a portrait of the artist as a young man

A Very Special Teacher's Perspective

by author Michael G. Gabel

A few weeks ago I sent my favorite high school teacher a copy of She Can Fly as a thank you for igniting the love of literature in me. For it was while reading James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in Ms. G's English class that I first realized the power for personal resonance in the written word. Diving into the main character Stephen Dedalus' fictional world sent me down my own path of artistic self-discovery, a path that came full circle when I released She Can Fly to the real world of today. 

I didn't expect a response, but in true teacher fashion Ms. G sent me a typed up letter outlining her reactions to receiving the book. Thankfully there wasn't any red ink in sight, and it felt nice to have this tangible tether to my literary roots. But as I read her comments I realized Ms. G may have one of the most unique perspectives of me as a writer. She saw my early voice take shape from my freshman to senior years. Despite my attention-seeking class clown antics, she even saw potential in my writing, granting me one of her coveted college recommendation letters. Then I went off to fight my own creative battles. And fight I did. 

I thought I learned a lot in the six years it took to complete She Can Fly - about writing, about myself, about Kerry, and about domestic violence - but Ms. G's insights blew me away, shedding new light on this story, this project, and this process. A process which Dedalus describes as "to live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life."

So thank you, Ms. G. Thank you for your teaching, your tolerance, your letter and your thoughts.

Reproduced below for your enjoyment. 

Dear Mikey,

Hi! I am so happy to be writing to you about such an incredible accomplishment!! I apologize for the formality of typing a personal note, but my penmanship has actually gotten worse (which no one believes possible, but it's really true).

Anyway, your book has been the highlight of my summer. Not to make this all about me, but you have no idea how happy I am to see you produce something so important and well done. For starters, I hope you see the gift of story you possess. Yes, you nailed the grammar and mechanics and complex sentence structure and all that - stuff an English teacher would notice. But what's really impressive is that you managed to tell another person's story, one so dissimilar from your own, and I couldn't detect one hint of your voice in there. You captured someone else's spirit and suffering and did so without an outside editor to keep you in check from slipping into your own way of seeing and saying. Crazy impressive. 

As a woman, I've been fairly aware of domestic violence as an issue that belongs in the front of my brain rather than the back. The problem, though, is that I so often don't know what to do about it, even as a teacher who has access to hotlines and social workers. What I like about your book is that Kerry's first-person account made me really reflect on what she needed, not just what she'd been through. In what ways did the rest of the world let her down? How could any one person have made a difference sooner? How many of the obstacles she faced still exist? Those are the kind of questions that will resonate for a while.

I think one of my favorite parts of the story is Kerry's time in California. It's like you gave her a well-deserved rest from some of the brutality. In your telling of that time, you could have let loose her anger and pain, but as a reader, I desperately needed to see something happy for her. While you're beholden to chronology, you were clearly in command of the telling of the story. 

You should know that I really had to stop myself from reading too quickly. When I found that I was plowing through the book, because I was so engaged, I forced myself to put it down since Kerry's story deserves better. She deserves to have her life - sufferings, betrayals and accomplishments, sink deeply to a reader's core. I'm not sure I've ever had that reaction to a book, and your deserve credit for telling her story in such a way to invoke that battle within a reader.

Most importantly, I couldn't also read this book without thinking of it as your journey as well. The fact that you would even choose to take on this woman's story shows so much about your good character. Embedded in that choice is your empathy and compassion. To tell her full story in her voice demonstrates how internally you heard her and how much you respect her. I hope you see yourself as one of Kerry's accomplishments in life, proof that her suffering wasn't without purpose or direction. I know I'll be thinking how that's true for a long time. Well done.

Thanks again for the copy of the book. I will treasure it always!! Take care and best of luck on your next project!!


Ms. G