The Indie Experiment:The Teacher
My high school didn’t have a Creative Writing program and not one of my English teachers in the history of my public education ever devoted any time to it. School was about reading and analyzing and using historical and social context to squeeze paper thin ideologies out of metaphors and imagery that I’m pretty sure the writer wrote in by total accident. It wasn’t about making art but instead about stripping it down to all of these mechanical parts that were supposedly more important than the whole. So naturally I was left with the misconception that having good grades in English class meant that I was a natural writer. Well, until I started college and took my first Creative Writing class and I realized that I was wrong. In actuality whatever talent I had as a writer was more in spite of all of those years in public school and had more to do with all of the reading I did outside of class. But that’s beside the point. The point is that I went into the Arts totally unprepared but all it took was one teacher to make me believe that I had something important to say.
I had so many great teachers growing up but the ones I remember the most are the ones who always got lost in their own memories, the ones who would stop in the middle of class just to tell us a story, the ones who taught me more about life than the actual curriculum. And while I can’t guarantee that their methods always yielded high marks on test day, none of that really matters in hindsight. What matters is how they made me see the world and how they made me see my place in it.
I had one of those teachers in college. The department was so small that I actually had him for three semesters and each time I never learned a thing about craft or writing rules or about three act structure or any of that stuff because he was always too busy telling us about the exotic places he’d travelled to and the women he’d met there and his days as an alcoholic and all of these stunning and terribly personal details about his life. He was so open and unashamed and it was the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned as a writer. Because the truth is a writer’s bread and butter aren’t his words but his vulnerability. That’s where our power comes from. And it’s something my timidity would never have allowed me to realize until I experienced it myself.
While my classmates were work-shopping pieces about first love or feminism or sociopaths with mommy issues I was struggling with the scope and intention of my own work. Because I didn’t know how to incorporate themes or morality or any of that other (often pretentious) stuff that separates the literary prize winners from the rest of us. But I wanted be like everyone else; as good as everyone else. So I tried too hard and turned in a few crap stories about hair and femininity and other random stuff I cared absolutely nothing about.
Until the day I decided it was useless and I stopped. Because I hated it. And I started writing stories about people. The people I wore and knew and loved. The people I pretended to be and the people I couldn’t stand to have inside me. I wrote about true things and scary things and turning them in to my professor to share with the class, well that was the scariest part of all.
But then the strangest thing happened. The moment I started being more vulnerable in my writing, the more others connected with it. And not just in a superficial way but in a visceral, powerful, stop me after class to talk to me kind of way. I will never forget one particular moment during a workshop when the professor was introducing my piece and he actually got choked up. And that pause spoke volumes. Because I’d accomplished the one thing that every writer sets out to do, I’d made someone feel something. It was such an incredible and eye-opening moment for me because it was the very first glimpse of what I could do and what kind of an impact I could have if I could just be brave and be honest. If I could just stop being afraid or ashamed. If I could just be my whole self and my true self. And if I could just be willing to share that truth with others.
For years I’d been a closet writer but the thing about hiding, even if it’s just one small part of who we are, is that it doesn’t hurt anyone but us. But the moment I felt validated by my peers everything changed for me. And while these days I don’t need validation from anyone but myself I’m not sure that I would have been able to grow as much as I have without that first small push and those first few readers who actually wanted more. And for certain I wouldn’t have been able to grow this much or be this brave or be this in tune with my own voice or be able to stand in my own truth at all if I hadn’t had the honor of watching another author, another person who I deeply admired standing in his first.