You Want to Get Drunk? I Want to Get Drunk, Too
If there is one thing I want my students to understand, it’s that writing is a process. You begin and you never stop. Nothing is ever done. Ah ha, see? Such is our entire life. I don’t throw an assignment at them and two weeks later wait patiently as they toss their final drafts on my desk. We write our introductions. I make notes in the margins. We write our body paragraphs. I draw lines, question the strength of their details, encourage them to dig deeper. Some students are not taking my suggestions. Once again, I had to stand in front of class, lean in a bit, and say, This isn’t a fiction workshop. My comments are not optional. You can’t give or take them. You can’t question my writing aesthetic and decide it doesn’t align with yours and therefore decide I’m too full of my own shit to recognize good writing. I was met with dead stares. My students have never been in a fiction workshop, and I’m probably suffering from post-traumatic stress.
Then again, maybe I am full of shit. What would another teacher, a better teacher, an older teacher, say about Johnnie Smith’s topic sentence that I thought was so lovely? Somehow, I’m a new authority on right and wrong; somehow, I’ve become a person who tells them what to do and how to do it. This is terrifying. Sometimes I can’t wait for the weekend either. Sometimes I send out an email on Monday asking who wants to meet up for happy hour on Friday. I ask if people have Groupons for drink deals, who’s feeling wine and who’s feeling vodka, who’s feeling indie bar and who’s feeling chain. Drinking is also a process.
When looking out at all the young, fresh, bored faces in my classes, I can’t help but think about myself when I was eighteen and first starting college. In my mind, there were two things: lollygag around the Snack Shack until the cute boy behind the counter talks to me, and plan some sort of drinking expedition for the weekend. I went to classes, I did my homework, but mostly I wanted the fuck out of the room and the hell into a party.
My chiropractor has been asking me if I’ve been carrying something heavy on my right shoulder. Adjunct instructors don’t have offices and no one gets a permanent classroom. I am my own classroom. I have three classes, and I carry them with me everywhere I go: their papers, my books, my folders, my binders. They are all there in my shoulder bag, weighing me down. I have to earn money. I have to take the only skill I have, which is that I have a vague sense of what it means to be a good writer, and spin that out into the rest of the world. I have a mortgage, a car payment, and bad debt. When I was 18, I thought I was Queen Shit of the Planet. I was going to be a Bad Ass Writer. I was going to write clever, edgy stories and Matt Lauer was going to interview me on The Today Show. I see that drive in my students, too. I see it wasted on boys (or girls) who don’t like them and clothes they aren’t comfortable in. I overheard one of the girls in my class talking to her friend about her boyfriend, how he was being a shit. Part of me needed to tell her to curb the language. Part of me needed to sit down and make her realize that boys who are shits are not worth her time. She’s sharp, one of my better students. Sometimes, in the middle of me standing up there talking about paragraphs or how important it is to participate in class, I want to close my book and truly level with them:
“Let me tell you something about your lives. You are going to have consequences. They are going to be paralyzing. You will not have warnings. Terrible things will happen to your friends right in front of you. You will turn thirty, look behind you, and wonder what in the fuck that was all about. You will wonder if all those mistakes were worth it, if all those sacrifices and bullshit meant anything, or if the universe is just some static, blah nothing that’s stingy on the return.”