Roger was a bright student. I met him in a language arts class for gifted and talented eighth graders at a public middle school, which abutted the largest Army post in the country. The class consisted of 24 extremely mental 13-14 year olds. Not mental as in they could have been the Joker’s henchman, but mental as they were the smartest students, or people, I had ever had the chance to meet. All of them were much smarter than I am, or were even then at 34. I was their teacher; Roger wrote in my class.
When I say he wrote, don’t think about your average view of a classroom by the non-teaching public. Roger did not write simple five-paragraph themes (sad we still talk about this after 30 years); nor did he write short answer responses on reading tests; Roger wrote a novel. Roger wrote everyday during “writing-time” in my class. Normally, the children would write on the open ended topics I would throw out fairly regularly like feed to chickens. They would pick up some kernel of an idea to tend until it bloomed into an essay, a story, a poem, or sometimes if they cared about it, a history report. Roger wrote his novel.
Roger wrote his novel at home, and at lunch and in Mr. Reed’s science class if he could hide it behind his science book without getting caught. So it was no special thing to have Roger write his novel in my class. The only difference my class made was he could look like he was doing what he was supposed to be doing in class, and he actually would be doing what he was supposed to do in class: write. He had no problem with writing in my class; that’s what we did.
Roger’s problem in my class was he never turned anything in. He was always writing, I saw that. I would talk to him about what he was working on, he would show me first drafts of whatever section he was working on that day; so, I knew he had something to turn in.
Roger never turned work in. It wasn’t part of his process, once he was done with his project, he would begin another. He wasn’t writing for me to get a grade to pass my class; it wasn’t for his parents, who came in for several parent conferences and had restricted his free time after dinner at home, remember these are military parents; Roger wrote for the audience of himself. Once he was finished with whatever he was writing, Roger had read it down to the last word. It was the book he had wanted to read at the time, and now he was done. Just the same as I will put a book on the shelf when finished reading, Roger would shelve his project, then start another book.
I realized earlier today that Roger’s process for writing has also, in a way, been my process. I have written with a view of myself as a poet since I was fifteen. Most of what I write arises out of me trying to figure out my story: what it is about life that is confusing, or troubling my thoughts of the moment; and then trying to capture that wisp of an idea which evaporates as I reach for a pen. When I finish with a poem, I chase the air for the next flash of language; and, sending my work off for publication slowed down that process. With the Internet I have more of a chance to publish for a broader readership, because it does not slow my obsessive desire to write by much at all. I can work on several pieces over time, and as I finish simply paste it into my blog, Subtext, which I have kept for almost 7 years now, without too many side steps to get in the way of the rest of my life. Not that I don’t care if anyone reads my writing, because I do care. I get almost the same thrill when someone tells me they read or liked one poems that I did when Ms. May, my fourth grade teacher, told me she liked some image in a paper I wrote. It made my day then, and having a reader still does.
Writing is a rush of connection: connection between one thought to another; connection between world, self and language, which almost becomes the self; and connection between people. Roger rode that rush missing the last connection, that connection between people. I make my gesture toward the last, but ultimately what I care about more is putting the words together between my head and the paper, that deep whirly-gig connection between life and language.
(July 19, 2013)