The House On Mango Street

Every writer has a moment where it all began. That point in their lives, where they were 10, or 14, or 42, where they realized that words can be something more than dots and slashes and letters on a page…that words can take you places.

For me it was a book called, The House on Mango Street, By Sandra Cisneros, which I read in eighth grade. The middle school that I attended had a new eighth grade teacher that year; a man from New York City named Mr. Van Dright. He was a bit unorthodox for an upstate New York school strict on curriculum and following the rules. He had long dark hair and grizzle on his face, who wore a leather jacket and drove a motorcycle when he wasn’t in school, who reminded us often how thankful we were to attend a school that was safe and clean with no metal detectors.

And although this unique teacher from the city was forced to resign before the following year, what I remember most about him was that he was an artist. He had that look in his eye of a person who had stories to tell. He showed me, although he probably doesn’t know it, (a very insecure and shy fourteen year old at the time,) that books and words could be something more, you just had to dream them.

“In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.” (Cisneros,10)

This is from a passage in the book entitled, “My Name.” I remember him reading it to the class that day. What does that mean, he asked us. A name like the number nine?

Perhaps it was because I was obsessed with names. Wondering what it would be like if I had a different name – to separate myself from the ten other girls named Amanda in my school. (I really did graduate with about 5 of them.) Perhaps it’s because later on in the passage, the narrator goes on to describe her name, “as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth.” (Cisneros, 11)

Up until that point in my life, I’d never given much thought into the meaning of words, how with a simple sentence you can describe your name as muddy and we know how you felt about whatever it is you were talking about.

My own writing as of lately, has become its own kind of muddy and I thought I’d take this time to go back and remember where it all began. How words can have inspiration just by how they sound in your mouth mixed around with a word or phrase that can have nuances of meaning. How something simple can change the way you think and view the world. Muddy. Muddy. Muddy.

Nothing was as clear to me as those words on those pages. I wanted to write muddy too.

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