Written May 8, 2020
While cleaning my room last week, I found the program for our Front Street Writers final reading last year. We had gathered with friends and family at the barn at the botanical gardens to read our favorite pieces and celebrate the end of the school year. The program is patterned with pale pink and green flowers and the inside lists all of our names and pieces in elegant, black type. What you can’t see are the memories of this day—the nervousness of the students standing up to read, the attention of the silent audience broken at once with applause, the laughter as I took pictures outside with my friends afterward.
These memories are bittersweet. This year, I’m not sure if, when, or how our final reading will happen. The pandemic swept the reading up in the air, along with every other plan I had, except for cleaning my room, which memory-inducing items such as the program continue to interrupt.
We are planning to have our final Google Meet virtual meeting with the seniors next Thursday, May 14. Despite my disappointment at missing the end of the school year and the final reading, I’m excited to see people, as I am every time we have a meeting. Considering I can’t change what’s happening in the world, I might as well look forward to this final class.
At our virtual meeting yesterday, we had a guest: podcaster Katie Semro was there to talk to us about her podcast Transmission Times, which features audio diaries from people in various parts of the world during the pandemic. She’s interested in hearing and possibly including some of our stories or thoughts in the podcast. I’m hoping to try recording something soon.
I’ve been interested in podcasting for a while and we talked briefly about it in Front Street Writers earlier this year with Anne Strainchamps (host of To the Best of Our Knowledge), but I’ve never tried it. I did record and edit a story I wrote based on a painting at the Dennos Museum last year in Front Street Writers, but that is the extent of my working with audio. Maybe I will try podcasting now that I have the time and opportunity.
Before our meeting, I listened to one of the episodes of Transmission Times and was fascinated with the way the audio was put together—different people were talking but their stories were strung together in a way that took me on their common journey. I think it’s important to hear from other people when we can’t go out and see them, just for reassurance that we aren’t alone.
Semro gave us ideas for things we could talk about if we wanted a chance to be on the podcast: things we are missing out on because of the pandemic, our biggest struggles, the best part about quarantine or a favorite moment, or simply a good story we’d like to tell.
At the end of our meeting, we chose one of her ideas and started writing, brainstorming things we could talk about or were feeling.
As always with freewriting, I discovered thoughts I didn’t know I had.
I started writing about what I was missing: the final reading, dying my hair (which may be a blessing in disguise), my family vacation, prom, and graduation. I realized, while writing, that I was experiencing a sense of grief and loss, but that I’ve needed to consciously force that sadness on myself to feel it. Along with these vanished plans, I’ve deeply missed the seemingly ordinary things I have long taken for granted, like going into public places and seeing my friends.
What I look forward to most is seeing people again—when things go back to normal. But I realize, once again, I’m naïve to think things are that clear cut. Just like I was wrong to believe everything would be over after a three-week break from school, I’m most likely wrong to assume everything will return to normalcy on one specific day. I’ve been imagining people running out into the streets, hugging their friends and crying tears of relief that things are okay again. But “okay” doesn’t happen in one day.
More likely, the return to somewhat normal life will happen slowly, and I have yet to come to terms with that. The virus won’t disappear, at least not for a long time, and some parts of life could change forever.
What’s hardest for me to accept is not the changes and cancellations, but the uncertainty about what comes next and, more so, not knowing how long this uncertainty will last.
A final revelation I had, while writing down my thoughts for the podcast, is a good one. I am living right now without knowing exactly what will happen tomorrow, next week, or next month. Every day is more of a question mark than usual. Every “tomorrow” could bring drastic changes to my life. This is always true, I know, but when things are changing so quickly, it seems especially so. Although I don’t know what is coming, I can try to take advantage of each day as it is. In other words, who knows how long this lockdown will last, but there are things I will miss when it’s over. I’ve committed myself to spending at least as much time appreciating these unique days of quarantine as I spend worrying about what comes next and all the things I am missing.
I do miss Front Street Writers every day.
On another note, next time I write, a podcast could have featured me! Stay tuned and I’ll keep you updated as our year comes to a close.
Written April 21, 2020
And just like that, we’re back to class. Well, not exactly. We still aren’t supposed to leave our homes and school is still cancelled for the rest of the year. But as of Monday, April 20, Front Street Writers is happening again.
I got an email from Ms. Berry on Friday with a letter attached, explaining the plan for the rest of the year. We will be using Google Meet, which is similar to Zoom or a group Facetime call, to see each other twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. Our teachers will continue posting daily writing prompts for us, giving us excerpts of things to read for discussion during our virtual meetings, and putting us in pairs to further explore specific genres, topics, or pieces that interest us.
Unless we have work to catch up on in order to improve our grade, the work for the rest of the year is optional, but encouraged.
We also have a google classroom now, where our teachers can post links and questions for us to answer, some about how we would like the class to work and some just for fun, like which kind of animal we most would like to communicate with (after much thought, I choose cats, seeing as I have two and maybe they would make good conversationalists in this time of isolation).
On the Monday of our first meeting, my internet was still down, as it has been for at least two weeks now. So, I drove to the library parking lot to use the WiFi, along with my sister, who also had a virtual online class to attend. The sun was blazing through the car window as I squinted at the computer screen, trying to connect. After some trial and error involving my lack of knowledge around technology, I set my computer on the dashboard, moved my seat forward as far as it would go, and joined the online meeting.
I knew I missed Front Street Writers, but it was surprising the sense of relief I felt from seeing my teachers and classmates again. While I have talked to my teachers via email and my friends from class using snapchat and text messages, I hadn’t actually seen any of them until our meeting. Looking at all of the different rectangles together on the screen, each with a different student or teacher, made me feel connected and not so isolated as I have felt in the past month.
After talking to each other a bit, our teachers told us about the structure of our meetings, beginning with the question of the day: if this were a potluck, rather than an online meeting, what food eaten in the past six weeks would we bring? Our potluck would have a lot of macaroni and cheese. Fortunately, we had a little variety—both Annie’s and Kraft brands.
Part way through the meeting, my computer froze for at least ten minutes. I came back in time to hear the end of what was I guessed either a poem or a fictional piece. The character was irritated. We then wrote our own short pieces, in about ten minutes, guided by Ms. Scollon. We began by writing about what our character—or ourselves, if we preferred to write about us—was anxious or angry about, and what that felt like. I had to think quickly, and decided my character was anxious because she was certain that someone she was counting on to help her run away from home was not showing up. I added the detail of her hand-painted orange shoes since I wasn’t sure where to start.
We then introduced another character or idea into our pieces. For me, this meant a text from a girl named Flora, whom my main character ignores. From there, we introduced a new perspective and finished with a broader idea, trying to look out at a bigger picture or the world as a whole. I began to think that starting with hand-painted shoes was not the best idea, but I tried my best to give them meaning.
Writing something quickly like that is fun when I can ignore the ideas that must be thrown by the wayside. At least this way I have the idea for nearly a complete story, rather than having started something I may never know where to go with.
My computer froze again toward the end of the class, and I came back in time to share the first line of my piece, “Cara stands at the edge of the street, staring down at the plain white shoes that she painted red and orange flowers onto three days ago,” and hear lines from a few others. The meeting ended with several people, including our teachers, leaving as planned, and my friend and I scrambling to figure out how to end it on our own computers (apparently you have to click the “hang up” button).
The next day, there was a question posted in Google classroom regarding our feelings about working with a partner. I said I would like to. I don’t specifically know what my partner and I would do, but I’m excited. I would love to share thoughts about writing with someone else and explore a subject more deeply right now. Not only do I need something to do—or, at any rate, something to make me feel productive while avoiding the tasks I should do—but having someone to talk to and learn with will give me another connection to someone outside of my family, which I think is one of the most important things I can have during these days of solitude.
I hope you are staying safe and maintaining connections with the outside world.
Written April 14, 2020
Since I last wrote, school was cancelled for the rest of the year. I had my last day of high school without knowing it. This is both strange and sad to me.
After closing, I learned that all Michigan schools needed to make plans for the continued learning of their students. We have received emails from our teachers at Front Street Writers telling us that they are coming up with a plan for the rest of the year. They also sent us a survey about what we would like to learn more about it our last month, including whether we would rather continue journalism or fiction.
This made me wonder how journalism would work if we were unable to actually meet with anyone in person or go to a public place. I wonder also how our journalism topic—identity and mental health among teens—could tie into the coronavirus pandemic. How does isolation or fear of becoming sick affect teens with different mental health problems? If we continue our journalism unit, I would like to look into this.
Our teachers have also been giving us optional, daily writing prompts via a google doc shared with our class. We almost always began our class periods with a prompt to respond to, so we are continuing that over the internet.
I am still keeping a journal while we are in quarantine. I am motivated by the thrilling image of finding it years from now and re-living what it was like to live through a pandemic. Truthfully, I’ve found it harder to write about my thoughts on the pandemic than about the basic things I’ve done that day.
My greatest fear during isolation is that I will stop feeling like the outside world exists at all. This may sound extreme, but living in the middle of the woods, not technically even in a town, it’s not like I can look out my window and be reassured that everyone else is still there, just quarantined like I am. Living near no one has its perks: I can walk for several miles without the worry of running into someone else, but it also makes me worry that I will lose touch with reality in a sense. I have been keeping myself updated on the news and staying in touch with my friends as much as I can so I don’t feel like everything has vanished.
Despite not yet having a plan for what we will do for Front Street Writers for the rest of the year, our class has been staying in touch (don’t worry, not literally) over Snapchat, much like we did before. I’ve made many friends in this class, so it helps to not lose so much of the time that I would have spent with them.
Being unable to communicate in person or leave my home has caused me to depend on the Internet for almost everything, which is a problem since it stops working sometimes, including yesterday. It makes me realize how much we rely on the Internet, especially now, when nearly everything is done virtually online. Let’s hope it doesn’t completely crash. I would be cut off from everyone even more than I already am, with no information able to reach me.
My sister and I have gone to the library parking lot in our town twice now to use the Wi-Fi. Driving into town, nothing seems particularly different. There are still other cars, though not as many. I saw someone outside getting gas at the gas station. But everything seems quieter. Like life isn’t moving so much. I suppose that’s better than feeling the panic of being somewhere where many people are infected.
I’m not sure yet what we will be doing for the rest of the year in Front Street Writers. The school year will end on May 15, about a week before it originally would, for seniors. They will tell us the plan soon, and I will update you then. In the meantime, stay safe and healthy, keep writing, and stay tuned for my next post!
Written March 31, 2020
Since I last wrote a blog post, things have dramatically changed here. Of course, I’m talking about the coronavirus and how it has recently reached Michigan, causing everything, it seems, to suddenly shut down.
It’s amazing to me how quickly the virus went from being something I heard people joking about to changing everyone’s lives and isolating people around the world. Maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention to the news, but for me it felt like one day I heard someone mention the virus for the first time—at this point, it was still far away in other countries and we all thought it wasn’t much worse than the flu. A week later, it was in the U.S., and a week after that, school was closed. It could have been slightly longer than this, but everything happened very fast.
I started reading the New York Times every day or so after it reached the U.S. and realized that maybe this was really an issue. Still, I didn’t feel that worried. The idea of being personally affected was far from my mind, but I wanted to know what was going on.
When the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in California that could not be traced out of the U.S., that’s when I first remember feeling afraid. We were no longer safe. Around the same time, my friend told me that two people she knew from her foreign exchange in Sweden had COVID-19. That was scary, but since I didn’t know them, it didn’t feel very close to me. And they were both young, so it was just like getting the flu for them, right? They would be fine.
Then one morning—Friday, March 13—while I was walking into the gym, someone asked me, “What are you going to do without school for three weeks?” I was confused.
“I don’t know?” I said, the way you answer a question you didn’t understand but don’t want to spend time clarifying.
I rushed into the locker room and I checked the Front Street Writers group chat on Snapchat, thinking maybe someone had mentioned what was going on. I had to scroll back pretty far, but I found a screenshot of an article from Bridge Magazine: “Whitmer closes all Michigan schools for three weeks due to coronavirus.” I remember standing there, backpack hurting my back, feeling like I had just been given the greatest gift of all time.
As I ran that morning, I thought about all of the things I would finally get done during those three weeks. I was going to finish both of my online classes, clean the tornado site that was my room, go to the gym for more than an hour every day, spend time with my friends without the constant feeling that I didn’t have enough time for that, and I would return to school feeling like I had my life together for once. I was a bit surprised that the situation was serious enough for school to close, but when you get three weeks off of school you don’t question it too much. Especially when you’ve felt buried by work and never-ending stress for weeks.
I think most of us felt like this. We were excited for the “break” as we referred to it. I don’t know why I didn’t see that three weeks clearly was not long enough for an entire pandemic to occur.
In Front Street Writers, we shared a google doc with the whole class and added recommendations for books, movies, TV shows, things to do when you’re bored, and writing prompts to lists we made. Our teachers made their own document with some ideas for things to do while school was closed. One that I plan to do is look at the New York Times’ Pandemic Journal and write my own 300-word piece about being out of school because of COVID-19, as Ms. Berry recommended we do. I also have started keeping a journal during this time. It is not entirely about the pandemic, but I want to have it to look back on.
We also talked about the coronavirus and why it is important to slow its spread. That way, hopefully the hospitals can take care of more people.
The weekend after school closed, my friends and I had planned to get brunch and go thrifting. Our plans were cancelled as more and more parents decided they didn’t want their kids to leave home. I was still allowed to see my friends and go to the gym at this point, but was told to avoid going too many places, especially those with a lot of people.
The first three days were great. I felt like I had infinite time, and that was all that mattered to me. I worked on my online classes, picturing how great it would feel to walk into school in the mornings with two free hours to get any work done that I needed to. I planned to apply for a job at the gym after school resumed to make some more money in the extra time I expected to have. I helped my mom with her home daycare and we went to yoga in the evenings, and I finally had enough time to start trying to cook.
Then on Monday, March 16, all gyms in Michigan were closed. That included the yoga studio my mom and I attend. I started running with her in the morning while it was still dark out, using a headlamp.
On Tuesday, I interviewed an author for the National Writers Series website over the phone. She was in New York, where she lives, and said the situation there was not good.
On Wednesday night, my mom closed her daycare indefinitely.
At this point, everything was uncertain. That’s what was and still is the hardest part of this for me. I don’t know how long it will be before anything will go back to how it used to be. What makes things worse is that this coming year is perhaps the biggest change in my life. I’m a senior this year and planning to leave home and go to college. The five months before the next school year starts seems shorter and shorter the more I realize how long it could take for the world to recover from the virus.
The last time I went into town was to go to the grocery store with my dad and sister. I stayed in the car while they went inside. My immune system is bad enough as things are. Since then, the farthest I have been is the five-mile route we run in the morning down our and a few other roads. We mostly pass tall trees and swampland, but see a few houses as we get closer to town, none of which I have seen people leave. It is quiet in the mornings near our house, but for the wind and the occasional bird. I haven’t seen any cars come down our road since my mom closed her daycare. My family lives in the middle of the woods, so we can walk at least a mile without seeing anyone other than my grandparents, who live down the road.
A few days ago, my sister mentioned that we could have already had our last day of high school without knowing it. That struck me. I hadn’t thought about it. I guess we never really know when it will the last day of something, but I thought I would know when high school was over. But it is looking more and more like we really won’t go back. I can only hope. And I really do miss school. I liked the idea of a break, but the thing is, it was never really a break, it was a precaution taken because of something potentially very dangerous. I have since realized this.
I might not go back to high school. There are some people I might not see again. I might not go to graduation. I might not have a senior prom. I probably can’t get my hair dyed in May like I was planning for months. My sister and I probably won’t go on a road trip to Ann Arbor for orientation at the University of Michigan (orientation is now online, I heard), and my family might not go on a vacation in July.
I am of two minds about this. Of course I’m disappointed. These are all things I was looking forward to. But then again, there is a pandemic happening in our country. Not just our country, but all over the world. I am grateful that I haven’t been personally affected by it and focus on staying safe. At this point, I am mostly looking forward to being allowed to go places and see people again. I am trying not to let the feeling of being isolated get to me. At least I am safe.
I will still upload blogs every week or so. I will let you know how any writing projects I am doing are going, and if by some miracle we do go back to school, I will of course, give updates on that.
We are still in the throes of the fiction unit, writing our stories and exploring fiction in Front Street Writers.
In class, we discussed the difference between text and subtext, subtext being that which isn’t specifically stated in the text but which the reader either catches on to or wonders about.
We looked at six-word stories. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” It took a second before we saw the subtext. Why were they never worn? The obvious conclusion is that the baby died, but there are endless other possibilities. Maybe an estranged relative sent their five-year-old nephew shoes meant for a three-week-old baby. We tried writing our own six-word stories and discussed those. Mine was, “You wanted to meet them, right?” It was the best I could come up with at the time.
Continuing to study subtext, we read the story “Hills Like White Elephants,” also by Ernest Hemingway. Reading this story was the most simultaneously confusing and intriguing experience of my life. I won’t spoil much of it, but if you don’t want to know what happens, avoid the next paragraph.
This story is almost entirely a conversation between a man and a woman, which I found interesting. They continually reference a mysterious “it,” which is never clearly identified. For me, it was never remotely clear what it was. But there were just enough details for me to keep trying to figure it out. Among other vague information, we saw the man call it “a simple operation” and learned the girl didn’t want to do “it” but wanted the man to be happy. We theorized in groups about what this meant. Some theories were: they were getting an arranged marriage, they were planning to rob a train, or the girl was getting a medical operation. None of our theories quite worked, and eventually Ms. Berry had to tell us what it was. I won’t give that away.
From there, we talked about what made this story compelling: dialogue. I always struggle to write dialogue. Good dialogue moves the story along and effectively shows interactions between characters. Can you say “easier said than done”?
Our second fiction assignment was to write a piece in which a character faced an internal obstacle.
While talking to my sister about story ideas, she mentioned “growing up.” This reminded me of a time I felt like I was growing up too fast and being flung without consent from the comforting world of sleepover parties, free time, and “not knowing any better,” into the unprotected adult world of drugs, the planning of murders, and the need to take responsibility for my own actions. I decided to fictionalize and write this story. I included the details that I specifically remembered, like the true-crime show that got me thinking about the psychology of murderers, but changed some details—the main character hadn’t seen her best friend in a year, for example, rather than just a few months.
I wanted to focus this piece on one specific moment, building on an idea that was inspired by stories I was reading in and out of class.
While re-reading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith this year, I realized something which sounds like common sense: stories made of detailed moments are more compelling. I have often found myself trying to write how the relationships between characters develop and what “happens” but not focusing on why these things change. In one story, I wrote that a character named Henry slowly lost control of his life and convinced his friend, Jezebel, to kill his mother, but this was not as compelling as if I had described the moment he handed her the gun and she accepted it because she loved him. What did each of them say? How did she feel?
I resolved to stop trying to fit novel-length plotlines into four-page assignments, and instead write about the sort of moments you would want to run and tell someone, be it your best friend, the nearest cop, or your diary.
As I mentioned in my last blog, I want to push myself more with fiction, as I am excited in this class to learn new writing skills. While many genres are new in and of themselves, fiction is not. I want to experiment with it more, so it can be new for me too.
I have decided to write my next fiction piece entirely using dialogue. This may be torture for me, but it is necessary, and clearly it can be done. I’ve been encouraged by my teachers to take risks with my writing. This is a risk I will take. With any luck, I will write more purposeful dialogue because it will be the only thing I can write.
Despite being afraid to rely on dialogue, I can always revise. Grades on assignments in this program are not final until the end of the semester. Until then, we can revise to our heart’s content.
Basically, I will not call this piece done until the dialogue is strong enough to support the entire story. Wish me luck!
After a semester of genres that are new to many of us in Front Street Writers, we have finally reached the part of the year that I—and I’m sure many of my classmates—have been anticipating since September: the fiction unit.
Fiction—the genre I have written all my life. The genre I am used to. Anything can happen; you don’t need to worry about the terrors of journalism—getting details wrong and human interaction; you are significantly less likely to get caught in a tangled web of metaphors, questionable images and still more questionable rhyme schemes than with poetry; and fiction is fiction—you make it up—the title is not a cryptic oxymoron like “creative nonfiction.”
We are doing fiction and journalism simultaneously. Our teacher, Ms. Scollon, is setting up guest visits for our journalism unit. We chose the topic of teen mental health and identity, so our visitors will speak on that. Meanwhile, Ms. Berry is teaching us about techniques in fiction writing.
Fiction feels safe to me. I planned to write fiction as a career since I was eleven years old and wrote my first ten-page “novel” about a magical world in the sky. I ignored my grandma’s warnings that I would be broke as a novelist and continued believing I would write the next Harry Potter and travel the world, going on book tours, writing my oh-so-anticipated second book, and having plenty of money. I think most of us wrote fiction before we came to Front Street Writers, which makes it exciting and less intimidating.
In class, we talked about character desires and obstacles and how stories must change by the end.
Our first fiction assignment was to write a story in which a character was faced with an external obstacle.
Last year, I focused on a single story for much of the fiction unit. I wrote pieces of it for assignments and freewrote to develop the storyline in my spare class time.
Freewriting is a technique we learned to generate ideas. The only rule is that you aren’t allowed to stop writing. It doesn’t matter what you write, you simply cannot stop. If you did, the apocalypse would occur. This was nerve-racking when I first tried it, but it soon became vital to my stories. Without freewriting, I didn’t know where my stories were going.
Freewriting itself is not always neat. By the end of an hour of freewriting, my document would have devolved from sensible, well-punctuated sentences into a stream of questions—written in all caps—the answers to which would decide the fate of my characters.
This story developed in a time of emotional self-involvement and pity for me, and from my own emotional destruction were born the themes of sadness and unrequited love, as well as murder and death, which I obviously did not personally experience but thought tied in nicely with my own feelings.
This year, I was struggling to find inspiration. The open-endedness of the assignments opens up a beacon of possibilities, but it also presents a horrifyingly blank slate.
Luckily, in Front Street Writers you are never the only person trying to write. Twenty other people are there when you can’t think of ideas. I talked to a friend and found a character named Leah who was trying and failing to grow plants. When combined with an attempt at flash fiction I wrote in response to an Andy Warhol painting, it turned into the seed of a story I liked enough to write.
I still love writing fiction, but, after practicing other genres for almost two years now, it is no longer exclusive. It’s exciting to finally grasp something new and be able to do it well, or better than I used to. Realizing this has inspired me to experiment more with my fiction. I have some ideas for how to do this, which I will discuss in my next blog. Stay tuned!
Now that it’s the second semester of Front Street Writers, we’re starting journalism, an exciting and mildly terrifying concept for those of us used to creating stories in our minds rather than finding them in the real world. We will still write fiction, but mostly focus on researching and writing news articles this semester. Our first assignment was to write a short piece for the CTC Times (the Career-Tech Center’s newsletter, which is meant to show prospective students and parents what they could be doing here). We were put in pairs and each given classes to cover (our beats).
This was our first assignment involving interviewing people for articles this year. I was scared about doing this last year. But the longer I talked to my interviewee—a personable student with a lot to say about his program—the more I relaxed. And this year, I wasn’t nervous at all!
My partner and I were assigned to cover the Construction Trades Program in a classroom very different from our own, with whirring drills, grinding bandsaws. Our class can also get loud. Occasionally someone drops a book and we talk a lot, but that doesn’t remotely compare to the ear-killing decibels of this room. Not only does our classroom not emanate a constant roar, but while this class keeps safety goggles in the corner, we devote a corner to a collection of tea, hot cocoa, and mugs.
The door was locked when we first arrived at the Construction classroom. I knocked as loudly as I could before being told by Construction students coming back to class that I would have to be much louder. After one student pounded on the door so hard I thought his wrist might break—or break a hole through the door—they were let in and we meekly followed.
I already knew that the Construction Program had been involved in a project making a replica of a teen’s bedroom in a trailer. This trailer will be used by law enforcement to teach mostly parents telltale signs that their teens could be taking drugs. I asked the instructor about it, and one of the students, Michael Elliott, who was nearby and heard us, volunteered to be interviewed.
I had a list of questions, but I have found that’s only a starting point used to make me feel secure and less nervous about interviews. Instead of focusing too much on my prepared questions, I asked Michael how he felt about the project and what he learned. Despite flinching every two minutes from the roar of a table saw, this was the most conversational interview I’ve ever had. I became conscious that I was talking to another student. He was aware that I was a student as well, trying to become better at interviewing people. Our mutual empathy for each other took the pressure off, and I was able to actually think about what I wanted to know and ask about.
I felt insanely confident after this interview—I had interviewed someone I didn’t know without being nervous! That was unheard of for me.
After interviewing people, our class wrote short articles about the different programs. We edited them for each other and talked to Ms. Scollon about restructuring them. I needed to go back and interview the construction student again for this step, and miraculously got past the locked door in one try this time—my aggressive door-pounding skills have clearly improved.
The CTC Times editor then gave us her own editing feedback, and we revised some more. She’ll select her favorite articles for the newsletter. Being competitive with my past self, who was published there last year, I hope to make this article shine.
This is the very beginning of our journalism unit. Stay tuned!
Being a writer isn’t often just about writing, and neither is Front Street Writers. It’s also about performance. If you are a person who, like me, has been (or still is) terrified of having to speak in front of people, please read on!
Our Front Street Writers class has been talking about Poetry Out Loud since the beginning of the year. It’s a national contest involving memorizing and reciting poetry and begins at the school level, meaning just the Front Street Writers from the morning and afternoon classes in this case. The finalist goes on to the State competition in Lansing, and the winner there goes to the national competition in Washington D.C.
On the Poetry Out Loud website, there are over 900 poems to choose from, and I would know because I was indecisive enough to look through 54 pages of them.
This contest comes in early January, when we have practiced speaking in front of people several times. We have done two coffeehouses so far this year, which are events during which we read things we’ve written to the rest of the class. After practicing for and reading at these, reciting poetry is just another step to learning those always-important public speaking skills.
At this point in my life, I am going through a very strange mental transition, it seems. I have noticed that I am no longer always nervous about things that I expect to be extremely nervous about. I am no longer so nervous to interview people and don’t become worried about reading in front of others. I am thrilled with this development. Previously, my method of dealing with nerves was yelling at myself to stop being nervous while becoming progressively more nervous and upset with myself. It was not the most effective or emotionally healthy technique.
This year, I chose my poem, “The Obligation to be Happy” by Linda Pastan, because I really understood it. It was one of the poems whose meaning seemed quite obvious, at least to me, and I related to this poem.
In the weeks before the competition, we practiced reading our poems in class several times. I started whispering my poem to my friend who sits next to me at the end of class each day, just to make sure I had it all memorized and wouldn’t forget it. In class, we practiced our poems in pairs and then in small groups, getting feedback from each other and our teachers about how we might want to recite our poems differently or things to try when it came to using gestures.
It was while practicing in front of my classmates that I discovered my paralyzing fear of lifting my hands above my waistline. I was not nervous to recite. I had my poem memorized, but for some reason, once my hands were clasped in front of me, the thought of moving them seemed unexpectedly horrific. They were glued there, while I wondered what had possessed me to feel as though I could not move them. It is the dramatics and gesturing involved in public speaking that is most difficult for me.
Ms. Berry, one of our teachers whose group I was in, helped me with this by talking about my poem with me. I knew that the author had given up her dream of writing to focus on her marriage, and the poem seems to be directed at her husband, telling him how he can’t take her happiness for granted because she’s not happy all the time, especially considering that she gave up her dream. What followed this discussion was an attempt to deliver a more dramatic reading directed at a friend in my group, as if she were the “husband.” I could not stop laughing at this but moved my arms more and resolved to practice when I got home. I practiced my poem in various mirrors and, once I knew what my gestures looked like and had a few memorized, the prospect of moving my hands was not so terrifying.
When I walked into class last Thursday, the tables had been folded and moved to the side of the room. Everyone was walking around, talking with that quiet, early-morning-slightly-nervous excitement. The chairs were organized in three rows, all facing one side of the room, where a space was cleared for us to read.
The students from the morning class recited their poems first, and then we went through the afternoon class in alphabetical order. Having the last name Evans, I didn’t have to wait long.
The thing is, nothing has ever gone wrong when I have spoken in front of people, despite what my nervousness wants me to believe, and my brain must finally have realized that. Coffeehouse was scary the first time, but looking up to see people’s genuine interest in your writing, which often led to conversations with classmates about it (unlike the friends you had to force to read it, getting an “it’s good” if you were lucky) makes it exciting. Also, I am convinced that applause sounds louder when it is for you, and when you hear those twenty-some people clapping for you, you feel ready to conquer the world.
The downside to my lack of nervousness is that I don’t yet trust it. This uncertainty about whether I will suddenly be overcome with all of the panic I’m not experiencing keeps me from completely relaxing. Basically, I am nervous about the fact that I am no longer so nervous about things.
I was fully prepared to feel a jolt of panic shock me as soon as they called my name, but it never came. I didn’t fall on the way to the podium, didn’t forget any words, and didn’t have anyone laughing at my gestures. I figured I might as well put some emotion into it since this was the only chance I had and I couldn’t exactly ruin it for myself by showing I cared.
After the first round, we had lunch. A friend and I also went into the hall, where we got the occasional audience of a student or teacher walking past our dramatic readings, to practice reading our second poems in case we were semifinalists, who read a second poem. The semifinalists were then announced, and I was one of them!
Afterward, we talked to the judges. One told us that, when making gestures, to act as if we were talking normally, not making our gestures too small. Another judge told us not to underestimate what we can do with our voices alone.
For the last hour or so of the day, the morning and afternoon students interviewed each other, finding out how adults would describe us as children, who would play us in a movie, how we would want to be prepared if eaten by cannibals, and a Mario Kart-related question which I don’t remember because I never play Mario Kart, among other things. We introduced each other to the class, which ended up being a lot of fun. Many quotes were added to the quote board during these introductions. At the end of the day, someone made a petition on one of the whiteboards to combine the two classes into one “mega class.”
I’m hoping that, having practiced not only reading but reciting work in front of people, I will continue to get less nervous about this. I hope the idea of performance hasn’t scared you too much. I was scared of it too, don’t think otherwise. I’m not some sort of superhuman who is immune to stage fright. I will write more about speaking in front of people in another post, because I truly have come to love it.
Have a wonderful day and thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed hearing from me.
My name is Erin (contrary to the belief of local Starbucks workers, who continue to call me Eric). I am now a senior in high school and have been in Front Street Writers since the beginning of my junior year. As a second year in the program and a senior, I was able to get an internship this year and am now interning for the National Writers Series.
When Anne Stanton told me that I could have my own blog, I instantly liked the idea. I have often thought it would be fun to have a blog but never had a platform for it and wasn’t sure what I would write about or who the audience would be. For this blog, I knew I would be writing mostly for prospective students, showing them what it is like to be a Front Street Writer. In the following weeks, whenever I had a moment of realization about something I was writing or something important happened in our class, I thought “I could write that in my blog.”
So now here I am. I have already started a list of things I want to write about here, and I’m so excited to share with you my experience with what has become my favorite class I’ve taken in high school and has got me further with my writing than I think I ever could have without it. I want to tell you about applying, sharing your work, learning to love new genres, writing things that are personal to you and that matter, and the community you find in this class.
When I applied for Front Street Writers, I wasn’t sure it was the right decision. I could only choose one class to take at the Career-Tech Center, and there were two others that I also liked. I chose it as my first choice because I realized that, of all the things I have enjoyed doing in my life, writing is one of the few that has stuck with me and that I have never stopped loving.
I knew what we would be doing in the class, but I didn’t really know what it was like. I would have loved to have someone in the class to tell me about it, so that is what I going to try my best to do for you. I will be posting my experience as a Front Street Writer every Tuesday. I hope you enjoy my writing about writing!