Reading, School

Back to Middle School

A couple days ago I was back in my classroom when the “Sneak Peak” sixth graders were coming through the middle school to check it out in advance of their official arrival.

Here’s what I saw:

Curiosity, sure.

Anxiety, definitely.

Fear, somewhat.

The farther we get from middle school (just in time, some people kind of camp out there emotionally for the rest of their lives) the less likely we are to remember the turmoil that is adolescence.  It can be a time of intense loneliness for many young people. They don’t know who they are, or who they’re supposed to be, or who they want to be. What I wish most for my middle school students, aside from supportive involved parents, food and shelter,  is one good friend.  That’s really all you need to make it through.  But unfortunately there are a lot of kids who don’t even have that.

So for those kids I hope they can find a good book, preferably a lot of them. I hope they can find a book with a character they relate to, or idolize, laugh or cry with.  Because sometimes that’s all it takes to feel less alone in the world.  This has nothing to do with English class or curriculum or meeting state standards. This is about making connections, the kind of connections that can get you through a rough patch. It’s about opening your eyes to new experiences and knowing that the world is a big place.

The editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature were recently interviewed here about the 50th anniversary edition. At the end of the interview both were asked why study literature? Their answers are best read in full but here are a few quotes I liked:

“It broadens you, it makes you more human.”

“It expands you in every way. It illuminates what you’re doing.”

I want that for my students. I want that as a teacher, a reader and a writer.

Uncategorized, Writing

The Revision Conversation

I have recently started revising Go West my soon to be published YA novel. I’ve been reading through my editor’s (Andrew from Carolrhoda Lab) notes. Which by the way are excellent. Each one could elicit an entire conversation and I feel thrilled and lucky to have such a smart set of eyes on this manuscript.

One thing I’m realizing as I read through something I haven’t read in about 9 months, is that I’m a different writer now. One small example is that when I wrote the first draft I wasn’t a parent. Go West is about a teenage boy who runs away and I’ve realized that in my writing I’ve been pretty unsympathetic to his mother -who has her own set of issues.  However, if I wrote this today I doubt very much I would write her character the same way.

I also think I’m a better writer than when I first wrote this -which is great because it’s always nice to feel like you’re improving on something you devote a lot of time to.  (Since I wrote Go West, I’ve completed a first and second draft of a new book. ) There are little things in Go West that make me cringe but are easy to fix. I guess it’s just nice to see a progression.

My freshman year in college I took an intro to lit course with a white-bearded professor who’s name now escapes me. Imagine Gandalf but with a love of Henry James.  One of his pet peeves was when people talked about whatever we were reading and referred to the author. “It’s not the author anymore,” he chided us. “What is the text telling you?” This emphasis on the text as separate from the author comes back to me now as I’m revising my own words. As I re-read Go West I make a lot of notes. These notes are a kind of conversation I’m having between myself, the text, and the person I was when I originally wrote it. Luckily we’re all good friends.