It’s not the planning, the marking, the dressing up and getting out of the house, the literacy intervention program, or the pay. I will miss what happens when I ask a class full of students to write. What occurs then, is something I still don’t understand. It appears they actually like it. I mean, really like it. And it’s not just one or two of the nerdy kids. It’s all of them; the struggling students, the ones who’d rather be sleeping, and those who wait all day for phys. ed. Eventually they come to the same place (given enough time and routine) of wanting to write. When this occurs it’s like I’ve just been surprised by a witty comedian who comes up with such an odd image, it’s laughable. It’s thrilling–and a little comical–when children don’t want to put their pencils down, or are so proud of their work they’re desperate to share it. Sometimes it catches me off-guard and I respond with cynicism instead of encouragement. Like the time the pre-teen asked if he could work on his story outside of class time. I thought he was being sarcastic so I answered dryly, “Only if you’re especially well-behaved.” And then I realized he wasn’t kidding.
It’s not that I’m an exemplary teacher or my assignments are particularly clever. In fact, the opposite is true. The more elaborate my plans, or complicated my invitation, the less enticing the offer for the students. Instead, bare-bone instructions fueled by an excerpt from a book or a poem seem to churn out the best ideas and most enthusiastic participation… to my constant amazement.
Sometimes I wonder what happens to this innate drive as we get older. Perhaps our creative energies go to to our jobs, keeping our homes and vehicles together, planning birthday parties, or other artistic endeavors. And after work (whether at home with children or in an office) and dinner who has time to pen an essay? But, the thing I’ve noticed whenever I confide to people about my writing habit, is that almost everyone wants to write, or has an idea for a novel or a memoir. Who knew there are so many unwritten books walking all around us?
A little over a year ago I joined a writing club. It’s a lot like my book club–there’s food, warm conversation, and fine women–only a little more focused. The person who facilitates brings an excerpt, or two, from an inspiring book and after a quick-write, the rest of us share and give feedback on pieces we’re currently working on. After I came home from writing group this week I was heartened, as usual, but also amused. Amused at myself, and others, who sit around fleshing out stories and ideas…for what? The love of fame? Money? I hate to be a downer, but the probability of any one of us producing a bestseller is almost as high as Stan taking off his toque. No, the reason we keep bringing drafts and revising stories that will never hear the ring of a cashier’s till is probably the same reason students moan when I tell them their writing time is up. It’s almost like we were born for it.
The author, Kate DiCamillo, explains here how a college professor once brought special attention her work, and it wasn’t because her writing was extraordinary. It was her ability to see. She writes,
“I cannot control whether or not I am talented, but I can pay attention. I can make an effort to see. The world, under the microscope of your attention, opens up like a beautiful, strange flower and gives itself back to you in ways you could never imagine. What stories are hiding behind the faces of the people who you walk past everyday? What love? What hopes? What despair?
Writing is seeing. It is paying attention.”
I feel the same way, though I’m not quite so eloquent about it all. When I write, I’m like a cow chewing my cud, regurgitating the moments I was too busy to suck the life out of the first time around. But I doubt my young students would resonate with DiCamillo’s essay or my cud-chewing metaphor. To them, writing isn’t philosophical; it’s fun, even addictive, and witnessing this in action makes going to work worthwhile. So next fall, when I’m in my rocking chair instead of circulating desks, I know what I’ll remember. What I’ll miss most is when the moment I say, “Pick up your pens.” And, against all odds, they do.
*In case you’re just stopping by this site: I won’t be teaching next year because I’ll be on maternity leave. I’ve never taken one before because, well, let’s face it,my employment history is pretty sketchy. The whole prospect of a mat-leave makes me feel terribly grown-up.