Friday, June 04, 2010

Yesterday--skull splitting impervious-to-aspirin headache and every bone in my body ached from Death Flu. Thoughts of aneurysms (when I could think) danced through my disaster-lovin' mind. I think it was everything in this past month that had come crashing down on me; Carla's death, and all the ways it has been working inside me. Luckily I seem to have burned through the worst of the bug in 24 hours. Sleep, sleep, liquids, and more sleep, and the pain is miraculously almost gone.

Today: grateful for simple things, like the ability to sit upright and type this, a stack of chick flick videos downstairs, a working telephone, and a dear old out-of-state friend whom I haven't seen in years coming for dinner. To say nothing of nice pajamas.

I wrote a class description and signed up to teach a class on the 10-minute play at The Writing Salon. I love this little form, which is a bit like a long poem, an extended riff, a condensed little bonsai of a play. If you know of anyone who would like to play and experiment with this, please send them over to to sign up for it.

And both the classes I am currently teaching there are going well. I like a good lively discussion in my classes, and I'm certainly getting that. I feel challenged--my opinions aren't always automatically deferred to. Is that okay? Am I exerting enough teacherly influence?

My students are adults--opinionated adults, adults who in some cases have taken many classes and studied with a lot of smart writers. I can pass along what I've come to know for myself, but I don't always automatically have the definitive final word critique on any given piece of writing--I have opinions, but they are only that. Works of literature which I disliked have been lauded in print by other people. One woman's meat, etc.

What I think I can do well is create a good container where people can grow intellectually and creatively into their own strengths. That's what I'm there for. Not to impose my own views--much as a certain part of myself would like that--but to provide a rubric for interrogating the assumptions we bring to the page. Encouraging folks to look deeper, look at the underside. What isn't there on the page yet?

Despite concrete feedback that the classes are going well--students have written me emails telling me as much--I still come home feeling insecure some days. Some days I am still in high school. This morning in fact, I woke up feeling that I had dreamed of high school, that time of belonging and not-belonging, frizzy hair, not the right clothes. Time when I swung between ecstatic discoveries--I am a sexual person! I have my own mind! I can create!--to absolute dejected despair--I will never be the most beautiful girl in the room, I won't get the guy in the end, I will always be in some ways an outsider.

And of course I think of Carla in all this. How the mostly girls' group that gathered around her was like a big wonderful clique--wonderful in many ways, challenging sometimes, despite all our caring there were moments of her being on the outside, because the perspective of a dying person who is thinking of things like living wills, and what to do with their ashes, is so fundamentally different than the perspective of a person who is thinking about what am I going to do next summer and should I go back to school.

It was only when she finally connected with other people who also had ALS that she was able to find a place where all of her emotions were completely understood and shared. All those of us who were part of the process were both outside and inside at the same time, going so deeply into another person's life, returning, changed, to our own lives.

And of course that's the thing about high school that you don't know when you're young (or at least I didn't know it): that everyone feels to some degree outside. Even--maybe especially--the kids that look like the most insiders. When Frances and I saw the play "Girlfriend" about two gay teenagers in a small town, it was the jock kid I worried about. The kid who was identifiably gay--who was feminine and poor and never fit in--he was going to be okay. He knew who he was and could deal with it.

It was the kid who was athletic, whom no one would have suspected of being gay, who was expected to be a doctor and have a girlfriend--he was the one who looked like he might explode with everything he was holding in, holding up, holding onto. He was the one with the most to lose--his image, his cool, his illusion of fitting in, "making it" in straight society--and he was the one with the most to gain, an authentic self. The other kid, the uncool outsider? He had never lost his authentic self. For better or for worse he was himself, and that was his great gift.

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