August 30, 2010 by Writers in the Schools
I have had nearly 9,000 lunches in my lifetime. Some have been out of a paper bag or a Star Wars lunch box. Some have been at fancy restaurants that serve food that I can’t pronounce. I’ve had a hamburger in a revolving restaurant, and I had a chicken basket once in an underground cavern. I’ve even had buffalo wings with one of the world’s most famous bowlers and a champagne lunch with Andrea Ferguson White.
“You have to hear what you’ve done to them,” the mom told me.
For the next hour I listened as Helena, 7, and Gabriel, 6, took turns talking over each other and telling me all about the stories and plays that they had written since they started attending the Saturday morning Young Writers Workshop at Discovery Green last October. Their mom used to read to them every night. Now, story time has become them writing and acting out their own original works.
When the brother-sister duo first appeared in my class, I had the impression that they were rather shy. However, I quickly learned that the reason they were so quiet is because they were constantly thinking and coming up with new creative ideas to catch me off guard.
I still remember a lesson I led where the students stuck their hand in a mystery box and pulled out a word that they had to use as the next word in their story. Gabriel, who shared my love of dragons, pulled out the word, “history.” He asked me if I meant the subject in school, so I explained that history does mean things that have happened in the past, but also that we all have our own histories just like each country has its own history. I could see him thinking about it for a minute, and just when I thought he wasn’t getting it and we would need to talk it out some more, he plopped on the floor and wrote, “My dragon and I are a history of wonder.” (This line would later serve as the inspiration for a poem I read before an audience.)
Just this past week, Helena blew me away with the line, “Twisted is my homework in the sky.” I told her that was a great line, and she smiled her shy little smile and said, “I know.”
She explained to me over lunch that she and her brother have been co-writing a series of 12 novels about two different fantasy worlds that they created and how the worlds start to interact. She was still relaying the finer aspects of the plot to me by the time she finished her gyoza, and all I could feel was a sense of awe at her constant excitement. It occurred to me that I had no good excuse for not finishing my own novel when this creative little 7-year-old was just cranking them out. She wondered if I would remember her when I was famous, and I insisted instead that she remember me when they become famous and start their brother/sister book tour.
This past year was my first as a WITS writer, and sadly it also (at least temporarily) my last since I am leaving Houston to pursue an MFA degree in poetry. I have been teaching in various capacities for awhile though, and I know that it can be difficult to qualify how much impact you really have on your students, particularly when you only see them for an hour every week like I did. I have tried my best to memorize all the excitement and pride I felt at this lunch, and I plan on carrying it with me on my journey as a reminder of the power of creative writing.
by Kristina McDonald, Writers in the Schools (WITS)