1. that’s tight
Yesterday I visited three freshman creative writing classes at
The excerpt I chose was from a story about a 16-year-old gay kid who lives in South L.A., works as a dishwasher in
“Is it okay if I read a story where a kid gets called a fag?” I asked Jen, their incredibly nice teacher, in our 30-second pre-class conference.
“Definitely—but I’ll wa
I wanted to read the piece to challenge them, and to challenge myself—I’m way too used to reading for fellow travelers. What’s the point of writing a story about a queer high school kid if you can’t handle reading it to high school kids?
Jen knew her class well—there was some uncomfortable laughter, but overall they listened quietly. Although some of them might have been sleeping, now that I think about it. But there were two adorable gay-looking boys in the front row of one of the classes. They wore skinny jeans and shiny T-shirts. One had a faux-hawk and one had spirals shaved into the side of his head. Both looked like they tweezed their eyebrows.
At the end of my reading, in which the 16-year-old gay kid tweezes his eyebrows, one of the boys looked up at me and said, “That’s tight.”
I know it’s a cliché, but that made the whole day worth it. That, and the boy in fifth period who came up to me after class and told me how much he liked writing and how he’d been working on fan fiction stories and wanted to know if teenagers could get published. I told him about S.E. Hinton and encouraged him to post his fan fiction online and ask for reader feedback.
2. yes, i’m extremely famous
These moments made up for the loud boys in every class who asked questions not because they cared about the answers, but because they liked the sound of their own voices, and the barrage of questions about exactly how rich and famous writing had made me.
I sort of wanted to say, “Yes, I’m extremely famous. That’s why you’ve never heard of me.” After three periods of breaking the news that I’d made a total of about $300 from my writing, I started to feel like a little bit of a failure.
“Now you know how I feel,” Cathy commiserated later. “Even when they ask me stuff like, ‘Are you married?’ and ‘Do you have kids?’ I feel like a loser. Then they ask, ‘Do you even have friends?’”
I know the lesson here is to not judge oneself by a 14-year-old’s value system (although sometimes I feel like
I wanted to say, “Do you know how hard it is to be an adult? To just manage to not live with your parents?” (I also found myself wanting to say things like, “When you talk out of tu
But they’re 14, and all 14-year-olds more or less believe they’re going to be famous someday. So while I tried to share a cheerfully packaged dose of reality, I also tried not to burst their collective bubble, and I tried to let a little of their hopefulness rub off on me. Maybe some of them will be famous writers. It could happen to any of us.