I was fifteen when I fell in love with writing. Yes, that photo is of me, on the very left, when I was fifteen. I had a long way to go until I got here. I even had different colored hair! But you have to start somewhere, don’t you?
It was not a gradual falling-in-love. Rather, it was sudden and all at once, like diving off a cliff. Now reading, I had always loved. I was obsessed with Caroline B. Cooney’s dark stories such as THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON and TWINS, whose twisted characters will forever be imprinted in my mind. After reading every single one of her books in the middle school and Penfield town library, I knew I loved reading. But the moment I knew I loved writing was when I was in Mr. Mahoney’s English class. We had just begun reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
Mr. Mahoney was a sort of myth of a man. He was tall with dark hair that he kept very short or shaved, if I remember correctly, and piercing aqua eyes that he’d use to implore you with difficult questions that made me wonder if I had even read the text he was talking about at all (I seemed to fail most of his multiple-choice quizzes. I was much better with the writing portions). He had sanskrit writings tattooed on each of his arms, so of course we could never decipher what they meant (some thought they were curses; others said they were for each of his children). There was a rumor that said he had an enormous tattoo of a lion on his stomach, which none of us ever saw. It played into his mythology quite nicely.
Mr. Mahoney walked about the classroom with his head at a slight tilt at all times, and his hands behind his back, and he loomed over you with a palpable intensity as you wrote your morning journal entry, which was always catalyzed by an esoteric question written on the chalkboard. There was always a seriousness in his class, an enigmatic feeling. We all felt it. We felt it especially because the texts he chose for our class lent themselves to this feeling. Out of every sophomore English class, only Mr. Mahoney’s read DEMIAN by Hermann Hesse, a book that I remember so vividly it is as if I had read it yesterday. The weirdness of its tale and that glorious phoenix have crept into my own writing subconsciously.
On the first day of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Mr. Mahoney had a student read the first few paragraphs aloud. He was a proponent of making texts come alive (for MACBETH I was the valiant Macduff and Mr. Mahoney helped Macbeth and I choreograph a sword-fight death scene). After the first paragraph had been uttered aloud, Mr. Mahoney stopped the reader and relished in the words. He paused, and then he re-read this sentence, “Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” And he said how glorious that sentence was, and how fine it rang when spoken aloud, and how that is the proper way to open a book.
I fell in love with that sentence because of how well I could picture it in my mind: “and by nightfall they were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” I saw those ladies, and I saw their faces like soft powdered cakes, and I pictured their blush as powdered sugar and the dark dampness of their brows to the touch. That is when I knew I wanted to write. I have Mr. Mahoney to thank for that.