Writers Week: Going Home Again

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Jeanne and me in the Writers Week hospitality room–otherwise known as the classroom across from the English office.

One item off the bucket list has been officially crossed-off.

This past Tuesday, I was an alumni guest speaker at Fremd High School’s Writers Week. This might seem blasé or unimportant, but to Teenage Jessica, this was about as good as it was ever going to get.

I’d love to provide a synopsis of what Writers Week is and how it started, but why reinvent the wheel? Go on over to What’s Not Wrong and hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Mr. Gary Anderson and a couple other teachers (Tony Romano and Kevin Brewner, I think) started Writers Week while I was in high school, many moons ago. And it was the best thing that ever happened to Teenage Jessica.

My talk consisted of some poems, both mine and one by Marge Piercy, and some helpful advice…or so I hope someone found it helpful. While preparing for this endeavor, I picked the brains of my fellow Writers Week geeks, and came up with some good ideas. My friend Lisa said to talk about how “normal” I am, how I can still be a wife and mom and employee and be a writer. I don’t have to go all goth and poor with it. Jeanne, who is pictured above, suggested I speak to the submission process, something I involved her in this past December with my poem in Gold Dust magazine.

I wanted it to be longer and more in-depth, but I had to work with some time constraints that were beyond anyone’s control. Hey, I’m just happy I got to go. I did have to cut a lot of what I wanted to talk about, but in the end, I’m pretty happy with what I spoke about.

Speaking of Jeanne, I’d like to embarrass her a little. Jeanne and I have been friends since fifth grade in Mrs. Solomon’s class. It was Jeanne that first brought my poetry to light (in 6th grade, reading some of my poems aloud to our class). I have had plenty of encouragement along the way, but I’m pretty sure that first book of poems will be dedicated to her. She is also a writer, and she and I did lots of that writing stuff together in school. When I called her to say I was presenting, her immediate response was, “I am so there.” And she took a vacation day to come with me. We geeked-out together over this happening, and geeked-out together the whole day at our alma mater. The thing of it is, Jeanne was just as qualified as I was to speak this week. Maybe even more-so. But she was my cheerleader and personal photographer all day long, and when the roles reverse (as I’m sure they will), I will gladly do the same for her.

It felt a little silly to be so excited about addressing students about writing. After all, it was about them, not me. I had to remind myself of that constantly. I hope what I said and shared helped them more than it helped my own ego. Another friend of mine also came to hear me speak, and I was so happy he did. It really meant a lot to have friends come and watch me. (And online…it was broadcast live, and Jesse and Janie, plus at least my mother watched from their computers.) As much as it wasn’t supposed to be a Jess-centric experience, my friends and loved ones knew what a big deal this was for me.

I was worried no one would have any questions for me. I did have some, including how I hold my pencil (after talking about observing my daughter hold hers the exact same way), how writing is now that I’ve had some “moderate” success, and what I miss most about Fremd.

(Regarding that last question, I said I wanted to be 17 again, but knowing what I know now, and that none of their lives have peaked yet. It’s going to get so, so much better.)

I’m so thankful to Mr. Anderson for inviting me to come back home. Last year, I wrote him an email and this was part of it:

I just wanted to say thanks for starting Writers Week so many years ago. One of my (lame) bucket-list items is to be a real writer during Writers Week someday, so please make sure you keep it up for a few more years! (Unless you want the tale of the rejection-slipped poet sending her manuscript out with cynicism and dread…in that case, I’m available now…)

I never in a million years thought he’d take me at my word.

Adult Jessica, speaking to the dozens, while Teenage Jessica grinned behind her.

Adult Jessica, speaking to the dozens, while Teenage Jessica grinned behind her.

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