Kids play more than adults. Kids sleep more robustly and often than adults. Kids tell the truth more. Kids ask more questions. Kids do all the things we’ve told ourselves we’re not allowed to do anymore because we’ve absorbed external rules.
In short, kids are smarter than adults. This is a commonly held belief among most teachers, and probably even a few parents. I have often told my students in thirteen years that they should be teaching me, and just recently they did once again.
My after school creative writing club is one of the many small, nerdy corners of campus, aglow with the brilliance of unfettered brains at play. If we’re not talking about how it might be possible for one character to kick another character’s eye out, we’re counting the teeth on the tape dispenser, or arguing about what would happen if age were non-linear.
Our writing prompt on this day had challenged everyone: describe a piece of clothing you keep around just for sentimental value. I heard pages being sheared from the spine of notebooks on either side of me. As is my way, I started in with poetic intentions, but quickly grew frustrated to the point that I wrote the word ‘stupid’ over and over again in my notebook. Eventually I found my way into some writing that really stirred me, but when I later started to share I broke the cardinal rule. “So, I like this piece towards the end, but the beginning is funky I…”
“Disclaimer!” a red headed eighth grader bellowed.
“Yeah, you said no disclaimers, don’t abandon your children,” my moon eyed sixth grader jumped in (I always love it when they quote me to myself…no, no I don’t).
“You’re right folks, you’re right. No more disclaimers, here ya go.”
“And you’re going to read the whole thing?”
Sigh. “Yes, I’m going to read the whole thing.”
Wore my surprise lightly,
bare limbs that don’t apologize.
Slid into my surprise sweetly,
like moon milk,
no investments or connections.
Took a hold of my surprise and danced it
across warm wooden planks
(Then comes a large section of scribbling)
This poem is stupid. This poem is stupid. Why is this stupid poem so stupid that I want to punch it’s stupid face in. Has anyone ever written a stupider poem?????? Stupid, stupid, STUPID!@#$%^&*
But I do want to write about surprise…how it shows up and all of a sudden you are open to everything and it all glows. I feel humbled by the growth, the passage I’ve taken to end up here. And now I’m cheering surprise on, still the underdog in the race of my life, but not the furthest behind anymore, and I’m screaming and jumping at the finish line saying, “GO SURPRISE!! YOU CAN DO IT CRAZY BASTARD!!” And I spill my Gatorade on the guy next to me in the crowd and the sun is hot and the gravel on the ground smells like freshly painted walls and I know that it’s happening. I’m going to be surprised–not by a student, or by walking the streets of San Francisco, I’m going to be surprised by me.
And I never expected it.
“Miss Delaney, you shouldn’t get rid of the middle part, it’s really funny.”
“Yeah, and it’s like it’s doing what you’re talking about with surprise, the writing surprised you.”
“Totally, and it’s really easy to relate to. My brother spilled Gatorade on me once.”
“Why would you want to hide the realest part from anyone?”
Why would I want to hide the realest part from anyone? I wouldn’t my precious geek squad. I definitely wouldn’t, and yet, with all the work I’ve done to come to that conclusion in the last handful of years, I still hide the rawness more than I’d like. I still walk around with Nin, Whitman, Oates, Lamb, Robbins, and a host of other aireyed communication icons in my head, when in fact those would be the exact people who would shout to me, “Blow it all the fuck up and shower the world in gorgeous, awkward, liberating, bloodyglittered confetti. You know you wanna!” (And then in the X-rated version Tom Robbins would lay a big ol’ kiss on me and I wouldn’t even care that he cops a feel.)
They’re right, I shouldn’t get rid of the middle–not in writing, not in life. It took me three years going to middle school and thirteen years teaching it to finally start to grasp that truth. I told you kids are smarter than adults.