One of my most memorable teachers was my English teacher for many years, Mrs. Buckmaster. She was an amazing lady, who we have since lost, but she most definitely lives on inside my drive, my ambition to write and read, and in my love of the written word. It was Mrs. Buckmaster who turned me onto reading and writing. I think it is important to have that one teacher, hopefully more if that is available, but I will always remember Mrs. Buckmaster as the teacher who allowed me to escape through reading.
She would often bring me books by Danielle Steele, Jackie Collins, Sidney Sheldon and it was through these books that I actually learned about myself and who I was on the inside. I knew I was a good kid, always making straight A's, honor roll, but it wasn't enough. I needed more and it was through these books that I learned about what it meant to know there were others like me out in the world. We didn't get computers in our school until much later in my high school career, but I was fine with that because I had the world that Jackie Collins created, with her gangsters and sexy characters, but it was in one of her books that I read about my first gay character. It resonated with me, it hit deep within me and I knew from the moment I read those words on the page just what I was. Believe me, it made a world of difference. To go through life in a rural community, with no computers, no other gay people like me that I knew about was very difficult. I was not good at hiding it, even though I thought I was, because it felt like a daily experience of getting called gay, sissy or fag. Out of sheer protection mode I would always deny it, but I also knew they were right. Thank you Jackie for giving me my first experience with a character I could connect with. It changed my entire world.
As I continued to grow up and move onto other teachers, I was given the opportunity to get more exposure to writing, poetry and play scripts. I believe I was 17 when I had my first poem published. A very proud moment indeed. But I had always known I had wanted to write from a very early age and I also considered myself an entrepreneur so I was always working, cleaning houses, picking blackberries in the pastures of our farm and selling them by the quart. This allowed me to "sneak" into the Doubleday Book Club where I was able continue ordering books by the dozen and reading them just as fast. I honestly can't remember if I got in trouble when mom found out or not, but I survived if I did. She always encouraged me, as did my father, but my mother has always been a huge fan of mine. She never tried to discourage my imagination and believe me, it was that imagination which carried me through some very depressing stages of my life. If I had not been able to escape and create some worlds, I am talking as a young child and preteen I honesty don't know if I would still be here. I believe it saved my life.
This is one of the biggest reasons I feel compelled to create these worlds in my books; it brings back moments in time where I found my own resilience, my own perseverance and my own will to survive. Which I did or I wouldn't be writing this to you today. But what I am hoping you take away from this, is never try to stop a child's creativity, never try to sequester their innovations, yes you need to monitor them to make sure they are healthy outlets, but let them be creative. Let them enjoy their drawing, writing, singing, dancing (yes my father threw a fit when I wanted to take ballet), but let them be children. Let them stay young a long as possible, because when it comes time for them to grow up and take on responsibility, they will thank you for it. They will treasure those moments they got to be themselves, to live life on their terms and in their own imaginary worlds.
Have a peaceful night!
Johnny Bryan Ward
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