This year marks my tenth year of writing a letter of introduction to my students at the start of the year. Here is what I wrote this year. Enjoy! (To read last year’s letter, click here.)
August 17, 2016
Welcome to a new school year! My name is Mrs. Griswold and I will be your English teacher. Every year, I write my students a letter of introduction so that you can get to know me, and then I ask you to write a letter back to me so that I can learn a little bit about you.
It’s a contemplative and reflective experience to sit down and check in and see how I’ve evolved from the year before. For you, each new school year brings new teachers and classes and sometimes a new school. You’re off on a new journey, and honestly, every year I also feel as though I too am starting a new epic adventure. I’d like to believe that with bravery and clear eyes, life continually offers exciting new quests, even beyond high school and college.
To start off, this summer I got two beehives in my back yard. I’ve never kept bees before, but I took a class and I read lots of books and I dove in. It was fun-hard-interesting. I lost both of my original queen bees (one died, one swarmed) and my two bee colonies faced a crisis and could have died. But, with a little patience and a lot of Googling, my colonies rebounded and even produced 8 quarts of honey!
This summer was also the end of one journey and the start of another because I finished writing a novel. Almost 4 years ago, I decided to join a few students and participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In November of 2012, I wrote 50,000 words of a novel, and over the next three and a half years, I worked on finishing and editing it. This summer I worked every day for the entire month of June to finish. I wrote a 4th, 5th and 6th draft, and in the first week of July, I felt that I had arrived at a stopping point. I was ready for the next stage.
What is that next stage? I started submitting my novel to agents. (Agents then take books to publishers to get the book published.) I’ve emailed query letters and the first 10 pages of my novel to 104 agents. So far, 25 agents have rejected me and 4 have liked what I sent enough to request more pages or the full manuscript. It’s not a bad ratio, but I’ll tell you that every rejection is so hard to receive and every request for more makes me feel like I won the lottery. If you see me in the hallway busting a move, I probably got some good feedback on what I wrote. Sometimes the rejections are even bittersweet: one agent said that I was a good writer, my characters felt real, and the dialogue was authentic, but my book just wasn’t right for her. And some rejections just sting, like the agent who said my sample pages weren’t as engaging as she had hoped. Ouch.
Another big adventure is also beginning, because I am going to have a baby boy in December! You may not know this but Mr. Griswold, who teaches math here, is my husband and this will be our third baby. Our oldest, Calvin, is four and a half, and Matilda is two. Mr. Griswold and I are very excited and a little nervous about going from man-on-man to zone defense (get it?). While I’m on maternity leave in third quarter, other amazing English teachers from the department will be coming to teach your class. You will get a chance to be inspired by the other faculty at Harpeth Hall, and I’ll be back after Spring Break.
I guess adventure is part of who I am. As a kid, I lived all over the world for my dad’s job. I have lived in Cincinnati, Mexico City, Caracas, Cleveland, London, and New York City before coming to Nashville. I speak fluent Spanish and conversational Portuguese. I got my bachelor’s degree from Case Western Reserve University and my master’s degree from NYU. Fun fact, I was a theater and Spanish major in college, and my master’s is in Educational Theater.
I love that my life and my house are filled with the fruits of past adventures. We live in East Nashville where we have a dog, 6 chickens and the bees. Past years’ letters of introduction were about getting a dog and building our chicken coop. We also have a big garden where we grow flowers and vegetables.
The beauty of constant adventures is that life is always a work in progress. I’ve never really “arrived” and I find that my search for new experiences never ends. Journeys also imply detours and pitfalls and scary forests. A quest is often filled with near misses and brushes with death. And while I am luckily not facing those kinds of obstacles, I love embracing the messiness of life on a road of discovery. As you know from your favorite stories and novels, it’s the struggles along the way that make for the most interesting and exciting plots. When I think about building a chicken coop or writing a novel, I could tell you about the frustration, the banged fingers, the feelings of helplessness or despair. I could tell you about the time I realized I needed the change the verb tense and speaker of the entire novel. Those aren’t blemishes, but rather details that enrich the value of the journey.
And I’m excited that we will start the next one together. It can be scary to begin and take the leap, but I can say with certainty that you won’t regret it. Along the way, you’ll probably have very high and very low moments. You’ll question why you ever started to begin with. You’ll think you aren’t ready or can’t handle it. You’ll wonder what made you think this was a good idea. You’ll feel great pride in your accomplishments. You’ll laugh hysterically and cry in frustration. You’ll make true friends. You’ll discover that you’re stronger than you think. At the end, on a May day that feels a million light years away from here, you’ll look up and realize how far you’ve come without noticing. And you won’t regret a single minute.