Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Dear Mr. Somebody, the Substitute Teacher Who Told Me Not to Be a Writer

Future writer

Dear Mr. Somebody, the Substitute Teacher:

I never knew your name. You covered my study hall one day in 11th grade when our regular teacher was out.

You were not a convincing teacher. You were much older than our other subs, who were usually fresh-faced college graduates. You were small and sheepish, like a boy.  You had no control over our study hall, and the kids, sensing this immediately, seized the chance to misbehave.

You knew who I was. You walked right over to me with a copy of our school newspaper in your hand. You pointed to my picture, which was in every issue, because I was its reporter, columnist, and editor. It was my paper, my pride and joy.

“Let me guess. You think you’re a writer,” you sneered.

I was proud. I said yes.

You laughed. And you said:

“Let me set you straight. You don’t get to be a writer in the real world. Enjoy it now, because you’re never gonna make it. “

I told you I would make it. I would be a writer.  

Good luck!” you said, like it was some kind of punch line, and you walked away, still sneering and shaking your head at me. Then you pitched my newspaper into the trash.

Lucky for me, I was smart enough to know a couple things. I knew that “You’re never gonna make it” is not something teachers are supposed to say.

And I knew that something else had just happened, between the lines of our conversation. You had recognized me as a writer. My articles were good enough that you knew I was the real thing.

So why am I writing to you now? It’s not because I’m bitter. I haven’t thought of you in about 18 years. But recently, as my husband and I were going over our budget and finding that we are doing just fine, you popped into my mind.

And I want to tell you this.

I kept writing, buddy. I kept writing and writing for the sheer joy of it. I write because, as Joan Didion said, "I don't know what I think until I write it down." And also, I write to earn a paycheck. A really lovely paycheck. Because guess what: every industry needs writers. I learned that in writing school.

And I’m telling you this because I want to tell others writers — young writers and old writers and budding writers and frustrated writers — that assholes like you have no idea what you’re talking about.

I don’t know where you are now, but unfortunately, your type is probably still out there, telling kids not to write, or draw, or dream. I hope that those kids have — like I did —  other teachers whose voices are louder and more supportive.  And I hope — like I didn’t — that those kids

tell you to shut the fuck up.

And I hope those kids write on.


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