February 23, 2005

Shaping Young Minds

One of the sure signs you're getting older is when you're asked to speak about your profession at an elementary or middle school. When you're in college, people don't ask you to come and speak about partying and keg stands, but once you're out of college, in the real world, people start assuming you might have something useful to say.

So it was, yesterday, I found myself standing in front of a bunch of elementary and middle school students, trying to explain the rudimentary process involved in fiction writing. Seeing as how I write non-fiction primarily, this meant that I spent a considerable amount of time basically lying to America's youth.

Okay, "lying" is a pretty strong word. Let's say, instead, that I "struggled to put forth useful information." I stood in front of a class of 8th graders at 8:30 a.m., trying my damndest to sound authoritative and, by God, I think they bought it.

I was an 8th grader once. For a whole year, in fact. And, I honestly don't remember being at all like the 8th graders I stood in front of yesterday. In an inspired moment on my part, I had the class brainstorming possible characters. Imagine my surprise when this group of 8th graders invented a duo of drunken leprechauns with a not-too-thinly-veiled homosexual relationship burbling beneath the surface.

After the 8th graders, I spoke to a group of 6th graders. For this group, I had them invent a couple characters, as a class, and then I had them write, individually, about an adventure the characters embarked on. After five minutes, I had them pass their stories to the right, and the next person had to add to the existing storyline. To say the results were bizarre would be a dire understatement.

There were a few bright points, however. For example, there was the couple that bought Michael Jackson's house and, while they were cleaning the house, they found Jackson's nose. There was also one student who was more than just a little excited to relate a tale that revolved heavily around the antics of a midget. Because, you know, midget short stories are always gold.

The brainstorming in the 5th grade class later in the afternoon was even more amazing to me. Here I had a huge class of 5th graders who were talking about a couple that got into a car crash and then got divorced. One student even talked, quite frankly, about the husband coming home to find his wife in bed with another man. These children were tomorrow's soap opera writers, I was sure of it.

Overall, yesterday was a draining day. It was honestly one of the hardest days of "work" I've had in years. I can't for the life of me figure out how teachers do it. After an 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. stint of speaking to over 200 students, I wanted a nap worse than at any time in my life.

But, I earned $200 for it, so there's that.

Posted by Ryan at February 23, 2005 10:21 AM

I had some friends who had a "web design" company once, which basically meant they all lived in an illegal warehouse space, paid their rent by somehow schmoozing one big account (I think it was like Natalie Merchant or something) and all of their other "clients" were their friends bands, skateboard companies and the like who paid them in promises and free t-shirts.

Anyway, one of the guys was really good at networking and schmoozing and ass-kissing and such. Somehow they got invited to talk at a local tech-school about running a big succesful web design firm.

So my friend went and set his phone alarm to go off ten minutes into the presentation. When it went off he pulled out the phone, looked at it and said "I'm sorry, I have to take this." He pressed the button and said the only thing he knew in Japanese ("Mushi Mushi") as he walked out the door. He then hung out in the hall for five minutes before coming back in.

The entire class was then convinced they had a globetrotting businessman taking time out of his very busy schedule to talk to them.

Posted by: David Grenier at February 23, 2005 11:10 AM

Heh. I didn't go quite that far, but I'll consider it for my future endeavors.

It's "moshi, moshi," by the way, but "mushi, mushi" is funnier.

Posted by: Ryan at February 23, 2005 11:18 AM

Yeah, I figgered I was mispelling it, but I knew you'd know what I meant.

Posted by: David Grenier at February 23, 2005 12:10 PM
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