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TeachingSeptember 25, 2012

I went to the Central Coast Writers' Conference over the weekend to teach. I was hired not only to speak, but for the first time in this thrilled writer's life, I was put up at a HOTEL. On the BEACH, yo. 

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Okay, it wasn't on the beach. But it was close to Morro Bay, so close that at night I could slide the door of the hotel room open and listen to the seals barking.

Originally, Lala had been slated to go with me, but she had to go to Idaho to see her mom after a routine surgery (and incidentally, had breakfast with Neko Case one morning, as they do in Boise, apparently) so I went alone. 

I drove down through the heat of Steinbeck country in the SmartCar (oh, beloved little car) into Morro Bay, dropped my bags in my room, and headed for San Luis Obispo to have dinner with Emily Post-Punk (her Rav handle). You know those people you meet who make you think: I need this person as a friend? What can I do to entrap her? That's EPP. I finally finagled my way into friendship with her. Go, me! 

But before I met up with her, I wandered for a little while through the crowded street. Every Thursday night, San Luis Obispo--an idyllic little coast-proximate community--shuts down the main drag and has an enormous farmer's market. Less market than it is social gathering, it's the closest thing to la passeggiata, the nightly Italian stroll, that I've ever seen in America. This last week was the first Farmer's Market since the kids came back to Cal Poly, and the excitement was at a fever pitch. 

Being home, in the area where I grew up, where I went to undergrad, was both lovely and melancholy. I mean, I remember a time before the creekside area of SLO was so fancified--my sister and I would play in that creek, looking for crawdads (which we never found, but we were sure they were in there somewhere), throwing rocks to make the biggest splash, getting so muddy Mom would make us wash our feet in the fountain in front of the Mission before we got back in the VW. 

When I was twenty or twenty-one, I went through a bout of serious depression. I remember leaving my counseling sessions, which coincidentally were on Thursday nights on Garden Street. I would force myself to walk one block--just one block--through the milling, laughing crowds of students and families. I can't remember why it was so hard for me to do this (something about thinking people were looking at me and laughing--I hadn't figured out yet that really, no one cares) but I remember how difficult it was. 

Now, literally twenty years later, I was walking down the same street, through the same crowd, living a life that the twenty-year-old me never could have imagined. A good life. A happy one, full of love. A writerly one. I was simultaneously elated and at the same time, sad for that twenty-year-old me who never thought she'd ever get anything right. 

I met the lovely Emily (who went to my high school in the same small town just down the coast and I'd never known her!) at a great used bookstore, and we ate dinner (tapas) on the patio of a restaurant that was literally right next to the crawdad-seeking area of thirty years ago. We laughed under the hanging lights, the night sky low above. 

It was so circular, and just right. 

The next night I had the teens in a "How to Be a Writer" class. Now, lemme tell you something. I was nervous. I don't know teens. I love young adult fiction, so I read a lot about them, but I hadn't hung out with one since I was one, perhaps. But when the coordinator had asked me to take the class, I'd said yes in a momentary I CAN DO ANYTHING bit of craziness. 

I prepped for "what you can do  to be a writer after high school." I was full of quips and wisdom and witticisms. We would talk about going to college, what that was like, and what came afterward.

And then I opened the door to a room full of kids, aged 11 through 19. My talk to older teens was suddenly not broad enough. 

So I asked them what they wanted to learn.

Answer: Everything.

We narrowed it down with some difficulty to what they wanted to know the most: how to keep your Butt in the Chair, Hands on Keyboard (BICHOK). See? Writers of all ages struggle with this, the hardest part of writing (or any kind of creativity): actually doing it.

I explained the magic formula of Freedom (takes you off internet) and Write or Die (erases your words if you don't write fast enough) and the excitement in the air was ELECTRIC. I swear, these kids inspired the hell out of me. (I only swore once, by the way, and I was talking about our inner editor, who IS a bitch.) The other two classes I taught to adults on Saturday were great. I actually knew what I was talking about for the most part. I felt like I helped a few people. And that felt amazing. 

But doing these kinds of things is not the best part of a writer's life, believe it or not. For me, the best part is just after I write every day: that feeling of satisfaction that no matter what, the day is good because I got the most important thing done. After that: writing The End is the best. 

But after that? The times when writers get together--that's the best part. All of us doing this crazy thing to make a dream come true. It doesn't get much better than that. 

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Oh. And I might have gone to NordicMart. 

Comments

My god how we torture ourselves when we're young. It sounds like a wonderful weekend. (And oh, those lucky, lucky kids in your class!)

I took your adult class on Saturday and I LOVED IT! It was my favorite of all four I took (and I am not just saying this, I swear!). I am also not just saying it because I am planning on sending you an email with a question or two soon :) You have an amazing energy and your class had a structure and a point, which I greatly appreciated. So thank you!

glad you had such a good time! And fyi you are one of the people I'd want to finagle into friendship! ;)

I love this post. I sometimes find myself in places I was when I was younger and find myself thinking "Can you hear me from your future, it's going to be okay, don't worry so much".

Of COURSE you might have gone to NordicMart.

Moro bay is one of our favorite memories. We ate in a bay-side restaurant, had our first ever coconut shrimp (yum!) and watched the harbor seal (he stays there every night) play. Thanks for the memories!

Wow, Rachael! Congratulations! What a fantastic trip. It must have felt great being there. Drat you, now I really,really want a Smart Car! LOL How is Annabelle? Is she good on the highway? We started off years ago in an MG Midget/Sprite-to MGB and now drive a Tundra. You could almost have put the MG in the box! LOL The last two nights, I dreamed about our special place in Maine - missing it this year. Have a great day! Hope Lala's mom is recovering well.

omg, I bet they loved you so hard. What a cool opportunity for them and for you.

That sounds like a fabulous experience. If you ever want to borrow a teenager, I can loan you mine. I'm fairly certain Steph would be happy to help out.

Rach you are SO influential for me. 200000 words so i have mastered BiCHO. Writing is HARD Work

Morro Bay has otters and dolphins too.

Well, YOU are that someone I'd want to finagle into a friendship! If I hadn't taken your class just after lunch on Saturday, I would've whisked you off to lunch with me. I've been emailing you and I love your enthusiasm about the writing process. I'm on the hunt for your books and I proclaim myself a Rachael-Herron-the-person fan first (!), and I can become a Rachael-Herron-the-AUTHOR fan next. You are fun. Thanks for breathing some new life into my project!

and... uh... what's BICHO?

Ditto Alissa's post! So wish I could have been there. I love Morro Bay! Its my favorite place in the world! And I have a million questions for you and I wanted to be the old creepy lady in your teen class. Glad to hear you had such a great time.

It's a lovely thing, talking to kids about passion. Who tells children they can be writers? Like, real, published, writers. There seem to be two main points of view on writing (and other art), at least in my I-took-a-Creative-Writing-minor experience: 1) I am Le Artiste and ze words are Le Inspired! 2) Art is an okay hobby but won't pay bills, so you better also have a Real Job.

It's just refreshing to actually talk about, or hear talked about, the mechanics of writing. The difficulty of BICHOK. The reality of the business but also the joy of making sentences--that it can be exactly human, not having to be more or less.

Love the reflection and perspective of your younger self in this post. I also love the central coast and go 2x a year. I think I know the restaurant on the stream. And I definitely know the Thursday market and Nordicmart! Very fortunate, your students. Glad to see this post, be well.

Kids can teach you a lot! You meet them where they are, and smart you, you asked them where they wanted to go!

This post makes me happy. And I can relate to that full circle feeling oh-so-well.

Ooooh. Pretty yarn....

That kind of day lives in your memory forever.

BICHOK. That's the part I'm having trouble with! :)

Nervous? Attending your class on how to be a writer on Friday for us teens was one of the most inspiring moments of my life. Really, you didn't seem nervous at all, and taught beautifully! I'd like to mention that I'm sitting here in a cafe, a little after a week of coming here to write, and already it's changed my outlook on things for good. I can do it! You did it, I could see that from your class, and it inspired me to believe that I can too.

Thank you, so much.

Well, I won't try to entrap you, cool as I think it'd be to have you as a friend, but I will say hi if I ever see you.

Your comments about your younger self made me think of a book called "The Letter Q", a collection of writers notes to their younger selves. Cool book. Thanks for your blog.

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