Swimming in a glass of water

the power of imagination and a teacher who felt there were no wrong answers

Swimming in a Glass of Water

My favorite class in tenth grade was creative writing with Ms. Cady. She stood about 5’1” with a short poofy bob of grey hair and a big crooked tooth smile. She was the warmest, sweetest teacher, who taught me the power of swimming in a glass of water.

Of course, I didn’t actually swim in a glass of water, but when Ms. Cady asked us to take out a piece of paper and write about what it felt like to swim in a glass of water, I sat there staring at my blank piece of paper for way too long. Here it was my very first class with her and I had nothing except maybe the word “wet.” At first, we all thought maybe Ms. Cady had lost it just a tad. We sat there giggling and not knowing what to do. I had no idea where to start, but Ms. Cady calmly explained there was no one way to start and all we had to do was write whatever came to our minds, just what we saw in that glass, what we felt, and here’s the best part…there was no wrong answer. Anything we came up was fine, she would calmly explain in her soft-spoken grandma voice (well, my grandma had a calm soothing voice, not sure about yours). I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, “Whatever you write down is great, and there is nothing you could do that would be wrong.”

Considering I had just been kicked out of my mother’s house, after sixteen years of feeling nine times out of ten I was scrutinized and belittled, Ms. Cady’s creative writing class was a yoga retreat for my soul, a freeing experience where no one was judging me.

Now, as an adult, I know what it is like to swim in a glass of water, because I have the same experience when I swim. I am not talking about intense freestyle swimming. I am talking about the type of swimming where I take my time, go at my own pace, and feel how calm I become in water, paying attention to how I feel and how so many of my problems seem to dissipate. I come up with solutions to my problems, practice chord changes to songs in my head, talk to people no longer in my life, and try and release the tension stored up and gripping my body.

Ms. Cady’s class was so refreshing because every other class had criteria, objectives and standards I had to meet. She never judged what I put down on paper, but instead helped me expand on my stories and delve deeper into my emotions and creative expression. I began to write more and more even outside of class. Writing became my own therapy session and a way to deal with my growing pains, living with my father for the first time (it was great) and ending a chapter in my life filled with the tumultuous relationship of my mother. Writing enabled me to open up about how I felt, how hurt I was, my insecurities, and more because Ms. Cady provided a safe, nurturing haven. And then a funny thing happened. As my writing improved, so did my other grades. I was no longer a C-D student. I was seeing As and Bs, playing two varsity sports, and elected as co-captain of the girl’s lacrosse team.

Swimming in that glass of water gave me something that I never really had. Self-esteem. I began to believe that if I could swim in that glass of water, where else could I swim? What else could I do? And if my imagination was limitless, so were my goals and dreams. I wrote whatever was on my mind, freely, without a care what anyone thought. Ms. Cady found a part of me I never knew I had.

During my senior year of high school, an awards dinner came up and I was asked to attend, not knowing what to expect. When Ms. Cady called me to the podium, I was presented with an excellence in creative writing award and received a standing ovation from my classmates. That little certificate meant so much and was a testament of how far I had come.

Several years ago, I wrote to Ms. Cady at her Vermont residence. I wanted her to know just how much she had meant to me and the power of swimming in a glass of water. I wanted her to know that her kindness and belief in me had lead me down the road to other great achievements: a member of the Syracuse University crew team my freshman year, three college degrees – including a doctorate, being nominated into Phi Beta Kappa and the completion of a screenwriting program at UC Irvine.

Swimming in a glass of water had healed me and opened doors for me. Doors I never imagined. Ms. Cady gave me the gift of creative expression, creative thought and a forum to express myself freely, without any judgement, but only guidance and positive reinforcement. Once I began to pour my soul out on that piece of paper, everything felt calmer and clearer to me. I realized that anything was possible. May all of you have a chance to swim in a glass of water and be so lucky to have a Ms. Cady in your life.