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Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Perks of Being a Writer

Being a writer has lots of perks— flexibility to follow my own schedule with daily disruptions that require far less mental anguish than the years when I punched the clock (no one is waiting for me to unlock the break room or open the classroom door); freedom to work in the clothing of my choice which means that everyday is dress down day— and I'm not talking crisp jeans and trendy shirt—I'm talking faded jeans and frayed sweatshirt or favorite green sweater sadly stained with chlorine; and socks but no shoes (unless it's winter and I am venturing for the mail).

Some perks turn into liabilities. The ability to eat lunch whenever I want often turns into the simple ability to eat WHENEVER,  and even the ability to mingle with characters of my own choosing  sometimes leads to a longing for someone whose voice isn't the echo of my own heart.

I often miss the camaraderie of the teacher's room and even more, I miss the students, their chatter, their laughter, their questions (though grading their research papers, not so much).

Luckily, I still visit schools, both in person and virtually.

Last month, during a virtual visit, a student came  to the microphone and asked how I, a white woman, could write about slavery. There's been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation and I was harshly criticized on social media for exactly what this boy was asking me. But this boy wasn't antagonistic, just curious and very DIRECT. I answered him the best I could, admitting to the limits of anyone ever understanding how another person feels inside, particularly one who has suffered such unkindness and experienced so much injustice. But I also told him that I believed that people were more alike than different. I agreed that it would seem that his life and mine had very little in common and yet, on a deeper level, we both had the same needs, the same hopes— food, shelter and people to understand and care for us.

I said that there wasn't much optimism for the world if we just focused on our differences, but that writing— and reading— allow us to put ourselves in another person's shoes. Every time we open a book, we open our hearts.

The boy from Baltimore nodded. Thank you, he said. Wish I could put those words on a poster.

Being a writer has lots of perks. But the best one isn't what happens in the quiet of my kitchen as I tap at keys in my frayed, fading sweatshirt, sneaking cookies to myself. More than a perk, it's an honor to write for young people— to be reminded every day that we are more alike than different and that truth, beauty and friendship are always worth the struggle.

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