Saturday, February 21, 2015

Welcome to Galley Street

My Granny lived on Galley Street, although it wasn't called Galley Street until her town required street names for 911. In the event of an emergency, Granny's street had to have a name. We had had plenty of excitement, though maybe no real emergencies, when it was just a little nameless street in Glomar Holler; but we were all pleased when the street finally earned a name. I wondered why we had never thought to give it a name earlier. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and great grandparents had lived there for the better part of a century.
I remember thinking that Galley Street sounded like the name of a street where a pirate might live. I loved it. It was deceptively cozy for a place where so many adventures had begun, just a little strip of blacktop that ended in an overgrown hillside that used to lead to my grandfather's vegetable garden.
It wasn't until years later that I began to think of Galley Street as the name of a street where, not only a pirate might have lived, but where a writer visited on weekends and summer days, a street where she walked barefoot, and picked apples, and rode her bike, and ate watermelon, and played horseshoes...
It occurred to me that a galley was not only a little ship's kitchen but also a writing proof, the messy, vulnerable part of the writing...the part that has extra wide margins so others can criticize or make recommendations or comments. Galley Street was where I spent hours as a child, when the margins of my life were wide; and although I carry with me years of recommendations and comments, I have no red-penned words of criticism from Galley Street. In fact, it was a place where everything I did seemed just right. It was a place where I gained confidence, where I felt like I could be whatever I wanted to be, and I wanted to be a writer.
I loved Galley Street because it was where Granny lived. She was the first writer who lived there, although she never considered herself a writer. She loved to read and quilt and watch game shows; and she told me stories and let me sort through the pictures in the picture drawer, stopping whatever she was doing to tell a story about each picture I held. She read everything I wrote and told me how much she enjoyed it.
Even now, as a seventh grade teacher, I try to be for my students what Granny was for me. I try to make my classroom like Galley Street, where we can have adventures and write about them and listen to wonderful stories...where no one feels criticized. I encourage them to write, and I tell them how much I enjoy everything they give me to read; but I stopped writing, really writing, years ago. I got bogged down by rejection and fear, and I forgot how it felt to be confident and creative.
I realize, though, that in order to help my students become better writers, I need to write with them. I need to go back to Galley Street, where writers and pirates were always welcome.