Monday, September 22, 2008

I Heart Teenagers

First off, New Book Update: So that new idea I told y'all about last time? The one for my "the stand-alone I shall write between Demonglass books" project? I started it today, and I cranked out 2,000 words in about 2 hours. W00t! Now I only have 2,000 more to go before I know whether or not the idea will actually work. For some reason, 4,000 words is what I have to write before I can tell whether or not I have a book. Sadly, 4,000 words is about 20 pages, and that is A LOT to throw out if it's not working. But I still have a good feeling about this one. The writing came really easy today, and usually the first chapter is the one that I struggle with the most. Also, all of this good writing was totally facillitated by me finding an awesome new place to write! When we lived in Huntsville, I used to go to the Starbucks in Athens to write, as I am almost physically incapable of writing at home. I don't know if home is too distracting, what with the Food Network, and the books, and the available couch for napping, or if there's just something creatively stunting about my house (which is a kind of sad thought.)

Now that we're in Auburn, I've been really struggling with my writing since I couldn't find a "spot." There are some cool deli/bakery/coffee shops downtown, but those turned out to be bad writing spots because A) it's VERY hard to find parking downtown, and what parking there is is limited to 2 hours, and B)while I LOVE living in a college town filled with young, vibrant, educated college students, I um... live in a college town with young, vibrant, educated college students who like to go to deli/bakery/coffee shops downtown and talk VERY LOUDLY about all aspects of their lives. And I mean all. (Sidenote- Young Blonde Girl with Ponytail at Big Blue Bagel, should you happen to be reading this: BREAK UP WITH THAT GUY. Trust me, I've seen the way that one ends, and you want out NOW. Also, buy a copy of The Gift of Fear. Sheesh.)

So today, I went scouting for other, slightly further afield locations, and came across the A.K. Coffee Company. Easy parking? Check. Comfy chairs and tables? Check. Quiet? Check. Awesome coffee and snacks? Check and check! And as an added bonus, they have free Wi-Fi! Granted, that's a double-edged sword, what with the temptations of email and D-Listed, but I still like having it in case I need to look up something.

So now that I have a spot, I'm hoping the writing will flow. I'll keep you posted!

Last week, I went back to my old high school (well, my old EVERYTHING school. It's a private school, so I was there from kindergarten through 12th grade.)I was there because the school newsletter is doing a little write-up on me, and the advisor wanted me to look over it and make sure all of the facts were right. Now, I have to say, I am SUPER pumped about this, and I am not being facetious. My school was/is kind of fancy-schmancy, so usually the Alumni News section of the newsletter is full of things like, "Jennifer Mowbry just graduated first in her class from UAB medical school, after also obtaining a degree in Molecular Biology. She will be working with Doctors Without Borders in Botswana, where she will cure orphans of cancer. When she returns to the US, she plans on building her own hospital out of all recyclable materials, as well as recording a CD of Gregorian Chants geared towards waking people from comas."

So yeah, I thought my chances of getting in the Alumni News section were pretty slim. But now there I am! All gettin' published!

While I was there, I got to meet the newsletter advisor's class of beyond precious 7th grade Language Exploration students. Now, for one thing, this was the coolest class I'd ever heard of. It's all about art and culture, and they were learning about the Biltmore Estate, for heaven's sake. What REALLY blew my mind is that, since we had to go to the yearbook room to look at the newsletter, the teacher selected one kid to read from the textbook to the class and write down any facts she deemed important on the board. And when she was done with her paragraph, another kid would get up and read, and so on until the teacher came back.


See, I told you they were precious. I was afraid to leave my classes alone for the five minutes it would take to go to the bathroom when I was a teacher.

Anyway, before the teacher and I left for the yearbook room, I got to talk to them a little bit about Demonglass, which was so very fun. They were genuinely enthusiastic, and they asked lots of questions. And talking with them made me realize how much I really do miss teaching.

Whenever I talk to people about the Black Hole of Suck that was my job, they always assume I mean the kids. But, truthfully, the kids were the absolute best part of the BHOS. Sadly, it was the adults- and only a small handful of them. Most of the people that work there are lovely people AND great teachers- that made that place so poisonous. Teaching is such a challenging profession, and one that requires teamwork and support, rather than competition and backstabbing. (Sidenote #2: Someone asked me the other day why I haven't gone into more detail about the things that made the BHOS a BHOS, and the simple answer is that all of that stuff happened a year ago, so there's no sense in dwelling on it now. Plus, that small handful of people who suck so badly are stuck there at the BHOS, and I go to work in my pajamas now. So, you know, me for the win on that one!)

I taught roughly 180 kids a year, and of that 180, I probably only had one or two a year that were genuine asshats, and even they weren't so bad. I've always believed that the majority of discipline problems in classrooms are teacher-created, as weird as that might seem. But if you can treat kids like people and make them see that you're all in this together, you have a much better chance at maintaining your sanity as a teacher.

Every great memory I have of the BHOS involves kids. There was Mekale, who I taught my first year, who freakin' HATED Hamlet. We struggled every day through that damn play, and every day, Mekale whined and complained and said he didn't understand anything anyone was saying. And every day, I told him to just try, that interpreting was what I was there for. By the time we finished Hamlet, I thought depsite my best efforts, Mekale had not taken a single thing away from the play, and would probably hate Shakespeare forever.

Then, about a month or so later, I was talking to the class a few mintues before the bell rang, and I told them that I was babysitting for a friend of mine because she had a date that night. One of the kids joked that I should take my friend's son to where she'd be on her date, jusst to freak him out.

And then Mekale piped up, "Yeah, that kid would be all, 'Hey, is that my mom? Is she with some guy? What the hell, is that my UNCLE?"

I totally ignored that he'd just said hell in class (truth be told, I ignored every bad word a kid ever said, so long as it wasn't directed at me. Pick your battles.)

"Mekale," I said. "Did you just... make a Hamlet joke?"

And he just smiled at me. I literally jumped off of my stool and ran over and gave him a hug.

Moments like that, as big a cliche as it is, totally made teaching for me.

But it wasn't just the Lifetime movie-esque moments that made me love my job. It was the super surreal ones, like the day before Christmas break, when I had a girl tell me she had a present for me. Now, this girl had always been a little off (she was also crazy-brilliant, so I wrote off her at times bizarre behavior as what happens when you're too smart for your own good), so I knew whatever present she had for me was going to be...interesting to say the least. However, I was not prepared for her to slap on some fabric antlers and announce, "I'm going to sing you a Christmas Carol. In the Duck Language."

And then, by God, she did. She stood in front of me, wearing antlers, and quacked "Greensleeves" at me.

It was, without a doubt, the strangest and most awesome thing I have ever seen. I mean, nothing- NOTHING- can ever touch the whacked-outness of that moment.

When she was done, she smiled at me, and I thanked her, and thought, "Thank God I have this job. No one else will ever have a story like that one."

So, yeah, I'm always going to miss teaching. I actually liked getting up in front of kids and talking about Macbeth. I liked that look on their faces when they got it. I loved reading essays that might have been grammatically or structurally imperfect, but that you could tell had come from the heart, and required real thought.

That's one of the reasons I'm so happy to be a YA author. I'm so excited to be able to work with kids again, especially in a capacity where I don't have to grade anything, or ever take a phone call from an angry parent who insists that yes, his kid did turn in her essay, I just lost it.

Teenagers are the best audience you can have. They love things passionately, and their bullshit detector is highly tuned. Definitely keeps you honest as a writer!

Oh, and about those 7th graders? Right before I left, one little girl, who I noticed had a tattered copy of Twilight by her desk, asked me if my book was anything like Stephenie Meyer's. Now, my book doesn't have vampires (okay, it has ONE, but she's not a hot guy. Or sparkly.) And there is a love story, but it's not the central focus of the book. And it's set off the coast of Georgia, and not in the Pacific Northwest.

So, with the importance of honesty in my mind, I looked into her earnest little face and said, "Yes. Yes, it is exactly like Stephenie Meyer."

Hey, as we say down here, my Mama didn't raise no fools! ;)


Amie Stuart said...

>>"Yes. Yes, it is exactly like Stephenie Meyer."

*howling!* Well it IS a IT IS! heeh!

Jodi said...

O.k. cracking up that you mentioned getting sidetracked by D-listed. It's like crack to me. Plus I went to High School with Pheobe Price (known then as Denise Price and she's 38 if she's a day, btw), so I can't resist checking in for her frequent sightings. Obviously, it isn't such a temptation for you, as you've actually accomplished several books. I'm still in "development". ;)