In a few weeks, I get to teach writing to a class of 4th graders and a small class of 7th and 8th graders. I’m nervous, in that way that flits between anxiety and excitement, depending on the time of day. I haven’t yet taught kids this age before. It’s only my second year teaching. There is so much I want to share with them—and even more I haven’t yet explored for myself. I’ve made piles of the books I love, bought new books on the craft of writing, scoured the internet for wisdom, and made lesson plans. Maybe this is the appeal of being a teacher—lifelong, whatever the subject, you get to take on the responsibility of sharing knowledge with others, and gain renewed motivation to keep up your own learning and refine your own skills.
So, that brings me back to this blog. To write. To walk the walk; feel justified in talking the talk.
While reading a book about creativity today, waiting for an obscure part of my car’s engine to be replaced, I learned about Marina Keegan, a student at Yale who died in a car crash a few days after graduating, back in 2012. Almost exactly around the same time I began to discover myself as a writer.
As the internet allows one to do, not always wisely, I hopped from link to link, trapped by my own morbid curiosity. I typed variations of search terms, all to come to terms with it: Death at age 22. How? Why? The narrative media outlets and book publishers over around the tragedy called her “the voice of a generation,” anthologizing and publishing her works; pieces of writing that probably were simply first attempts, but ended up last attempts. I think of my own writing in college. I think of her, and I see myself. I think, if I don’t write now, will my first attempts become last attempts?
While exploring writing as an undergrad, Marina kept a list of “interesting things” in a notebook. She had a 32-page document full of these observations of her life. Immediately, I think of all the interesting things I haven’t yet written down in my notebook today, or put into my own sprawling word document. Interesting things, like the way the smoke curled off of a cigarette held between the two fingers of a hand dangling out of a car window. Like, the gold ring on the driver’s pinky finger and how my mind struggled, like two waves coming into the beach at different angles, to figure out the gender of the driver, because of the ring (female?) and the fact that the car had clearly been kitted out to ride low to the road (male?). Like, how I have become excellent at observing rings on fingers, in recent years, and the stories those rings, or lack thereof, tell. Interesting things in turn spark interesting questions, too. Who decided that a ring would become a symbol of marriage? Who made the first ring? What is the etymology of the word “ring”?
I moved into a new apartment yesterday, near the park where I like to watch the dogs and catch the sunset and canter like a pony during Sunday picnics with friends. My stuff is in various states of unpack. Moving all your stuff into boxes and then unpacking it again gives you a fresh set of eyes on your own life, and all the beautiful, crappy stuff you’ve acquired. In one shopping bag I found my stack of Moleskine notebooks, each color a layer of mind sediment. I started keeping these notebooks in late 2011. Pulling them out of the bag, I felt surprise at how many there were, how consistent the habit has been. Just over 6 years’ worth of observations, thoughts, questions, and memories. 6 years’ worth of, as Joan Didion put it in On Keeping a Notebook, “how it felt to be me.”
There are lots of way to teach writing. I know I will do my best; I also know I will make mistakes. But there can be no mistake in this: I will encourage my students to keep a notebook, or a document, or some place, for their interesting things. It will be my job to help them make their first attempts. And they will help me to make my second, and third, and fourth, and fifth ones.