THE FIRST TIME I DISCOVERED that my words had an effect on other people was when something I wrote made other people cry.
The people were my fellow high-school English students, and the topic was a personal essay we’d been assigned. My take on it was to write about loneliness, and I wish I still had the essay because I can’t even remotely reconstruct it after 31 years and thousands of more words down the line.
But I was a very lonely adolescent, and I put all of my loneliness into this essay, and I got somewhat choked up while reading it, and so did my fellow students on hearing it, and I reached the end, and some of us were in tears, and it felt weird but also good, and my teacher (who had sort of been picking on me all year) began excoriating me for writing something off-topic to the assignment, and I lost my temper, and told her that she “should get a job with the city sewer services because you know as much about shit as you do about good writing” and walked out.
(Pardon my language, but this item also illustrates the story about why I have no high-school diploma, but as I say that’s another story, or rather another part of the same story.)
To a certain extent, loneliness still motivates my writing: I can never be satisfied with a piece unless someone else has read and understood it. Maybe all writers are like that; I don’t read a lot about process because most discussions of writing process always sound to me self-serving after a very little while, as if “to clearly communicate something” isn’t reason enough to write, or to live…
Wow. Way to ruin a moment, Teach – not to mention, nice job boosting the confidence of the shy, nervous kids still waiting to read their own papers to the class. Good for you for flying over the cuckoo’s nest, and ripping her a new one. LOL! That was a brave thing to do in the 1970s, especially in the conservative ‘Nut Creek. And a high school diploma is overrated anyway.
I must have gotten lucky in the area of LL English teachers, because I know Gordon Lindsay, Edmundo Melendez, John Cody, Holly Holmes, and probably Diane Inman, all would have treated you with more sensitivity than that, if not outright appreciation, then later gently counseled you privately about any “off-topic” issues. Our teachers possessed varying degrees of competence, none was perfect, but I never knew any were that mean! Was the first letter of the last name “J” by chance, or “C?”
Anyway, this piece touched me, and I can relate. I never knew you were lonely! I was not as lonely then as I am now, for I was blessed with two equally eccentric, bright and accepting friends, Jill and Liz. I wish I had known, as we might have pulled you into our little clique. We all thought you were cool. Non-conformity and eccentricity were fine and admirable character traits in our world. There’s never a time machine around when you need one.
No, there’s not, but the thought counts greatly. Thank you. And yup — “J” it was. The legends were true.
I thought as much.