I had a number of influential teachers, but none more so for my writing than Ms. Marian Unger, my subversive high school senior year English teacher.
She had taught a creative writing class the previous year. Enough of us had signed up to have it my senior year, but the school board and administration had not appreciated the flack they got from some parents over content published in the previous class's year-end booklet, so they quietly raised the minimum class size and converted us into a standard English class.
Everyone in the class (including the add-ons) wanted a creative writing class. We'd been promised one. Ms. Unger had been promised one. The first day of class, she shut the door and we had a discussion about it. She agreed to teach creative writing, but we had to fly beneath the radar. Everyone agreed. "I feel so subversive," she said with a conspiratorial grin as she opened the door.
Eventually another English teacher got wind of it and went to the administration. The principal told Ms. Unger she would have to teach to the curriculum. She agreed under protest, and she kept her word. But curricula then were not nearly as straight-jacketing as curricula today tend to be, so she simply got creative. When we read through Shaw's Pygmalion (upon which the movie My Fair Lady was based), Ms. Unger assigned parts for the day via continuing roll call. One day I read the part of Henry Higgins; several days later I was Eliza Doolittle; the next week I read as a flower girl.
Every writing assignment became a creative writing exercise. At year's end we needed a major writing assignment; rather than the usual research project, we wrote a silent movie script. We got a friend who was into film to shoot and edit, and to help with production and direction. You read that right; my Westside High School senior english class made a silent film, and I- the oddball, the geek, the wallflower- was the lead character. Granted, I played an oddball, a geek, and a wallflower, but in the end I was the love interest and left my oddballity in the rear view mirror.
While some will say Ms. Unger set a bad example, I still find her a shining beacon of hope. Why?
She showed us we mattered.
She showed us that promises could be kept, even in broken systems.
She gave us confidence that we could write.
She helped us find our voices.
She taught us more about composition, approach, editing, characters, and how to apply the rules of grammar to creativity than all the previous years put together.
She showed us that we could, indeed, do almost anything we dared to dream.
There was more, but those six alone made her my personal hero.
I tried off and on for two years to track her down to send her my books, let her know of her impact on my life, and thank her. No one I knew seemed to know how to get in touch with her. Some months back, two months after giving up the search, I woke with a feeling that I should look again, but with a feeling of dread. I found her name online at last- in her obituary.
It bugs me that I was so late in thinking to thank her, but I trust she knows. Still, I encourage you to thank the people in your life who have made a difference, and think about how you can make a difference. Sometimes you can do that within the system, and sometimes you can't. Ms. Unger, thank you for being brave and true.
And that's why Marian Unger is at the top of the dedications in the finale to The Dragon Lord Chronicles.