Here’s what happened. It was 12:20; lunchtime. They could have been over in the cafeteria, clumped up tight around the tables, but here they were, hanging out in Christina Benedict’s classroom. A few girls sat around a laptop, absorbed. A tall young man wrote out word scrambles on the blackboard, and the guesses flew — silly, funny, hit or miss. “This isn’t a test” was his attitude. “It’s fun.”
The bell rang and more creative writers filed in. We began. Their questions were writers’ questions — about the process, about where ideas come from, about what it feels like to have a story take over your mind. The changes in publishing. How to make a website. What it costs to self-publish. What the mainstream publishing world is all about. Where do titles come from? Characters’ names? What is the importance of setting? Place?
I read from Spring Bear a bit, but I’d lost track of the section of new work I’d printed out and brought with me. I was really bummed. I wanted to read my new work to these folks. But we talked abut free writing, and I told them how mine gets lost, buried under layers of editing that end up as the final draft. We shared the tricks we all have to escape the fear of the blank page, and confided in each other our writing rituals. I forgot to tell mine about having to have the kitchen straightened up before I write, but I did tell them about the long string of mud rooms that has doubled as my study.
Now it was 2:30 and school was over but the buses would make it hard for me to get my car out, so I stayed longer. I got to shake hands with two seniors, one headed for U ME Farmington and the other for Champlain College in Burlington VT, both wanting to become writers. I wish them well. It isn’t easy, but joy and possibility were in their eyes, and I know they’ll be fine.
May their gifts inspire others, just as their teachers have inspired them. The gifts of loving to write, of taking joy in what words can do, of giving yourself the freedom to be yourself on the page — all that shone in their eyes. I saw it in their smiles. May it be with them always.