jazzfish: Pig from "Pearls Before Swine" standing next to a Ball O'Splendid Isolation (Ball O'Splendid Isolation)
[personal profile] jazzfish
This is an old stupid story and I'm tired of living it:

At the age of twelve I'd been hearing for years that I could be anything I wanted to be, that I was smart enough to do anything at all. So I told my parents that I wanted to be a writer, and write F&SF novels.

My mother famously answered, "How are you going to put food on the table?"

Lesson learned: I could be anything I wanted to be as long as my parents were okay with it.

A stronger kid might have said "screw you guys" and kept writing anyway. I wasn't that kid: I still desperately needed my parents' approval, because being an army brat meant that I didn't have anyone else, at all. I spent the next N years trying to simultaneously fit my future into the box of Acceptable To My Parents, while making my present Acceptable To Me.

In hindsight, it's no wonder that I was depressed.

That's not the story I'm telling now but it's useful background. So, take it as told.

During my terrible terrible junior year of high school, my English teacher was Ms Bettie Stegall. I can only assume she didn't think much of me. I certainly didn't give her much reason to. My teenage rebellion mostly took the form of not showing up and not doing the work, and Ms Stegall's English class was not one where I could slide by. I got my shit sufficiently together to pass, somehow.

For senior year English we had a few choices. The only ones I can remember are AP Literature and Writing Seminar. Had I chosen AP Lit, I could have taken the English AP exam, and placed out of freshman English at Tech. (And likely not ever have read Borges, and my life would have been the poorer for it.) On the other hand, there was Writing Sem, advertised as being meant for creative writers.

The point of the old story above: I never gave up wanting to be a writer. I just gave up on doing much about it, because no one cared.

I signed up for Writing Sem in the hope that it would make me into a writer. Ms Stegall taught Writing Sem; I took it anyway. I don't remember much of the class but then senior year was a depressive burnt-out blur for me. In Writing Sem I tutored a special-needs second-grader with Jen Larson, and read Catch-22 which was exactly the right book for me at that point, and taught Kafka's Metamorphosis to freshmen with the help of Brian Aldiss's parody "Better Morphosis". I'm sure there was writing, too: I recall terrible poetry, and a Finnegans-Wake-style stream-of-consciousness depiction of a high school class.

Throughout the year I'd hear whispers from other students about how they were working with Ms Stegall on ... things. A chapbook of poetry, a collection of monologues, whatever. Books. Actual books. (I only ever saw one, and that only because Nesa used a photograph I'd taken in photography class to go with one of her poems.) And I'd think "that would be kinda cool," and then I'd stop thinking about it, because I had no idea what I'd do other than "i want to write" and, well, I'd already nearly failed out of one of Stegall's classes for not caring.

And so I graduated from high school, and went off to college, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or silence. One of those.

My memories of Ms Stegall are of someone who contribued to making my life miserable junior year, and didn't much care about me during senior year.

Maybe six months ago I fell into a snarky Facebook group of alums from my high school. This weekend, someone reported that Ms. Stegall had died.

Immediate outpouring of grief and love and "she was my favourite teacher" and "she kicked my ass and really helped me get my writing in gear" and specific tangible things she'd done for people.

I had no such response. I got none of that from her.

Thing is, I'd really like to have. I wish I'd been someone that she saw enough potential in to encourage, to kick my ass and get me in gear.

But that would have required me to have gone through junior year differently, and for that to have happened, the changes keep going back until I'm not even recognisable to myself anymore.

And just showing up isn't enough for that. No mentor will come to me and say "yes, i will teach you, and help you, and guide you, and care about what you do." Most of the time I'm grown-up enough to know that.

Most of the time.

I make no promises as to whether I will reply to any comments here.

Date: 2016-08-15 12:44 pm (UTC)
okrablossom: jasmine tea blossom open in mug (tea blossom)
From: [personal profile] okrablossom
I know you said no condolences, so I'm sending my sympathies instead. It is so hard to have a dream squashed, nearly squashed, and it is so hard to have it done so by the people that, for a long time, loom largest in your life. I have decided, for myself, that one of the best ways to get back at the squash-ers is to be the best writer I can.

Date: 2016-08-15 09:36 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (hulk smash for free)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
I'm so sorry you didn't get the encouragement and mentoring you deserve(d)!

Date: 2016-08-19 02:46 am (UTC)
northboundtrain: (Default)
From: [personal profile] northboundtrain
So many jumbled thoughts reading your post.

Youth is wasted on the young. I would never, ever want to relive my youth as I lived it the first time, but oh how I would do things differently if I could do it knowing what I know now. But if I did that...who would I be now? Would I be a better person? I'd like to think so, but I really don't know. I kinda fear that I'd be a real asshole, because standing up to everything that wanted to beat me down is what makes me who I am. I wouldn't have the strength or possible wisdom that I do because I would have short-cutted it all. F-ing temporal paradoxes make my head hurt.

A month or so ago we (my HS mates) underwent a similar teacher retrospective and I came away from it with two thoughts: sometimes even a universally vilified teacher (someone that would make the guy from Whiplash seem like a kindly old music instructor) can be seen by some as being harmless, or "stern but never mean". This was a man that threw music stands at junior high students. OTOH, we had teachers that were nearly universally loved whom some students had horror stories about; two of my most cherished teachers/mentors were seen by a handful as mean-spirited bullies -- I still can't believe it, though I don't doubt the stories. Not sure of the point of sharing that; maybe just that no teachers are perfectly good or bad, I guess, they're just human.

I came to my writing thing very late in life, around 40 -- I'd never even considered it before. And I've only ever finished two stories, but I enjoy the hell out of it. It seems to be what I was looking for all my life, the creative outlet I searched for endlessly. I wish that I had tried it sooner, but it just never occurred to me. And I wish I didn't have to pull every. Single. Fucking. Word. Out of me, painfully, methodically, repetitively, until I want to scream in frustration. I just want to plug something in to the back of my head and just dump the story that's floating in around my brain into the computer directly. They're really good stories, amazing stories -- no one nearly-writes a good story like I do, I promise you -- if I only had the skills to craft them. If someone only opened my eyes to the possibility at a younger age. But I love it, despite all that.

So...random thoughts for you, possibly (probably?) not very helpful. But you've stirred something in me, something kinda melancholy (OK, depressing), but something kind of...hopeful? Thought-provoking, to be sure. Enough to want to write it all down, in a fashion. So job well done, I guess. And thank you (really).

Date: 2016-08-15 11:00 am (UTC)
reedrover: (Summer)
From: [personal profile] reedrover
Thanks for the news. Not that I knew her much at all, but I know people who did (see: she kicked my ass/favorite teacher comments).

I don't know you well, and didn't then either. I'm sorry you had such a bad time and that I didn't know to, I don't know, maybe be kinder?
Edited Date: 2016-08-15 09:14 pm (UTC)

Date: 2016-08-16 02:05 pm (UTC)
reedrover: (Default)
From: [personal profile] reedrover
Finding people like me was this amazing freedom.

Yeah. This was one of the many things I got to take for granted from fourth grade onward. Huzzah for the FXG&T program.

who'd all suddenly vanished

Yeah, the vanishing friends group issue was tough for a lot of us. I kinda-sorta fixed that by leaving at the end of junior year.

Date: 2016-08-15 03:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] queenoftheskies.livejournal.com
I'd like to point out that you became an awesome writer anyway!

Also, I went through something similar with my parents, only my parents were religious and thought writing/SF/F were evil. And, it was...awful. So I sympathize.

Date: 2016-08-15 11:21 pm (UTC)
andrewducker: (Illuminati)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
That's a really good lesson to learn.

A hard on though.


jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)
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"Jazz Fish, a saxophone playing wanderer, finds himself in Mamboland at a critical phase in his life." --Howie Green, on his book Jazz Fish Zen

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