It’s almost fall in southern California, and I can’t help thinking of school (of course, according to my girlfriend, summer ain’t over until the last hundred degree day passes in November). In a way, I miss the buying of books, the planning of school newspapers, and that sort of thing, but in other ways, I am happy to be free of the homework and social anxiety of those years. What I really miss are some of my favorite teachers.
I miss my hippie school and how we were able to call our teachers by their first names. I remember Persis, who in ninth grade gave me a failing grade for my first paper and sent me into a state of shock. Once I got over her style of grading, I began to appreciate the discussion-heavy classes and her introduction to Gilgamesh, Antigone, All Quiet on the Western Front, and much of Shakespeare. I can picture taking notes in Wendy’s Arabic class that I somehow passed (yet I now have no knowledge of anything as simple as the alphabet). There was Susan’s Spanish class, where one morning at an ungodly hour we brought in a potluck, and each member of the class explained the ingredients in Spanish (I made a muy bien Caesar salad). And there was Ernie’s AP Chem class that I miraculously passed. There were college teachers whose classes were supposed to be life-changing, but I always used my high school classes as a reference point, and none of them quite measured up.
And in real life, the now, I miss these mentors, the teachers who encouraged me to write, to learn, to read, to be a nerd and not care. I miss them because most would never have tolerated me starting this paragraph with an And.
If there is one ingredient I think I lack in my screenwriting career, it’s someone with knowledge of how this thing works: who to contact about queries, when a draft is finished, why my ideas are all wrong. This mentor could give an encouraging word to keep me going, or maybe a piece of advice to save my screenplay. It has nothing to do with success, and it has a lot to do with failure. You need someone to tell you your career isn’t over before it has begun, to prevent you from throwing out that half-finished draft.
It was with a mild amount of envy that I listened to Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man on audio book the other week. You can’t choose when to be born or where to go to school, but those kids lucky enough to write in his classroom must have known they had hit the jackpot. Filled with stories, songs, and jests, always honest, a true practitioner of the craft, McCourt must have convinced a lot of kids to be writers. There’s this quote from student Elizabeth Kadetsky, “I nevertheless left Stuyvesant bragging to everyone I knew about my association with this legendary teacher, despite his utter lack of fame among anyone who hadn’t been his student or one of their parents.” And that’s how I feel about my teachers, the mentors in my life, almost all of whom I have left behind.
You can’t help but laugh at this excerpt from Teacher Man.