Last night I finished teaching my first adult education class, “Writing the Personal Essay.” The six-week class met for two hours on Thursday nights at Lexington High School in Massachusetts. Because this was my first time teaching in the Lexington Community Education program, I was lucky that enough students signed up for the class to run.
We started with four students — four intelligent, interested women who wanted to write — but after three classes, one unfortunately had to drop out after she injured herself in a fall (I think she’s OK). So the three remaining students and I soldiered on, meeting every week to discuss reading assignments, do writing exercises, and workshop student work. We talked about things like fragmented essays, narrative voice, lyric essays, and craft technique. Each student brought something special to the room. One was a patent attorney and the mother of two young children, one was a writer in an MFA program who teaches her own adult ed classes in another community, and one was a woman from China who has lived in the U.S. for eight years and who, after pursuing a career as an editor in China, is interested in writing in English (if she can find the time while raising her three young children!).
I want to thank each of these women for taking a gamble on a new teacher and putting their trust in me. Writing can be a very vulnerable thing, especially when you’re writing creative nonfiction. It’s a brave soul who puts herself out there and says, “I’m not only going to write…I’m going to let someone read what I write!”
I ended the class by reading the first paragraph of an essay titled “Essay, Dresses, and Fish” by Sandra Swinburne that is included in Short Takes, an anthology of short essays edited by Judith Kitchen. The paragraph reads this way:
“For decades I believed that being ordinary precludes good writing, so I refrained. All the while, there was essay, modest and dignified and waiting to be noticed. Essay welcomes the ordinary, knowing that there are big things — true things — nestled within the small and familiar. Essay counts on the notion that good writing comes from good thinking from ordinary people on ordinary subjects. In some ways, it seems a simple thing.”
As I send my first students back out into the world with whatever knowledge I could give them about craft techniques and essay writing, I hope they know that in my book, each one of them is extraordinary.