For me, living a gutsy life involved not one turning point, but rather a series of choices that led me on a more difficult path. Some people want to be liked, or rich, or powerful or famous. I’ve always wanted to do the right thing.
Life as a child gave me very little power in a house of an ogre of a father and a ghostlike mother. I learned to lie from my mother as a way to survive my father’s anger and watched her avoid consequences as long as possible.
At the same time I read voraciously all fairytales and myths. Heroes in fairytales are brave and kind, intelligent and honest. They go forth in life and find the magic to slay the dragons, trick the evil witch, and find the golden apples to save the ones they love. Love colored the landscape of my internal world. Finding the magic in the world around me brightened the colors. Recognizing the good in people and avoiding evil ones remains essential to this day. A liar and a procrastinator were not who I wanted to be. I knew I was meant to be a hero.
School offered me an escape from the ogre’s world and eventually I escaped to college, not the expected University of California, but rather a private college half a day away from home. There I learned truth was a gift. The sky did not fall when I told my professors the real story behind my late work or told my friends I didn’t have the money to go to a party or told them what I felt about life. The truth gave them an opportunity to make an informed decision about consequences and friendships.
After graduation, University of the Pacific offered two choices for student teaching: five months in Stockton/Lodi schools or the Collegio Americano in Mexico City. I spoke French but chose Mexico.
I didn’t believe in marriage, but found my Prince Charming and chose to marry in spite of my fears. He wanted children. I feared becoming an ogre or a ghost. I loved him and chose to believe we could raise kids together who would make the world a better place. We had three children. Children do not understand procrastination. It is counter-productive to say to a baby, “Wait another hour or so and I’ll feed you–or change you–or put you down–or pick you up.”
My mother raised six children, cooked meals regularly for fifteen to twenty people, was President of the National Assistance League and Junior Women’s Club, but did not want to work. Watching my ogre dad work for 37 years for a schizophrenic boss reinforced work as a bad thing. I joked about being a kept woman, not realizing the expectations of my parents kept me in prison.
After thirteen years of marriage, I was offered a job teaching at my children’s private school in Hawaii. Work? Me? I didn’t know how. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. They’ll discover I don’t know what I’m doing.
I said yes.
That yes changed my life. I loved making my own money. I loved going to school everyday. I loved the kids. I still worried they’d discover I wasn’t smart, capable, competent. I did my best to make each day magic. I read teaching books and tried different techniques on my students. I gathered my cohorts of good and learned how to slay the monsters of ignorance. And somewhere along the way I discovered I had the power to change lives, to show the children how to believe in their own magic and how to slay their own dragons.
We moved back to California. After fifteen years out of college, to continue teaching I needed to pass the California Test of Basic Skills and the National Teacher’s Exam. I knew I’d flunk them and I knew I couldn’t flunk if I wanted to work as a teacher. Girding my loins, I studied the practice exams. I studied what I didn’t know. I passed the CTBS with a perfect score and a 99% on the NTE.
Did I know how to teach Early Age Kindergarten? No. I learned how from books and other teachers. I can dance my sillies out with the best of them. Did I know how to teach third grade? No. I leapt in and learned. Did I know how to teach sixth grade? Could I handle thirty-five twelve-year-olds? No. But I listened to other teachers and took classes on classroom discipline. I made the students work and be responsible and to challenge themselves.
Being the fun teacher, the nice teacher would have been easy. That would not help the students on their hero’s journey. Parents said to me, “My student is an A student. If you were a good teacher she would get A’s.” I told them I didn’t give A’s. They had to earn them. They’d complain to my principal. I’d defend myself, and my right to expect excellence. My students learned they could earn A’s, they could get their work in on time and they could have fun working hard. We lived history–we ate, drank, sang ancient Greece and China.
After almost twenty years as a teacher, an errant soccer ball, a broken neck, two surgeries and constant migraines challenged my life. My choice seemed clear: keep on teaching and die early, or quit and find something else to do.
I quit. Since then I have written and published three books, been to nine major writing conferences, learned about the publishing industry, had an agent, decided to leave my agent, kept learning how to revise, learned how to market my books and myself.
My gutsy life has been in little decisions on a hero’s journey. I am brave even when frightened; I am honest even when lies would be easier; I am kind because life is full of witches and demons. I believe in magic–especially the magic of doing the right thing.
Marcia Sargent Bio:
A Marine fighter pilot’s wife from 1975 until 1987, Marcia observed and interacted with military aviators and their spouses when they still had a great time and damned the consequences. When her husband “Snatch” retired back to Southern California, she issued imperatives in her elementary school classrooms and worked as a social studies and language arts mentor for Saddleback Unified School District. A University of California-Irvine Writing Fellow, she wrote the Interact (Social Studies School Service) simulations CHINA and EGYPT, WING WIFE: HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT, and two YA fantasy/adventure books: NIGHT MONSTERS and DAY MONSTERS.
She is the mother of three grown girls and Nana to five children all living in Colorado. She never worries when babysitting, only wishes they lived closer.
When not writing, she now walks the sand in Laguna Beach with her husband and a golden retriever named Sir Lancelot. Her cat named Snicklefritz waits at home since he does not like immersion in salt water.
You can view Marcia’s website and her blog. Join her on Twitter
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Sonia Says: Marcia, your story truly shows how overcoming your difficult childhood brought out the “hero” in you, rather than the liar and a procrastinator of your early childhood days. I admire how you chose to overcome your own fears and doubts about teaching, and turned them into a positive way to make children strive to work hard and attain success in life. Sounds like you were an excellent teacher, and now you’ve written three books. Amazing!
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