Originally published in the San Francisco Book Review – October issue.
Get Over Yourself: What My Students Taught Me
“Miss, get back to me when you’re Dr. Seuss famous.”
That was one of the first reactions I received when I told my 100 7th grade students that I was publishing a novel.
The main piece of congratulations I got from my squirrelly middle schoolers was: “Will you share the money with us?!” Ha.
As per usual, my hooligans who I spend all day with keep me in check.
They will never allow me to take myself too seriously and thank goodness for that. No one likes that pretentious-never-smiling writer who goes around constantly sighing about how their agent and editor just “don’t see eye to eye.” Oh please.
I make a living telling kids to capitalize and spit out their gum. I write on the side. I get two sad paychecks a month, break up two fights a year, and hand out maybe two stickers a day. I write on the side.
In case you don’t have a clear enough picture of my glamorous life yet, this was the simultaneous response of almost every class when I began with “I have some great news…”:
That, as you can imagine, made the news of my novel seem quite arbitrary. Oh, our teacher isn’t having a baby out of wedlock? Well then we don’t really care.
I’m not going to lie, as a self-published author, it’s easy to get caught up in Twitter followers, Facebook likes, WordPress reblogs, Goodreads ratings, and Amazon reviews. It’s even easier to get lost in the black hole of “refreshing” the Kindle and CreateSpace sales pages.
That’s what I have my darling pre-teens for. They may irk me with their constant struggle of “Is a lot really two words, Miss?” but they definitely, DEFINITELY teach me to get over myself.
You can’t be a cliché snobby writer AND break up spit ball invasions. You can’t be a cliché snobby writer AND secretly bribe a student with chocolate before school to kill a classroom cockroach. You can’t be a cliché snobby writer AND calmly tell a student to stop making “sexual noises” during the state standardized test. And you definitely, definitely can’t be a cliché snobby writer AND keep a straight face when a student asks you, “Miss, why do all white people like to rhyme all the time?”
I think every author out there truly needs someone (or hundreds of mini-someones) to keep them humble. I’m sure even J.K. Rowling has a bubble-burster. Probably someone who gloats to her about Avatar doubling the sales of every Harry Potter film. But seriously, where would we be without these parade-rainers?
Granted, there are different types of these “antagonists”. Not everyone can be as lucky as me—mine are cute and almost impossible to stay angry with (I said almost). My students make fun of me for not being married and then, in the next breath, accidentally call me Mom. They make fun of my clothes and then, a minute later, they’re hugging me or begging me to read their poem or asking if I’ll be at their soccer game. But trust me, I have the more evil-type-naysayers as well. I like to call them h8ters or swag-less (my students may or may not have taught me those words).
These Negative Nancys are necessary, I’m telling you! You don’t want to end up ALONE, smoking a pipe in front of a fireplace, wearing only wool argyle, and refusing to speak to anyone but your typewriter (because no one else deserves your esteemed attention). NO! Also, you don’t want to end up an alcoholic-addict-suicide-Hemingway type. I mean, being Hemingway would be cool…but you know what I mean. Don’t take yourself seriously. Ever. You’ll lose something. And in turn, your writing will lose something. And then you’ll lose your readers. Boom. Is your mind blown?
While you may not be walking around the halls of your employment wearing dry erase marker streaks on your white dress, I encourage you to find your own path to absurdity. If your life isn’t a joke, you’re not a writer.
I leave you with the best student reaction to my book cover: “Miss…is that a picture of what you wish you had, but you’ve like…never had and will never have?” Burn, kid. Burn.
So hey, writers out there, remember: get over yourself!