Nonfiction | Teachers

Swimming in a glass of water

the power of imagination and a teacher who felt there were no wrong answers

Swimming in a Glass of Water

My favorite
class in tenth grade was creative writing with Ms. Cady. She stood about 5’1”
with a short poofy bob of grey hair and a big crooked tooth smile. She was the
warmest, sweetest teacher, who taught me the power of swimming in a glass of

Of course, I
didn’t actually swim in a glass of water, but when Ms. Cady asked us to take
out a piece of paper and write about what it felt like to swim in a glass of
water, I sat there staring at my blank piece of paper for way too long. Here it
was my very first class with her and I had nothing except maybe the word “wet.”
At first, we all thought maybe Ms. Cady had lost it just a tad. We sat there
giggling and not knowing what to do. I had no idea where to start, but Ms. Cady
calmly explained there was no one way to start and all we had to do was write
whatever came to our minds, just what we saw in that glass, what we felt, and
here’s the best part…there was no wrong answer. Anything we came up was fine,
she would calmly explain in her soft-spoken grandma voice (well, my grandma had
a calm soothing voice, not sure about yours). I couldn’t believe what I was
hearing, “Whatever you write down is great, and there is nothing you could do
that would be wrong.”

I had just been kicked out of my mother’s house, after sixteen years of feeling
nine times out of ten I was scrutinized and belittled, Ms. Cady’s creative
writing class was a yoga retreat for my soul, a freeing experience where no one
was judging me.

Now, as an
adult, I know what it is like to swim in a glass of water, because I have the
same experience when I swim. I am not talking about intense freestyle swimming.
I am talking about the type of swimming where I take my time, go at my own
pace, and feel how calm I become in water, paying attention to how I feel and
how so many of my problems seem to dissipate. I come up with solutions to my
problems, practice chord changes to songs in my head, talk to people no longer
in my life, and try and release the tension stored up and gripping my body.

Ms. Cady’s
class was so refreshing because every other class had criteria, objectives and
standards I had to meet. She never judged what I put down on paper, but instead
helped me expand on my stories and delve deeper into my emotions and creative
expression. I began to write more and more even outside of class. Writing
became my own therapy session and a way to deal with my growing pains, living
with my father for the first time (it was great) and ending a chapter in my
life filled with the tumultuous relationship of my mother. Writing enabled me
to open up about how I felt, how hurt I was, my insecurities, and more because
Ms. Cady provided a safe, nurturing haven. And then a funny thing happened. As
my writing improved, so did my other grades. I was no longer a C-D student. I
was seeing As and Bs, playing two varsity sports, and elected as co-captain of
the girl’s lacrosse team.

Swimming in
that glass of water gave me something that I never really had. Self-esteem. I
began to believe that if I could swim in that glass of water, where else could
I swim? What else could I do? And if my imagination was limitless, so were my
goals and dreams. I wrote whatever was on my mind, freely, without a care what
anyone thought. Ms. Cady found a part of me I never knew I had.

During my
senior year of high school, an awards dinner came up and I was asked to attend,
not knowing what to expect. When Ms. Cady called me to the podium, I was
presented with an excellence in creative writing award and received a standing
ovation from my classmates. That little certificate meant so much and was a
testament of how far I had come.

years ago, I wrote to Ms. Cady at her Vermont residence. I wanted her to know
just how much she had meant to me and the power of swimming in a glass of
water. I wanted her to know that her kindness and belief in me had lead me down
the road to other great achievements: a member of the Syracuse University crew
team my freshman year, three college degrees – including a doctorate, being
nominated into Phi Beta Kappa and the completion of a screenwriting program at
UC Irvine.

Swimming in
a glass of water had healed me and opened doors for me. Doors I never imagined.
Ms. Cady gave me the gift of creative expression, creative thought and a forum
to express myself freely, without any judgement, but only guidance and positive
reinforcement. Once I began to pour my soul out on that piece of paper,
everything felt calmer and clearer to me. I realized that anything was
possible. May all of you have a chance to swim in a glass of water and be so
lucky to have a Ms. Cady in your life.