Monday, August 3, 2015
I just learned from an old classmate that my high school English teacher dubbed me Mona Lisa. I have absolutely no memory of this – although I do remember that she dubbed this same classmate the milkmaid! (not to blow your cover here, classmate.) Miss Hickman was tall, skinny and stooped, she had leathery skin and dyed black hair, and the longest jaw I’d ever seen, she was smart, arrogant, funny and opinionated, and I adored her. She introduced us to The New Yorker, taught us to look down our noses at Time Magazine (popular culture,p.u!) and instilled me with a sense of wonder about George Elliott, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Wolff, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and a host of other twentieth century writers. One time she even invited some of us to her apartment! And introduced us to the idea of a seance. We all sat around her prone body and each put two fingers underneath her, all of us expecting her to levitate. Well, that just confirmed her weirdness and my undying loyalty. But the best thing Miss Hickman did for me was to praise my writing. In a couple of instances she told me that I was the best. (She was completely biased and unfair, of course.) And all through the long years of writing my first novel, through rejection after rejection and revision after revision, her words stayed buoyantly with me. Thank you, Miss Hickman. Love, Mona Lisa.