Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Into the Land of the Elves: The Writing Teacher

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, friend of the Jadeites
August 19
6:15 PM
The Writing Teacher

        Today we would be reaching the conclusion of the knight and the fairy queen story, so I decided that we could start on one of my novels, A Dragon's Pride. When I showed the book to Apple Blossom, she was instantly drawn to the digitally-illustrated book jacket and the white bold print used for the title. Jadeite books are printed on rudimentary hand-crafted presses and illustrated with painted images that you can feel the paint on if you trace over them with your finger. Apple Blossom probably spent a good ten minutes just looking at the book jacket, marveling over the typed words, and tracing her own finger over the illustration of a dragon looking out over the land from a plateau. “You're supposed to read the book, Apple Blossom,” I teased, “not the cover!”
        “I know,” Apple Blossom said. “It's just that this is more of a work of art than just a book.”
       “Humans consider their books to be works of art,” I said. “Now let's get started, shall we?”
        For a writer, there is no better feeling than knowing that other people are interested in and even like the things that you write. In fact, interest and praise from others can drastically change your own perception of your writing. I've always considered A Dragon's Pride to be mediocre; good enough to read when you have nothing else to. The fact that other people liked the book enough to buy it did nothing to increase my own enjoyment of the story. As I've said before, I very rarely enjoy my own stories.
        But as I read the story to Apple Blossom and she took it all in with her characteristic interest and enthusiasm—asking questions, making comments, smiling, laughing, even interrupting to spin entire conversations before I veered us back into the reading—I realized that A Dragon's Pride wasn't mediocre at all. It was interesting. It was entertaining. It was a real page-turner. It brought smiles to the faces of its readers and inspired questions in their minds. The narrator, a dragon named Uglorr who lived in a world where dragons were few and far between, was a likable character that made readers care about him enough to make comments on his narration and his goings-on. When we made it to the end of the chapter, I learned that he was the kind of character that made a reader ask what was going to happen to him next, and his story was the kind of story that produced the question, “When can I hear more?”
        “Tomorrow,” I told Apple Blossom, and my own excitement to continue made me positively giddy. “We'll read a chapter every day, all right?”
        “Okay,” said Apple Blossom. “Are you going to read more from your diary too?”
        Aw man! I had hoped that A Dragon's Pride would get her mind off of the diary for a while. “Not today, sweetie,” I told her. “There are some things in it that are very personal, so I'll have to find something that it's okay for you to hear.” Sometimes, I marvel at my ability to cover up the truth without actually telling a lie. Apple Blossom accepted this answer without any further questions or comments.
        As I worked at my writing, Apple Blossom was uncharacteristically quiet; usually she bombards me with questions and comments about what I'm writing. But today, she was sitting on the floor and drawing by the light that filtered in through the stained glass window, and her silence gave me some time to think in that private corner of my mind where all of my non-writing thoughts go to congregate while I'm working. I was thinking about what Apple Blossom had said about “human magic.” Taking photographs was as magical to her as changing the colors of cranberry greens was to me. TVs, computers, phones—all perfectly ordinary things in my world—were magical to her. These things were created by skillful humans who had worked hard at shaping and perfecting their skills, in the same way that the Jadeites spend their lives learning to manipulate the jade essences into usable forms of magic. What other forms of human magic were there? What other forms had I myself even performed without realizing it? I thought of her reaction to the fully illustrated, digitally-printed cover of A Dragon's Pride; did she think of the book as a work of magic rather than simply a work of art? How magical was it that we could produce so many copies at one time, to be read by hundreds or even thousands of people at once?
        My thoughts were interrupted when a servant escorted Wildflower into the room, and the silence was broken when Apple Blossom ran to greet her. I set my pen down for a moment and waved. She was carrying her treasured diary in one hand and a wood-carved pencil in another. “Let's go outside, Wildflower,” Apple Blossom said. “We can play Roundabout. You come too, Aidyn!”
        “Give me a moment to finish a few sentences,” I said. “I'll meet you both out there.”
         Roundabout is a strange game that resembles tag, Duck Duck Goose, and Ring of Roses all at once. You join hands and pull eachother around in a circle, the whole time trying to break out while you're being pulled. Once someone breaks out, those still in the circle have to chase them down and try to pull them back in. It's absolutely mindless fun, produces the silly giggles in a matter of seconds, and I absolutely love it. After we played that for a while, we sailed the little flower boats that Apple Blossom had made over the Bell's Rush, and then Wildflower wanted to show me some of the magic that she could do: she spun the air around us into rose-scented breezes that tickled my face, and she transformed a few old blades of switchgrass into colorful boughs of cherry, plum, and apple blossoms. As she sat waving one around in the air and no doubt thinking over what she would like to do next, I got an idea. “Wildflower,” I said, “would you like me to teach you how to write the way I do?”
         “Yes!” Wildflower answered immediately. “Yes, teach me!”
          I led her over to the garden table where Apple Blossom often had her lessons and where we often had our lunches. “We're going to need some blank paper,” I told her. “Can you tear two blank pages out of the back of your diary for me?” She did so, and I laid them out in front of her and wrote out the alphabet, both in capitals and in lowercase:

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz

        “Okay, Wildflower,” I said to her, “I want you to look over these letters for a while. This is the most commonly-used human alphabet—most of the human languages use these same twenty-six letters to write.”
        “Only these?” she said quizzically.
        “Only these,” I told her. “Does your writing alphabet use a lot more letters than these?”
        “We don't write with letters,” Wildflower told me in an amusingly condescending tone, “we use words to write letters.”
        “And what makes the words?” I asked her.
        “Lines,” she replied.
        I chuckled a little. “And what do the lines make?” I asked patiently.
        She looked at me as if tufts of fur had just grown out of my ears. “They just make words,” she said, and then it was my turn to be confused. “You don't write with letters?” I asked.
        “No,” she said, “we write letters with words.”
        I left it at that and moved on: “Well, these twenty-six letters make up every word in the English language—the one that I speak and write—as well as many other human languages. I don't know any other languages, so we're only going to worry about English words.”
        “You speak Common,” Wildflower said, “like I do.”
        “Yes,” I said, “but humans call it English. I told you that before, remember?”
        “So every word has all of these in them?” Wildflower asked, looking over the letters as if trying to unlock their secrets.”
        “Well, not every word has every letter,” I clarified, “but every word has some of these letters.” She was giving me that look again, so I said, “Here, let me give you an example. I'm going to use these letters to write your name.”
        “My name is Wildflower,” she told me matter-of-factly.
        “I haven't forgotten, dear,” I said, patting her on the head. “So, I'm going to write it using these letters.” I wrote the name underneath the line of letters:


        “That's my name?” she asked, as astonished as if she had laid eyes on a unicorn. “Yes,” I said, “that's your name.” I pointed to each letter as I named them off: “W-I-L-D-F-L-O-W-E-R spells Wildflower. Your name has ten letters in it—that's a pretty big name for such a little girl. Would you like me to show you how to write the letters that make your name?”
        Wildflower was a diligent student. She followed my patient directions with the quiet enthusiasm she was known for, without any question, comment, or protest. The only problem arose when she discovered that she liked W and L better than any of the other letters, and I had to direct her onto the next letter with some disappointment on her part. “I'm glad that you like W and L,” I told her. “After all, they are the only letters that appear more than once in your name. But as I said, your name has ten letters in it, not just two!”
        Apple Blossom interrupted us before she could fully grasp the writing of her name. “What are you two doing over here?” she asked when she found us sitting at the table writing instead of playing.
        “I'm learning to write human,” Wildflower said enthusiastically. “Aidyn's teaching me!”
        “That's wonderful!” chirped Apple Blossom. “But it isn't lesson time! We ought to be playing! Come and climb with me, please! It gets awfully lonely way up in a tree all by yourself.”
        “How can I argue with that?” I said, chuckling a little. “Come on, Wildflower, let's go give her some company at the top of that big tree.”
        She set the pencil down and took off running, and the three of us entered a race that neither me nor Wildflower had any chance of winning (though I was nice enough to lag behind so that Wildflower could take second place). I climbed up to the middle branches of the tree, and there I sat and I thought. It isn't lesson time, Apple Blossom had chided us. She had regular lessons with Beryl in the mornings throughout the week. I wasn't entirely sure how the Jadeite education system worked; Jadeite kids don't attend school like human kids do. But do all Jadeite children have private teachers like Beryl, or was that a privilege for the royalty and aristocracy? Was Wildflower going to have a teacher someday when she was older?
        Or...could I be her teacher?
        Wildflower is the kind of eager, dutiful student that every teacher wants to have. She listens patiently, follows directions, rarely gets sidetracked and is easily redirected when she does, and above all, she looks up to me like I'm some kind of sage of knowledge. If anything, I could be her unofficial writing teacher. I had already taught her how to use a diary, I had already inspired her to take up and to love writing—and a mentor's duty, first and foremost, is to inspire.
        I looked at Wildflower, who was sitting right beside me and playing with a butterfly that had perched on her finger. I had a feeling that she was going to write about that butterfly. She was going to write about this day. She was going to write about the nice human that had taught her to write those Ws and Ls that she liked so much.
        I've already become her writing teacher. 

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