Monday, June 7, 2010

1: Years Ago, A History

This begins a series of posts that I'll be uploading throughout the week. I know it's long. I'm sorry. The others are shorter. But as I end one career to begin another, I'm very reflective about how I got here.

For your first career day at elementary school, you dress as a secretary because you like to type.

Later, you discover that you like to write stories. Your fifth grade teacher reads one of your stories out loud to the whole class, and you beam the entire time. Your sixth grade teacher reads a nonfiction personal narrative essay you wrote, and you hide your secret smile, because she says the description is realistic, but you made it all up even if it was supposed to be nonfiction. You write stories about unicorns and read them to the girl who sits next to you on the bus. Every page is a new chapter. You get to page chapter 10 and think you’ve written a novel.

You want to be a writer, but your teachers and parents say you can’t make money off it, it’s not a real job, so you decide to be a teacher. You’re in sixth grade, and you’ve got your life planned out already: a teacher who writes stories on the side. It doesn’t really occur to you that you can do anything but write on the side.

In high school, you join the literary magazine and write half of it. But you spend more time on your AP classes, because you know you’re going to need a real job.

In college, while you’re an RA and don’t have a roommate who can see you, you start to write a short story that turns out to be a novel. At first you just want to see if you can actually get that many words on a page, but in the end, when you have the whole thing printed in front of you, you realize it’s not that bad.

You send it out to a handful of agents, and you write the sequel.

You make an outline for the third book, but never write it. You discover that outlines kill your stories.

You get rejected. It doesn’t sting—you have already realized the first novel wasn’t that good, and the rejections point you in the direction of where you should go.

Meanwhile, you start your student teaching semester. It’s scary, at first, too look out at a sea of high school student faces and know they expect something of you. But you do it, and to your surprise, you actually kind of like it. You realize this may be the rest of your life.

Your brother dies. It’s sudden, and unexpected, and you hide silently within yourself for awhile. People seem like moving shadows. When strangers get to know you, and ask if you have siblings, you don’t know what to say. The first Christmas is the hardest, because your grandmother dies then, too. It’s not as sudden or unexpected, but it extends the silence.

You’re in grad school now, living alone, too poor to afford television. You spend a lot of time online, between reading Harry Potter forums and reading Miss Snark. You have a sense of pride for reading Miss Snark from the very beginning, and you’re shocked when she ends the blog.

You get an idea. A good one. A really good one. You’re supposed to be writing your Master’s Thesis, but instead, you write a book. You love it hardcore. You “edit” by printing it, fixing the grammar, and adding a few paragraphs.

You send this one out.

This time, the rejections hurt.

You still love the book. You write all the sequels to it, but squirrel them away.

You graduate with your Master’s degree in English literature.

You start looking for a job. You wait a long time to apply. You treat the whole thing casually—you figure teaching jobs are a dime a dozen. You blow off an interview.

The summer starts to end. You start panicking. You need a job. You visit some friends in NY and on the flight back you pray to God that you’ll take the first job offered to you, even if it’s janitorial work.

You have two interviews—one at the dream job in the nice city, one at the bottom of the barrel job in the backwoods of the world. You go to your interview with the backwoods school in your fancy business suit and five inch heels. The assistant principal takes you on a tour of the whole school, including the back fields with the goats. Your heart is breaking a little. You thought you escaped backwood schools and goats. You remember NY, and you think about how publishing’s heart is there. Then you tell your heart to shut up, you need a job.

The backwoods school offers a job the day before the nice city school. You remember your prayer. You take the backwoods school offer.

You rent a duplex. There’s a whole room for your computer. Your stories are tucked away in a nice folder, but you ignore them.

You write lesson plans. At first, everything is too hard—you’re trying to discuss symbolism, and they’re still learning vocabulary. Then everything is too easy—you can’t seem to find the balance.

You’re terrible at teaching. Honestly. A fight breaks out in your room so quickly you’re shocked, and before you know it, desks are thrown and a girl is standing on top of a bookcase screaming. You advice the yearbook, and you don’t know you have to check behind the students for every. Single. Little. Detail. You get cussed out by angry parents for misspelling their child’s name.

You stay up all night to work, at least once a month. You write long notes on all their essays, even if they just flip to the back to see the grade. You care so hard. Already heavy, you get fatter as time goes on, unable to expend the time, money, and energy to cook healthily.

You try to write and teach. You realize that you may only be able to do one. You are afraid you’ll never be able to do either.
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