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Passion over perfection. Love over politics. The Story of Mrs. Mulvey.

I was in a special English class in high school, the one for the word geeks and bookworms. That was me in the front row with big hair and leg warmers, talking Bronte and Shakespeare.

Since I got a (merciful) 51% in Mathematics from Sister Rosemary, being a star in English gave me the confidence to navigate my teenage years.

Mrs. Mulvey, my English teacher, was on the outside of my teen drama (and there was a lot of drama back then — I left home when I was sixteen), and we rarely spoke out of class, but how she treated me quietly influenced my entire creative career.

It’s our Grade 12 graduation banquet and they’re giving out awards for academic excellence in every subject…

Between the wilted Caesar salad and penne pasta, it comes time to announce the winner for excellence in Advanced English Literature. I know that I’m a contender for this. I had a 91%. I hold my breath, adjust my shoulder pads, and the winner is. . . Stephen K. I wilt like the Caesar salad.

Now, Stephen was a good guy. He did lots of research, he conjugated properly, and he could remember stuff. (He’s probably a tax attorney now.) I avoided research and I dangled my prepositions, but my stuff made the boys laugh and the girls cry. A lot.

Back to the banquet…Mrs. Mulvey was seated next to me, and while everyone was applauding for Stephen, she leaned over to me, and, crossing the line of politics, she said under her breath, “He got 1% higher than you so I had to give it to him. But that award should be yours. Because it’s not about the grammar. It’s about the passion. Pass me the bread basket, would you?”

And that was a moment. One of those world-stops-for-a-nanosecond-so-you-can-glimpse- the-future kinds of moments. And I realized that I could do it. I didn’t know what “it” was, but I knew that somehow my passion was going to count. Passing her the bread I said, “Wow, thanks,” as if she’d just slipped a gold bar into my clutch purse.

It still chokes me up twenty some years later to recall what it was like to have somebody see me, and believe in me — and as importantly, to have someone cross the line to tell me so. (Do the same for someone else if you can, would ya? You might quietly influence their entire creative career.)

Passion over perfection.
Love over politics.