Very early in my teaching career, when I was still learning my craft, I’d had a disastrous first essay assignment with my students. I’d mistakenly believed one of my jobs as a teacher was to edit their papers, and the result was, as a student bluntly referred to it, “a bloodbath.” (I’d even used red pen. I’d thought teachers were supposed to use red pens.) I hadn’t taught them as much as I’d corrected them. I hadn’t guided them as much as I’d crushed them. They were deflated, as was I. I had thought I was doing it right, only to discover I’d not only done it wrong, but also that I’d probably done damage.
When I confided in the professor who became my mentor, he didn’t chastise me, but politely showed me the errors of my ways, and offered suggestions on how to improve. And by doing so, he’d freed me to become the kind of teacher I aspired to be.
For the second essay assignment, due right around Halloween, I was now inspired and even confident. Dubbing the assignment “The Monster is Out of the Cage” (and following it with an excessive amount of exclamation points; like I said, I was young and had a lot to learn about my craft), I offered a completely new approach to the learning objectives. I had derived the title from the manager of the New York Mets referring to catcher Mike Piazza, who finally had the batting performance the fans and team had been waiting for during the 2000 Subway World Series with the New York Yankees.
Drawing on Stephen King’s essay “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” I offered my students to write their own “Why We Crave…” essay, filling in the blank.
The students loved it. And the topics were varied. Why We Crave Love. Why We Crave Football. Why We Crave Music.
Their writing came alive, as did they. Moreover, they came to understand the objective of the assignment: what we in the field described as a causal analysis.
“The Monster is Out of the Cage” had been an apt title for the assignment in many ways, and it set the course for the remainder of the semester, which ended way better than it had started.
Dare I say, this is how I’m feeling these days.
It started last month, when I devoured Glennon Doyle’s memoir Untamed. Yes, I nodded as I read, putting the book down every few minutes to record the moment in my journal next to me. Yes, yes, yes. Somehow, in the last two or three years, I’d given too much of myself away, forfeited too much, sacrificed in order to compromise. I was hardly aware that I had, and then when I was aware, I was angry at myself for having done it so willingly, consciously or subconsciously or unconsciously, against my nature. I’d thought I was beyond all that, especially at this point in life. I thought I had more wisdom.
I didn’t want to be caged anymore, however that metaphor applied. I wanted to let my free spirit be free again.
Or perhaps it started even earlier than that, when I made the decision to leave social media (which is at forty days and counting). Because since leaving, I have, indeed, felt freer. I’m writing again. Heck, I’m reading again. I think I read ten books all year. I’ve read ten books in the last 30 days. Closer to fourteen in the last two months.
I’m learning how to be a writer again. Heck, in some ways I feel as if I’m even learning how to write again. Moreover, I’m learning how to be an author again.
And, despite being so sheltered these days, I feel like I’m finally learning how to live again.
After at least two years of not knowing if I would ever write a book again, if I would ever even want to write a book again, the desire is back, and (at the risk of jinxing myself), the doing is back.
October 22nd’s Why I Love Singlehood’s Zoom event with my co-author Sarah Girrell and This House of Books (SEE BELOW) was when I really ran wild. Sarah and I had so much fun reliving our writing process, revisiting The Grounds and those characters we knew and loved so intimately. Just as I had done with The Second First Time the week before, I reread Why I Love Singlehood and reconnected to all the things I (we) loved about it, all the things that still made it good, and all the things where I could say in hindsight, without judgment, “I was young. I still had a lot to learn.”
Best of all, the event stirred the creative pot for Sarah and me, made us start asking the what-if questions. Sifting around for a story.
I was back in my element, back in my joy. It showed in my smile and my raucous laughter. It showed in the way I vigorously talked with my hands. It showed in my enthusiasm for the subject and for my friend, and all those who participated.
My husband and I always laugh at the scene in the movie Wonder Boys, when the late Rip Torn’s character (referred to only as “Q”) kicks off the academic literary festival with this booming declaration:
“I. Am. A. Writer.”
We know that guy. I, having been in academia for so long, have met that guy several times over. But in the wake of the Zoom event, I feel myself wanting to roar those very words from my natural habitat.
So yeah, the monster is out of the cage. Like Grover and Cookie and Herry, she’s a friendly monster. But she’s walking around, unleashed. I don’t really know where she’s going or where she’ll end up. But with each step, she feels a little more free to write her own story as she goes. She’s a writer, after all.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.