Written May 20, 2020
Considering how unfinished the school year felt after its abrupt cancellation, I sort of forgot that it was the end of my time in Front Street Writers. But as Ms. Scollon was wrapping up our virtual meeting last week, she mentioned that the next class would be the last for seniors.
At our final meeting, we started a list of memories from the year: helping to package meat for Food Rescue and making up lunch lady names (mine was Evelyn), introducing the morning and afternoon classes to each other at Poetry Out Loud, and psyching each other up for interviews, among many others. One of my favorite memories is sitting in the cushy orange chairs in our classroom with any number of friends (one day nearly half the class ended up crowded into a corner in the chairs or on the carpet, talking, writing, and talking about writing). It hit me how much I will miss all this. Of course, I already do. I anticipated most of the world returning to normalcy eventually; I subconsciously assumed I would also return to class.
After generating our list, we each thought of one rose (an image of something good we remembered), one thorn (something difficult that we had to overcome), and one bud (a potential new beginning or continuation of something in our lives). I recalled as much of the year as I could—there were mostly roses. The main thorn for me was learning to accept critiques of personal work and understand that a criticism of my writing isn’t a negative reflection of me as a person. I’ve learned, slowly, to separate myself from my writing when revising and accept feedback instead of feeling the need to defend my work. The bud I mentioned at our virtual meeting was my newfound interest in creative nonfiction.
We may still have a final reading at some point, but things are changing too unpredictably to know if that can happen. Unless or until it does, this is my final blog post.
I’ve heard some of the best writing advice from classroom visitors, including authors here from the National Writers Series. I learned new writing strategies and different types of writing I could go into professionally. Recent visitor Peter Heller, who was particularly interesting, starts writing without thinking of where the story is going and instead focuses on the sound of the words and sentences he is putting together. I also loved hearing about all of the places he had been and written about (including what was basically an eco-pirate ship!).
After two years, I can say without a doubt that applying for this program was one of the most life-changing decisions I’ve ever made. I wanted to go there because I loved writing. I wanted to learn more about it. But what I got was so much more than that. When I found this group of unquestioningly supportive and accepting people, I felt like I was allowed to find out who I was—to talk to people, step outside of my comfort zone in my writing as well as other parts of my life, and to see confidence as something attainable. Even the clothes I wore changed after I joined Front Street Writers. I didn’t want to be invisible anymore. If there were people who had any problems with my existence, I took comfort in knowing there was a whole group of people at the Career-Tech Center who did not.
Years from now, I’m sure I’ll still have many friends and memories from this class, as well as everything it’s taught me, from the importance of imagery to my love of public speaking to interviewing skills. And, of course, I’ll always remember the pandemic that ended everything early and the unique, virtual experience my classmates and I had these past months.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the blog. Stay safe! Goodbye for now.
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.