When Ted Murphy, who enjoys a hard-earned and well-deserved reputation as one of Falmouth’s most cherished authors and doers of good deeds, was studying at Boston College many years ago, he hit a wall. He was struggling with some of his courses and concerned that he didn’t have what it took to graduate. He was doubting his very reason for being at an elite university, and perhaps even doubting his very reason for being. It was a difficult time.
A group of high school friends from Falmouth, including Jen Jensen, Andrea Harding and Jen Chance, were aware of Ted’s struggles and reached out. They met at the Leeside in Woods Hole for a drink. He was having difficulty with math, but excelled in writing and other creative subjects. Looking through the lens of history, that state of affairs is not a surprise, but the young adult Ted Murphy didn’t even know he was destined to write. Jen handed Ted a sign with a simple but powerful message: “Enjoy What You Are.” As she handed Ted the gift that would redirect his thinking and help guide him toward his life’s journey of writing, teaching, and sharing, she gave him some equally simple but powerful advice. “You’re a writer, Ted. Enjoy what you are.” Not long after, Jen Chance died in a car accident, making that visit and her advice even more impactful. Ted took his dear friend’s advice. He persevered. He enjoyed what he was and is—a writer and creator, and thinker and doer. He graduated and now teaches a course on writing at his beloved BC.
Today, that sign hangs in a prominent place in “The Writer’s Shack,” Ted’s modest but meaningful edifice of education near his home in Falmouth Heights. The walls of the shack are adorned with memorabilia and Falmouth artifacts, and also feature signatures from the hundreds of students Ted has taught there over the years in his “Just Write It” class, an exploration of creativity for kids he holds 11 times each summer.
Every item in the shack has a story. In fact, the shack itself has a story. Having four sisters and a younger brother, Ted’s mom, Margaret, suggested he occupy the garage-turned-cottage adjacent to their family home. As Ted tells it, his mom told her son, “You need your own place.” These decades later, he still has it. It’s still not clear if Margaret was providing peace and quiet for her creative son or for the rest of the family, but the result has been nonetheless a success.
A sign for “Capers,” one of the former summer seaside iterations where the British Beer Company is today, hangs in a prominent location in the Shack. Ted, with twinkling Irish eyes and broad and sincere smile, recounted for me the day when he and his dad, Jim Murphy, another of Falmouth’s beloved and legendary authors, “acquired” the sign late one night after Capers went out of business. I can neither confirm nor deny the method by which the sign was obtained, but will share that Ted noted his dad, out of breath but exhilarated from their heist, noted to his son, “I haven’t had a rush like that since the Korean War.”
Memories like that one are embedded in each item on display at the shack. Ted pointed out a photo of former student Julia Cox, who now writes successful screenplays. He shared a copy of a book, “Loud Silence,” a book by author Carina Christo, another student who tapped into her talents in the Shack. “She was a quiet kid who found her voice through writing,” noted the teacher and cheerleader who still marvels in each individual success of his students. And success need not be a book or a screenplay; it can simply be finding a way to get kids to escape from the “keyboard courage” of social media and actually interact, create, and support one another. He has a basket inside the door of the Shack where all cellphones go upon entering. Students take a break from the cacophony and unpredictability of the outside world and enter a world where they write the story; they determine who laughs and who cries, who lives and who dies.
Through that power of imagination, Ted gets his students, if only for a week during the summer, to explore, as the sign says, to enjoy what they are—whatever that is. For some, that discovery is, like it was for Ted, the foundation for a lifetime of artistic expression. He is still booking for classes this summer. Interested kids and parents can reach out to Ted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Creativity is getting lost,” Ted the teacher lamented to me. Again turning to the dispositive impact of social media, he noted that on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, people follow the thoughts of others, whereas creative writing encourages kids to create their own thoughts. That can be therapeutic, he shared, noting that writing can be therapy for many who have experienced trauma, and the cocoon of the Shack and the students creates a circle of support. Thankfully, the Shack has been and continues to be a place where creativity and originality are encouraged and where that circle of support goes round and round as each new class begins.
When Ted Murphy published his first book, his mom noted to him, “Now you have to give back.” Her message was clear: success is not to be savored, but shared, so that others can achieve it as well. That has become Ted Murphy’s life’s work. We are fortunate that he still cares enough about kids and creativity that his life’s work continues and his giving back endures.