"Excuse me, Mr. Michael. Excuse me." A tiny third grader with short, curly brown hair and a mouthful of braces, Anna B. waved her hand with the force of an outboard motor. Before calling on her, I looked around the room to see if any of my less talkative students had their hands up. At the back table, Jason was hunched over his notebook, chewing the sleeve of his sweatshirt as he doodled a grisly battle between ghost robots and mutant vegetables. To my right, a shy, red-haired girl named Mackenzie was watching the class rabbit chew through a pencil she had stuck into its cage. "I just thought you would want to know," Anna B. burst out, doing her best to stifle a fit of giggles. "That someone farted."
Welcome to creative writing class at Thornhill Elementary School. When I first took the job, teaching after-school classes at Thornhill, I saw it as a stopgap, something temporary to help pay the bills. Little did I know Jason, Mackenzie, Anna B., and the rest of the third graders at Thornhill would help pull me out of the quarter-life quicksand into which I was sinking.
I had just turned 30, had just moved back home, and was feeling like the punch line of a bad joke. While I looked for a "real job," I was supposed to be finishing the novel I had spent the past six years working on, but that wasn't going very well either. Every time I sat down to write I hit a wall, paralyzed by fear of failure and the possibility that I had wasted six years of my life. Who would want to read a book about a little girl who becomes an adviser to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire? Worrying about the future, I had lost touch with my sense of wonder and possibility, the very reason I was writing the novel in the first place…” [read more]