From the Dusty Mental Archives: The Ones Who Inspire…

If a writer is lucky enough to get anywhere, I think it’s important to look back now and then at the people who helped make that possible. So I scrounged around in the dusty mental archives for this look at the people who helped inspire me at a critical point in my life, and two in particular: Mr. Halliday and J.D. Lafrance.

Everyone has certain teachers they remember fondly. Few people have as much impact on us when we’re growing up and trying to figure ourselves out—even if we don’t realize it at the time.  One of them, Mr. Stewart, I was fortunate enough to have for several years—either for home room or history. He was in many ways the ideal teacher—he amused as well as taught (a great combination) and he got you interested in the events themselves.

Then there was Mr. Lynd in Classics. I only had him one year, but that man was cool. He spoke with a refined voice, like he’d been raised in a British boarding school without actually being British. Rumour had it he’d been a male model, and worked at archaeological digs in Europe. He also had, I believe, a photographic memory. When I returned nearly ten years after graduation, he recognized me on sight (and acted like I was late for something). He made you wonder how the hell he ended up in a place like Oshawa.

But the teacher who had the most impact on me was Mr. Halliday, my grade 11 English teacher. And the funny thing is how little I can recall about him. I had to look him up in my yearbook just to remember what he looked like. The sad thing is, I remember next to nothing about him.

Except for one moment.

One day, in the middle of class, he asked to see me out in the hall. I thought I was in trouble—though I didn’t have a clue what for. I’m paranoid that way. To this day, when someone asks to see me, I always assume it’s because I screwed up somehow, and never because of anything good. And in this case, it wasn’t without reason. I tended to treat English class as a time to experiment with writing—not with any serious purpose in mind, but for fun. In short, daydreaming with my pen. 

But I wasn’t in trouble. Instead, he said something I hadn’t expected at all, and while the exact words have faded from memory, it went something like this:

“When I look at the work you hand in, I see such great potential there. I think, if you wanted to be, you could be a real writer. I only wish I had the skills needed to teach you more.”

I really wish I could remember the exact words, and he said more to this effect, but this was the sentiment. Now, I have a BS sensor when it comes to being patronized. My low self esteem at that age meant all praise was by default suspect and checked at the border for the proper identification papers. But I felt none of it here. None of that “Oh, that’s so nice, Noah, let me hang this up on the fridge” attitude parents use on their children. He genuinely believed I had what it took to be a writer… if I wanted to be one.

It was because of that moment that I really took the idea of being a writer seriously. It was one thing to play at it or daydream, but to be told by an adult, who only knew my work and not me at all, that I could make it? That’s the kind of validation that gets your motor running. It’s also when I started looking at the idea of getting published, and when the “Writer’s Handbook” (a two inch thick directory of publishers and agents) first came to my attention, though I didn’t do anything about it just yet. But from that point on, I always thought of myself as a writer first, and any other job would be just to pay the bills.

But we don’t just need validation from our elders, we need them from our peers as well. The first of my friends to also believe in me was J.D. Lafrance, probably my oldest friend. He encouraged me as well, enough so that I made a promise back then that when I got my first novel published, both Mr. Halliday and J.D. would be in the dedication. 

It’s a promise I kept, though I did end up adding to the list as well.

By the way, J.D. reviews movies with a film critic’s eye over at Radiator Heaven in case you’re interested!

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