A Lifetime of Literature — A Guest Post by Dave Ward

Today I have the pleasure to present to you a guest post from Dave Ward, who is one of my peers from Englisch Composition I: Achieving Expertise (on Coursera). Dave had his Case Study published, and since then he throws out a regular stream of publications.

Here is a list to a part of his work:

You can follow Dave on Facebook or on Google+. Enjoy his post.
Thank you so much, Dave, for writing this for us.

Date: October10th 2014image02

A Lifetime of Literature
Author: Dave Ward

image10On my fourth birthday I was presented with a beautifully illustrated story book; I remember clearly the huge black text and stunning images of bright color that were painted on pages of thick stiff cardboard– each one individually polished with a shiny laminated seal. It was a classic children’s book, and although I was still unable to read at the time, it became my most cherished possession.

Each day I would lie on the floor with my sister; while she read aloud I would follow along by tracing her finger with my eye. The story was about a boy named Tom who, along with his friends made many exciting discoveries that day as they picnicked in the woods.. In barely two weeks I was able to read the entire book word-perfect from memory; although this did not seem such a big deal to me at the time it certainly impressed the adults .

In retrospect this book had such a powerful and prevailing effect on me, and became the catalyst to my lifelong passion for reading. Yes, even today I can still visualize the illustration of Tom with the girl from next door, eating sandwiches and cake laid out on the pristine surface of a freshly cut tree stump set in an idyllic forest of trees, rabbits, and birds.

The following year was the year I commenced school; as my mother ushered me to my first desk, I caught sight of the white oblong sticker on the top lefthand corner bearing my first name in bold black marker pen. It was a defining moment; as the appeasement of ownership coursed through my veins an intense gratification erupted and washed over my entire body.

On that virgin school day we learned how to distinguish between “C” and “K” as in “C for Cat and K for Kettle”, utilizing several illustrated posters displayed upon the wall we conquered many other ubiquitous nouns that day.

However, my first day did not run entirely smoothly; I remember getting lost at the end of the afternoon break. So I wandered around through the cloakrooms until the school principal (a nun) found and dragged me unceremoniously back to class after having failed to reason with me. Despite this unfortunate turn of events on returning to the classroom I discovered the teacher was about to start reading us a story, so as children tend to do, I immediately flipped back into happy mode.

This end of day class activity became a tradition throughout my entire grade school and most of middle school, whereby the teacher would devote the final half hour or so to reading a chapter from a classic children’s fiction such as “The Hobbit” or “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

During second grade I scooped up a couple of minor victories when, first I came top of the class in spelling, this was also the year I wrote my very first story, it was a voluntary exercise, and one which I was eager to conquer. The project consisted of selecting a theme from a list of suggestions presented in a text book, we were also given the option of spending morning break musing over our options, a privilege I was more than happy to exploit. My completed masterpiece occupied roughly two thirds of a page, while the last third was reserved for my creative illustration.

image06It was in the third grade where I discovered Dick and Dora; a series of story books approved by the British education system. Dick and Dora were brother and sister who along with their dog nip and a cat named fluff shared their childhood with millions of school children. These picturesque days of early fiction were immensely satisfying, though they seemed irritatingly short; thus I came to view reading as more of an affable recreational treat than a formal lesson.

After several Dick and Dora books we were introduced to a different kind of literary art in the form of poetry; my initial perception of this novel concept was a positive one. I considered poetry merely as a natural extension of nursery rhymes and quickly mastered this new dimension of creative expression as I began authoring my own rhythmic verses with a self assured optimism.

Unfortunately this fledgling love of mine was short lived as we were quickly encouraged to transition our efforts into a more mature composition by abandoning the childish rhyming format. Sadly this did not bode well with me as–

I strove with scant success to reach this new level of deeper poetical connotation. It took many years of passing before I would rekindle my passion for this subjective form of expression.

image07My next cogent discovery came in the form of the Public Library; as bona fide library members, my two siblings and I were afforded the privilege of checking out a maximum of three books for up to a period of two weeks. Every other Saturday we would head off to the local library which was located in the center of town. This ritual became an important part of the whole entire experience as we eagerly contemplated amongst ourselves what exciting new books we might stumble upon in this benevolent Carnegie treasure trove of culture and erudition.

As I graduated up to fourth grade (known as “Junior or Middle School” in the UK) I was faced with yet another disruption. Hitherto I had adequately progressed from utilizing unsophisticated simplistic printing, yet now the stakes were raised considerably higher as we became burdened with the demands of mastering joined up writing.

image03Like many others, I did not attain the expectations required of this advanced skill easily, I was constantly scolded for my untidiness and illegible writing. It did not help either that those proficient in this art form were held in high esteem, being praised liberally for their aesthetic achievements, thus causing the remnant to feel lower than worms.

An established de facto correlation existed relating to the amount of visible red ink on one’s graded work and the magnitude of successful achievement. With this in mind I took solace in the fact that many of the so called elegant writers work would end up embellished with just as much (sometimes even more) red ink than my own.

Despite this initial handicap, I continued to enjoy lessons in English,and my handwriting gradually improved throughout the remaining years at school–
This was especially true during high school where we were permitted to take rough notes and write up the final draft in our own time.

Regretfully, there was no end of day reading session in fourth grade, which was dedicated to mature writing– learning multiplication tables, advanced arithmetic such as long division, history and religious instruction. As far as education goes this was categorically my year of discontent since the class teacher for whatever reason had also taken a disliking to me.

After such a difficult year I had become somewhat despondent with academia, it was therefore a welcome consolation when I discovered afternoon reading sessions had been restored in the following year. As a special privilege we were also permitted to borrow books from several shelves of fiction displayed at the back of the classroom.

As an avid fan of British author Enid Blyton I had now started bonding with several of my classmates, those who also appreciated the way in which this gifted writer resonated so well with a child’s thought process. We would hold ardent discussions on her legendary fictional series “The Secret Seven” and “Famous Five” discussing every character and storyline.

image05At the same time I was indulging in preteen fiction I also became interested in a very different form of writing, one which was extremely cryptic, terse and symbolic in nature– that of musical notes. After mastering the basics I became acquainted with the more advanced concepts of crotchets, quavers and semiquavers which were more analogous to mathematical fractions. than anything else.

Ironically I had become an adept descant recorder player several months before learning how to read music, having taught myself to play “Lord of the Dance” purely by instinct. Subsequently I was inducted into the school orchestra and later took up the acoustic guitar.

During my final year in middle school I discovered a flair for public speaking when I was asked to read a passage from Corinthians one morning during assembly. Reading aloud before so many people at such a young age proved to be an exhilarating experience and planted a seed of confidence that has borne much fruit in later years, from college dissertations to corporate presentations.

image08On reaching my final two years of middle school, I noticed the selection of books made available to us was starting to evolve. The ubiquitous fictional was now accompanied by a set of non fictional titles such as “The History of the Steam Engine”– This new dimension of factual reading inspired me to connect with the real world at a much deeper level.

Prior to entering high school I received my first encyclopedia entitled “Every Child’s Answer Book”, this was an absolute goldmine of knowledge from which I learned many things, from how a satellite works to the rudimentary physics behind what makes a cricket ball curve. By the end of my first year of high school, the number of non fictional books I was reading had greatly surpassed those of fiction.

My transition into high school however spawned another disruption when I learned that ball pens were prohibited and fountain pens became mandatory. Now this angered me greatly since it had taken several years of concentrated effort to get my handwriting anywhere close to what would be considered decent, and this imposed switch to the fountain pen served only to subvert the finesse I had attained in producing adequate legible handwriting.

image00After several days of struggling with unpredictable ink flow I considered the ball pen to be the superior writing instrument, the school however in it’s blatant snobbery was adamant that ballpoint pens should remain off limits. It took many more hours of carefully crafted practice and copious amounts of blotting paper but eventually I was able to accomplish an acceptable standard of writing in fountain pen, though I never became 100% comfortable in its use and took great pleasure in permanently dispensing with its services after high school.

Throughout my entire high school years, English has remained one of my top two subjects along with English Literature which manifested itself later on. Other favored subjects included History, Geography, Physics and for the first couple of years of high school Math. However in the third year of high school I struggled in mastering the concept of simultaneous algebraic equations, and my perception of math from thereon became somewhat skewed. It took several years before I fully comprehended complex algebraic equations, though I was fairly competent in any math problem involving a significant amount of English narrative.

As I hinted above, one of my elective subjects included English Literature, this gave me the opportunity to study Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar— along with other more recent classics such as Hobson’s Choice by Harold Brighouse, and John Wyndham’s “The Day of the Triffids” during my final two years of high school.

In addition to this we were also required to study several of the great British poets such as William Wordsworth and John Betjeman. Unfortunately for me I had not yet reclaimed my fervor for poetry and so I did not get to fully appreciate these prodigious works.

After graduating from high school I opted for the scientific route regarding my career path by accepting the offer of a four year BSc degree course in “Computer Science” at Wolverhampton University in England .

image09Thus my writing skills were now directed towards producing system specifications, well written structured computer programs, and publishing college level white papers. Inevitably, the reading material I was consuming during this time consisted purely of hard core logic– The only subject studied here that could possibly be considered artistic was “Interface Design” everything else fell within the constraints of precise and scientific.

As I progressed through the course I began to fully appreciate the relevance of high quality writing as an effective communication tool. The juxtaposition of those who had fallen short in this area was clearly demonstrated through poorly written emails, impossible software manuals and baffling user specifications.

image11The ability to communicate clearly and concisely through both written and spoken narrative is critical to the success of almost any career choice. However, for a Systems Analyst to be considered competent they must go beyond simply mastering this skill by demonstrating their ability to write clear comprehensible unambiguous client specifications with unwavering consistency– since the material they produce, frequently becomes the basis for a legally binding contract.

As an IT professional with nearly two decades of experience under my belt I bring testimony as to the potential efficacy of competent writing. This asset has prevailed as a friend and advocate throughout my entire career, a linchpin to the success of every achievement ever attained in my chosen field. It serves both as a shield and weapon of mass destruction against the malfeasance of Corporate Politics

image04Over the past few years I have begun to nurture my belated poetical prowess– by leveraging the culminating experiences attained throughout my lifetime. I am now able to fully appreciate the profoundly enriching esoteric qualities associated with poetry, heralding a new era of multifarious literary perception. In recent months several commercial writing opportunities have presented themselves; additionally the exploitation of advanced streaming audio technology has enabled me to increase and diversify my consumption of various genres of literature.

Literature is a part of who I am; try as I might I cannot recall a time during my lifetime when it did not play a major role in my life, long may this trend continue. At the age of four a small boy received one of the greatest material blessings he has ever known, like the seed of a fruit tree it has truly become the gift that keeps on giving.

About the Author

image01Dave Ward majored in Business and Computing and Computer Science at the University of Wolverhampton in his native UK. Before graduating in 1992 he lived for a brief period in Frankfurt West Germany and Garmish Parten Kirschen Bavaria afterwhich he returned to the UK. In 1995 he emigrated to the United States where he currently resides in the Chicago area as a freelance Systems Analyst/Software Developer. In addition to his work life, Dave enjoys a passion for the art of writing having taken several independent classes in the subject. Hitherto he has produced a plethora of writings of various genres including technology, poetry, fiction and cultural affairs. Currently he has several writing projects in the pipeline, these include a book on morality a stage adaptation of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and a vegetarian cookbook. You can contact Dave at the following email address Britguyinus1995@gmail.com


4 thoughts on “A Lifetime of Literature — A Guest Post by Dave Ward

  1. Dave this has made me feel quite tearful, in many ways your story has mirrored my own in that certain incidents in our school life have wrongly prejudged and subsequently hindered what we are truly capable of. Yes I do remember reading stories with you. Thank you.


    1. Wow I wasn’t sure you would even remember but you did that’s awesome. Indeed childhood incidents can be very damaging if we allow them to. One thing I have learnt in life though is not to let other people define who I am. Thanks for your comment Sheila, it was very touching


  2. Dave, your story is very inspiring and yes I can remember events that happen in my school life, some great and a few sad. Thanks for sharing


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