Lights not needed to learn something new

By Michele Zirkle Marcum - Contributing Columnist

Editor’s Note: Listen to the podcast of this column.

I’ve been writing in the dark since my hand could hold a pencil.

So when my senior English teacher in high school asked the class one day to close our eyes and write a sentence about what we knew about Helen Keller, both my hands were instantly employed.

A few minutes later, the teacher snapped back on the lights and announced that I was the only student who had used my left hand to “trail” the pencil in my right. My words were legible and formed a fairly straight line. It was an innate response from childhood years of writing in the dark when I was supposed to be sleeping.

As a young girl, I’d prop up on one elbow, smooth my Holly Hobby bedspread flat and write in a tiny tablet, “trailing” my words as I progressed. I refused to let the darkness deter me from creating characters and worlds that existed in my head, for, with my imagination, I was not alone. I was not stupid or silly or as insignificant as I felt. I was the amazing director of a play, and as I pretended that all the world watched, I scripted ingenious scenes.

My need to communicate, while not as critical as Helen Keller’s, felt as urgent as the need to run barefoot across the first blades of grass in the spring. I wrote in the dark only at bedtime, but Helen lived in silent darkness for years, unable to communicate until the right teacher, Anne Sullivan, came along.

Helen’s communication flourished when she realized the words Anne was signing into her hand were the names of objects, that the cool liquid slipping through her fingers had a name — water. From that moment on, Helen wasn’t alone in that darkness. She formed her first sentence, not knowing that she would publish 12 books in her lifetime.

Sometimes it’s not immediately clear how our new-found skills will help us. I used resources in that high school classroom the others hadn’t — not because they weren’t as smart as me, but because I had developed a skill out of an intense desire to do something I loved.

I’m still writing in the dark. I reach for a tablet and pen from my nightstand nightly. I write because I breathe. I write because I can. I write because I know no other feeling that’s as euphoric as expressing my thoughts on paper.

I’m unsure if writing in the dark will lead to me becoming a renowned author like Helen. The darkness of the unknown often seems to swallow me like the whale did Jonah. I remain hopeful that I’ll be propelled out of its belly, and the birth of writing opportunities will follow. But I’m prepared to keep writing in the belly’s darkness.

I never did need lights to make my point.

By Michele Zirkle Marcum

Contributing Columnist

Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.

Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.