I’ve even had a few books published along the way.

I still use one-word sentences.

I still use one-word paragraphs.

I still write with incomplete sentences.

But Myra Adams hasn’t cared because there has never been a comma fault, comma error, or comma blunder among them.

She taught me the greatest lesson of all.

Short sentences.

No commas.

No problem.


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