In high school and then again in college I always managed to get myself into the Creative Writing classes. And thanks to Roman Borgerding, my eleventh grade Creative Writing/Poetry teacher, I learned to love writing and reading poetry. In fact, I can singlehandedly thank Mr. Borgerding for giving me my love of writing. I thank him for recognizing my writing voice after I had ignored it for so long. I thank him for reminding me not to run from the very loud sound of my words. I thank him now this very second for remaining that very loud, strong, and brave voice that sings in my head. His voice sings when my Little-Engine-That-Could thinks it can’t. I tear up as I think of him. I smile as I think of him fighting for me, fighting for every single teenage soul that stepped into his class. I did not see it. Writing for creative purposes and making a career out of doing such a thing was something people like Anne Lamott, Tom Robbins, John Irving, Gabriel García Márquez and Judith Guest did. I was just some super-confused suburban teenager, transformed into a confused teenager who loved to write.
Nevertheless, Mr. Borgerding did that thing I think we all hope to do. He waved his crazy magic wand and gave me this big, giant spark. He believed in me. He believed in all of us! We were assigned to bring a spiral notebook, and then he told us to write and write and write some more. “Just keep on writing. Write out all of that garbage, and then write out even more garbage,” he would say, “Eventually you will find the beauty.” Guess what? He was absolutely correct! I had no idea the life lesson he was giving me. Move through the pain and garbage. Don’t skip or cheat the steps. Work it out and then work it out some more. Eventually, if you hold tight, stay strong, keep moving forward, take out the trash, you will come out on the other side. Hey and guess what? The other side is pretty amazing. It is filled with College degrees, well edited papers, rainbows, lollipops, healthy marriage, and grounded self esteem. Thank you, Mr. Borgerding. Your process really is the key.
In that Creative Writing class all those years ago we learned Ars Poetica and tried to be. He was right and it was not easy. I can tell you that most of the words I wrote, as Mr. Borgerding said, were complete and utter rubbish. I can still hear him now, as he stood there my notebook in hand, reading, “Garbage. Garbage,” [insert turning page sound here], “Garbage. Oh. Wait. Look. I think you may be getting closer. Keep on writing.” [insert a few of my teenage-girl-angst-filled-eye-rolls here] And then, I started to get it. He showed me how to find the beauty. Wow! Seriously, wow! It did not matter. I absolutely bought it. I believed I could write out the garbage, and that is what I started to do, and have continued to do ever since. Come on, some of us have really large trash cans.
Back then at Hopkins High School on Lindbergh Drive, tenacious me kept on writing and prayed for some beauty.
And then one day, somewhere between getting the trash out, and having a breakthrough, I was working my after school job at the Ridgedale Dayton’s. This particular evening I was working with my friend Ian in the Stationery, Luggage and Sporting Goods Department. Bored as we often were in that hidden corner of neglected Mont Blanc pens and Tumi luggage, I found myself looking through a clearance book display when I happened upon a Marilyn Monroe coffee table book. I was horrified when, flipping through the pages, I saw a picture of Marilyn Monroe in her casket. The picture was creepy and unexpected. “Hey Ian, you have to see this,” I said as I made him look.
And somehow during my after-school-job in a quiet corner of Dayton’s, the beginnings of my very frist poem were born. I had written out enough garbage, at least to get to this place. Oh, thank God!
(I have always had a soft spot for this little poem and yes, after the build up, here it is.)
I saw her dead.
Her face purple
and caved in.
She wasn’t beautiful.
My grandpa lay,
in his coffin relaxed.
With a smile on his face.
Note on today’s pictures: In my Google search I found that Mr. Borgerding is quite an accomplished photographer and bird watcher. I also found that he moved to the mountains years ago; a place he loves. My pictures are to honor him; a beautiful bird, a beautiful Hawaiian mountaintop and my sweet son (yes, I love Dave and Eli too, of course); all places, people and even a bird that I love.
PS (I had to include this.) I am not the only one who LOVES Mr. Borgerding. Thank you, Google. Thought you would all enjoy this:
From a former student: DO YOU KNOW HOW PARANOID I AM TO WRITE A COMMENT TO THE MOST MEMORABLE TEACHER I EVER HAD ? I WAS A NEW STUDENT AT HOPKINS HIGH IN 1985. IT WAS MY JUNIOR YEAR, AND I HAD YOU FOR A POETRY CLASS. I LOVED YOU SO MUCH I TOOK SHORT STORIES THE NEXT QUARTER. ILL NEVER FORGET WHAT YOU WROTE IN MY YEAR BOOK. YOU SAID, ” I WAS IN LOVE WITH A WOMAN FROM OKLAHOMA ONCE, AND YOU REMIND ME OF WHAT GOOD PEOPLE COME FROM THAT STATE “. READING THAT TODAY STILL MAKES ME SMILE. I LOVED SITTING IN THAT CIRCLE EVERY DAY ARGUING WIHT MY PEERS OVER THE MEANINGS OF SHORT STORIES, WHILE YOU QUIETLY STOKED THE FIRES OF OUR IMAGINATION. I WISH YOU HEALTH AND LONG LIFE.
From, ROMAN BORGERDING, on March 26, 2009:
Cathy and Julie, what a pleasant surprise to reconnect with you via the Google page. Of course i remember both of you, how you immersed yourselves in the vigorous discussions of poems and stories. My memories of those classroom days are more than nostalgia; they very often enrich me with vivid details — visual and linguistic. My wife died 20 years ago; five years later I bought three acres and a “house” in Colorado, elevation 7700′, where I have lived alone for 15 years in solitude and gratitude, spending much time gathering digital images of the details of my world — from this Arkansas River Valley to the 14,000′ summits of the many mountains nearby. Hike out sometime for another discussion of “Ars Poetica.”
And then of course I Googled some more and found a blog post circa 2006. One life really does make a difference.