I first started writing things for public consumption when I wrote for my high school newspaper, The Pine Needle Monthly. Journalism was one of the greatest classes I’ve ever taken; partly because of the experience I gained, and partly because of what I learned–both about writing and about life. Our class advisor, Kevin C. Houtz, was one of the most important teachers I’ve ever had–and I’ve had some amazing teachers.
Mr. Houtz was not afraid to let us strike out and try whatever we wanted to in regards to the paper. He took some risks for us, and sometimes got in trouble for it. But, come what may, he encouraged us to write from our conviction and from our hearts.
The publishing of two of my items in particular taught me significant lessons about what I wanted my future writing to be. The first was an article I wrote called “Roaches.” It was about how the school was crawling with roaches. And it was. The higher-up’s didn’t like the bad press–they claimed that they had just treated the school for them–and gave Mr. Houtz a hard time about it. I never saw that coming. I felt terrible. I meant the article to be a light-hearted jab. It never occurred to me that telling the truth would get him in trouble. He was bothered by it, but said he didn’t regret letting me publish it because it was the truth. This impressed me because I realized that sometimes telling even a simple, undeniable truth–even in a humorous way–could make people angry, and that someone could suffer from it.
The second was a cartoon I drew for “Jen’s Corner”–my little comic strip. It was this:
There had been a few plane crashes at the time that I drew it and I thought it was pretty funny. Mr. Houtz (meaning nothing but to tease me–as he often did) pretended that a student’s family member was in one of those planes and that this cartoon upset them. I was devastated (and then mad when I found out he was joking). Even though it wasn’t true, I knew then and there that I always wanted to be careful with whatever I put out there–I knew that words had power and I wanted mine to build people up, not harm them. I don’t regret publishing that cartoon–I still think it’s funny–but now I try to look at whatever I write from lots of perspectives before I hit “publish.”
Now, working for the Catholic Church, I find myself in a position of constantly having to tell difficult truths, challenging truths that are intended to make people uncomfortable. And I try to do it in a way that invites people into a deeper dialogue with God without alienating them. I know I’m not always successful, but it’s my goal. I hope that what I put on this page and the others I write for are worth the time that people take to read them.