Sitting in a musty old classroom in the opening days of June seemed all short of excruciatingly mind-numbing until I ended up leaving with an idea of what I was meant to do in the world. A less-than-ideal location for a life-altering moment, sure, but it happened anyway. Reflecting on the class in a lurid blue, worn-bumpy plastic chair brought me to the realization that writing wasn’t just another hobby. My thirteen-year-old self had never done any sort of afterschool activity before, and I seem to recall thinking things of this sort were a waste of time and effort. I’m proud to say I was sorely wrong. Because about halfway through the term, I realized what I wanted to do in life. Writing became something that was more than fun; writing was the thing that really spoke to me in the world.
It was 2017, years before the world-break of coronavirus and the grand rise of virtual technology, and as such I was stuck in school for a glorious 7 hours per day. My sixth-grade self had very little insight into the worlds of writing, whether practical or fictional, and I probably would have been content to stay that way were it not for my involuntary participation in an afterschool development of writing program. This is not to say I didn’t like writing – I enjoyed reading and had tried my hand at these kinds of things before – but I wasn’t motivated to take my interests a little deeper. I’m fortunate enough that school and academic-related activities have almost always come naturally to me, and as far as I was concerned, writing was just another school trait that I didn’t really have to delve into.
Which is probably why my parents brought it up. They’ve always been able to push me outside of what I think is normal, and from that push I usually learn something new; I’m grateful to them, at least in hindsight, each time. A martial arts trial class which devolved into tears led to 6 years of activity celebrated this summer, and a teaching job; a few years of painful clarinet lessons resulted in my acceptance to a few different school musical groups and my continued passion for music. I hardly ever recognize the gain in the moment, though.
At that moment, I thought that this class was yet another waste of my precious teenage time. I ended up going just to satisfy my parents, telling myself that it was just another few months of extra work and it wouldn’t even be too bad – just another hour after school. Really just like anything else I’d tried to do. My best friend was even going to be there with me, although to this day I’m not sure how he ended up there – his parents definitely didn’t think much of writers. This class, however, ended up being nothing like any other after-school pain show.
My teacher, with the interestingly fitting name of Buchbinder, was a minor author and a retired English teacher who had children in the same school system as me and my friends. She had a different sort of air about her each day, and somehow always knew how to push all of us to our limits. We could be exploring our own fears through ‘darkness’ brainstorming sessions, writing out grand four-part pieces and putting them together at the very end just to laugh at the compatible incompatibility, or just writing for the hell of it. In one of our last classes, in typical teacher fashion, she asked us to reflect on what we’d learned. She gave us all our time to reflect, and in an unpleasantly warm, worn-bumpy plastic chair, I racked my mind for something acceptable about writing to put on my currently blank, mistakenly unlined page.
What had this class managed to teach me? Besides giving me a host of good memories, I didn’t really think that I’d taken much away from this class. And I wouldn’t even notice that I had until a few years later, during the aforementioned ‘end of the world,’ when I took another writing class. It was then I realized how much I’d been given. I’d learned more than a few tips to get my writing in shape; I’d learned that writing was meant for me. And this life-altering discovery, this ‘core memory,’ as it were, arose from nothing but a little after-school writing club and a tiny brand notebook. The fact is, people discover things about themselves in random ways, and more often than not by accident.
The efforts and antics of my dear classmates and my elderly, amusing teacher managed to give me profound insight into some of the workings of the world: people are meant to find their calling in life, via trying out new, stupid things. Experimentation is key. You can’t just wait for something you’re ‘made for’ to come along. You have to try new things out in the world, make more connections, and find what you want. Experimentation is what brought me here to write this piece. Now, I feel much more confident in my writing and myself, since I’ve figured out what brings me the most purpose in the world – at least for now. And maybe I’ll find something new and leave my writing days behind, but that’s what I’ve learned – that’s just how life works.