Why I Write

 

 

The earliest memory I have with my writing experience goes back to my sixth-grade classroom. And it’s a delightful one to me.

 

Every two weeks, Mrs. Cho, my homeroom teacher, gave us quite unusual homework, which was called “Knowing Our Culture.” It wasn’t from the textbook or a school curriculum. It was just Mrs. Cho’s thing. What we had to do is to choose a traditional cultural artifact, and recreate it in our own way. We could draw, do an origami, play a musical instrument, dance, make a cartoon, or whatever. However, out of the many cool and fun things that sixth graders can do, I always chose to write.

 

At that time, I thought that I simply preferred writing because I was terrible (and I am, in a sense) at other things such as drawing, singing, or making anything with my hands. It took me a while to realize that the twelve-year-old me had the preference based on realistic circumstances.

 

With few exceptions, most kids did their homework with their mom’s help. If you think of an average sixth grader—which I was—playing the melodeon inspired by some fourteenth-century pottery is far beyond a kid’s capability. For me, whose mom and dad worked until late, parental help was not a reliable source for the every-two-week homework. Writing, on the other hand—while still difficult— was not impossible for me to carry out by myself.

 

Interestingly, whatever the reason, Mrs. Cho thought the writing, the homework I did, was laudable. She often called me to the front of the class, making me talk about my writings to the other kids. She even sometimes shared my writings with other teachers as well. By the end of Sixth grade, I, once an average kid, was recognized as a writer. I think I enjoyed that recognition.

 

Ever since that time, I wrote more, shared more, and got recognized even better. In high school, my writings were often taken as a model piece for classmates. When we were applying for college, a number of friends of mine asked for my feedback on their essays, which I took as a great compliment.

 

This continued during my army days while I was serving at an airbase. Every night, before the evening roll call, it became like a ritual for my platoon members to gather around my bed and read what I have written and how I have described the day in my palm-sized note. The guys were excited, flattered and sometimes embarrassed when they appeared as character in my writing. They appreciated my stories and showed respect for them. I still remember that one of the guys said to the platoon: “Reading Kyu’s journal is one of few joys I’ve got here.”

      

About fourteen years after Sixth grade, I visited Mrs. Cho who had been already retired for years. Over a cup of coffee, I asked whether she recalled the homework she used to give us. She did indeed, saying that it was a “fun thing to do.” I smiled and agreed but was too shy to tell her all the stories I had.

 

Mrs. Cho, it was more than fun. It was thrilling. It was empowering. It was the best!

© Kyuwon Lee, 2020.