This past Tuesday morning, I had the honor of speaking at Discovery Canyon Campus (DCC) High School, in Colorado Springs. A couple of months ago an English teacher, Douglas Jameson, contacted me and asked if I’d like to be one of their presenters during “Writers Week.” This is Mr. Jameson’s brainchild of devoting an entire week to exposing DCC’s students to the writing world. I won’t steal the school’s thunder, so just check out their about link. This is a very cool program!
As the link says, students are also asked to participate by reading their work before an audience, and participate in a Q&A session afterward with their peers! I was so impressed with what I saw! There were two young women who presented one of their works-in-progress to the audience. The first girl did a “performance piece,” which really got my attention, and I thought, man, these people are professional. This girl, it later turns out in her Q&A, is also in drama, debate, and/or speaking classes/groups (I wish I’d written this down!). She memorized and performed her work—with props (makeup and eyelash brushes). The second girl read the first chapter of her mixed-genre (SF/F/H) novel.
I was so impressed with the levels of effort from both of these young women, and was also impressed with how well they dealt with the Q&A afterward. Both were poised and at ease up there on the stage.
After the students present, then the scheduled presenter presents and also gets a Q&A from the audience. It is well run and quite fun to participate in! If presenters desire, they can stay the whole day and take in the other presenters, and hang out in the hospitality room—which I really missed out on! They devoted a classroom to presenter hospitality, which provided all kinds of warm and cold food, munchies, and beverages, as well as a place to mingle and relax in between presentations. And all presenters are presented with a gift bag. Very classy, organized, and polished.
You are escorted everywhere, and my escort, Jason, was pleasant and engaging—and it turns out we shared something in common: we both attended Northern Arizona University! He attended as a graduate student twenty years after I received my B.S. That was pretty cool, and we talked some about that, among many other things. I asked Jason how Writers Week came about and he said Doug had come up with the idea a couple of years ago. I just love this idea! It will be things like this that will create really good writing in our future.
When the young ladies were done with their Q&A, I was brought on up. I complimented both of the girls before launching into my presentation…and told them they didn’t seem to have any problems, like the ones I’d be speaking to, but since it’s what I’d prepared and practiced, that was what they were going to get!
I opened with one of my more tame stories, called “Jumper.” I wanted a short story I could read in its entirely. I was originally going to open with my “Clowns” story, but I’d been informed that recently two high schoolers had died in a traffic accident, so I might want to be sensitive to that in my presentation, and yelling “kill-kill-kill!” to an audience, even in crazy, supernatural clown-talk, might be a little much. Then I went into my presentation. I talked about how I came into writing and my processes, which included releasing my work. I also talked some about the more “Zen” aspects of writing and being a writer. Following my presentation there were some good questions thrown my way. One of them involved what role does editing play with “crappy” first drafts. My initial response was that “crappy” was a relative term—which is true—but when Jason was escorting me out he told me what he was trying to get at with his question: that some student only write first drafts and turn those in, not bothering to edit their work. In my response I had said that yes, you do have to edit, and I gave some pointers…but it is true that, yes, students, you DO have to edit. I do not know of any writers, great or not-so great, who do not ever edit. This is a necessity! You can always improve upon the previous draft, though, at some point, you do have to move on. But you should never just write up a first draft and be done with it. If you’re one of those…then we have just had the Second Coming, so could you please, help us with a few other things, like wars, violence, and all-things evil?
Afterward, I read the first part to my story, “Tail Gunner.”
Funny thing, as I was presenting, I kept feeling things falling around at my feet…and my feet kept stepping on something. I was trying not to give into whatever was going on, but once or twice my foot actually slipped on something while I was up there. Then afterwards, when kids came up so I could sign the copies of books I’d given away, as I reached for my pen it got caught in my jacket and was sumarialy ejected from my hand. So as I’m looking around for it, I spot something on the stage’s floor…and it looked like my pen had fallen apart—which didn’t make sense. The pen in question was an actual “space pen,” and wouldn’t have come apart that way. So…I stood there looking at it…finally picking it up…when one of the kids spotted my pen farther down the stage from me and picked it up, Handed it to me. I looked at what I had picked up…
It was an eyelash brush!
Apparently the first young lady must have left her props in the podium after she’d left, and it’d fallen out as I spoke and knocked about the podium from time to time!
One of the young men who came up to get his book signed began to tell me that he really liked “Tail Gunner” best, of the two stories I’d read, and also began to inform me of a great-great grandfather of his who flew B-17s…but we’d gotten interrupted by someone—I think it was the one who handed me my pen—and we never ended up finishing that conversation. Then it got lost in all the other conversation that followed as we left the stage, and…
It turns out that a writer-friend of mine, Bret Wright, is a teacher at DCC. I knew Bret was a teacher, but I’d recently found out that he worked there, so I had to call on him. He was speaking after me, but I didn’t have the luxury of being able to stay to see him speak…and he was working in his class so he couldn’t see mine. But as I was preparing for this, I’d contacted Bret and he said I should come find him—so I did!
So Jason, myself, and three of the students who actually knew where Bret’s classroom was, all made our “journey” to Bret’s classroom. I’ll tell ya, DCC is a huge, intricate, and amazing school! It actually reminded me of a D&D layout in its complexity (it was not at all “dark” or “foreboding, like typical D&D dungeons!), with its multiple floors, and all the twists and turns it takes to navigate its length! It was a fun journey through the length of this school. Jason told me that the school was built inside an actual canyon, and that its layout followed the contours of said canyon. How neat.
So our little party, chatting merrily all the way (it really felt like a D&D campaign to me—and yes, I played that a lot as a kid!), came upon Bret’s classroom, and I spotted him in action, talking to his class…when he sees us milling outside his door. His face forms into a “what-the-heck-is-going on?” look, which I loved…and I’ll tell ya why.
For some odd reason (perhaps it’s the writer’s “Drama King” in me?), I’ve always wanted to interrupt a teacher while in class. Yeah, you read that correctly. I got the idea from all the TV shows and movies I’d seen where authority figures would do so, and it just seemed like a fun thing to do to a friend, in front of their class! I thought it might make for great conversation in their students, when they’d see that their teacher is so important that someone outside of school would interrupt a class to see their teacher! Yeah, it was kind of a “Bucket List” item for me I never really wanted to acknowledge, because I honestly never thought it would happen!
Anyway, as the five of us stood milling about outside Bret’s door, and Bret’s quizzical look continue to grow as he scanned us…he finally saw me, and “got it.”
That was cool.
Bucket List item #17c completed.
I hadn’t physically seen Bret in about a year or more (we do SM), so it was good to see him again. Bret is a great guy, has really good energy about him, and we’ve always gotten along quite well with each other. He writes the “Nasty” mystery series. So out he came, and we hung out and talked for a few minutes—and I got him to sign a copy of one of his novels—in front of his people! I thought how extra special that some high schoolers got to see one of their teachers signing a book he wrote!
I was really impressed with DCC. It had a really good energy about the place, and the kids there even had a good energy about them. The three who came with Jason and me to find Bret were really cool kids, and energetically and happily chatted the entire way. I had a smile on my face the entire time. It was fun listening to them and interacting with them. They all seemed like really good kids. One of boys who got one of my books said it was the first time he’d ever gotten an autographed book from an author.
That made me feel so good to hear.
And they both got a kick out of what I’d written to them as I signed their books. This really made me feel good that I’d been able to “make” those kids’ day!
When I was preparing my presentation, I was constantly ever mindful about what I was going to say…and that everything I would say was about to enter into the ears and minds of many kids hungry for knowledge and learning (I figured that must have been about a hundred of them, there, in the auditorium, as I spoke). Perhaps even taking what I’d say as gospel. That everything I would say would be scrutinized and land somewhere in these fertile mental landscapes and become internalized…so I had to be critical and serious about the words I picked and how I said them. Careful about what I said. I would be presenting to a captive audience (I’m sure some were only there to get out attending a class, perhaps…), sure, but also to minds that are still learning and forming and thirsty and hungry for knowledge.
It was no small responsibility.
I did not want to misspeak.
I did not want to lead them astray.
I also did not want to blow smoke up their butts.
I took this opportunity quite seriously…and it really hit me how important being a teacher is.
That it, too, is no small responsibility.
Teachers are forming lives.
It’s not only what they teach…but how they teach it.
It’s not just the knowledge behind it…but the Zen surrounding it.
And that’s what I wanted to do with my presentation. I’d also always wanted to speak to a high school, and now I’ve done so. I wanted to not only present writing processes…but the more gray areas (pardon the pun?)…the more Zen areas…of writing…and that is what I hoped I did. I brought ethics into my speech. About how to treat those with whom they deal with with respect. About how to not let writing destroy their lives…because it can and has destroyed lives…but to incorporate it into theirs.
Live your lives well…and don’t worry about having to be perfect—not even with one’s lives.
Intend to do well…that is what matters…mistakes will be made, but don’t kill yourself trying to be error-free…or becoming published.
Intend to live a good life and intend to write the best you can. Don’t destroy your lives over becoming a writer. Don’t give up love or relationships or living for wordsmithing words.
No life is that unimportant.