On the Death of Influences

JournalismWhen you’re someone who writes for a living, you take your influences seriously. I graduated from a small high school in the woods of Washington State. There were thirty-six students in my graduating class, and I wanted nothing more than to graduate and play professional football for the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, I was convinced that was my destiny. And then I read Beowulf in English, had a teacher tell me Napavine wasn’t the world, and encountered writing for the first time in my sophomore journalism class. Our teacher and principal, Mr. Skinner, had worked as a journalist in Idaho before transitioning into education. With great precision and a loyalty to words, he taught us—he taught me—how to write. Through him, I encountered new ideas and abilities, but also new worlds and expansive horizons. I didn’t have to use either my body or athleticism to succeed. He taught me that my mind worked and, with a focused effort, anyone could write. Influence is a strange thing though and sometimes we don’t see it until it’s too late. Mr. Skinner passed away last weekend. He won’t see this, and I don’t know how aware he was of the many lives that he influenced throughout his years at Napavine. But to my recollection, he was a good principal, an even better teacher, and an invaluable influence.