Sarah

When I was 15 I went to yearbook camp.  Five days of advanced yearbook writing at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA.  I was scheduled to be the copy editor of the high school yearbook, meaning I would have the final say on every piece of text in an $80 publication likely to be purchased by 1200 people.  My school thought I could use some training.

So I went to Gettysburg.  I ended up in a dorm room with no roommate.  The only person I knew within 100 miles of me was Patrick, my next-door neighbor turned editor-in-chief.  When I saw him in the cafeteria the first night, I waved and he turned away.  There were no other rising sophomores in my class; I thought my classmates viewed me suspiciously.  They did not talk to me, but they talked to each other in accents West Virginian, southern Pennsylvanian, North Carolinian.  The second day I tried to make a comment in class; my voice cracked and drawled.  It did not sound like me.  I realized I had not spoken since the afternoon before.

That night eating dinner alone in the bustling college cafeteria, I took a bite of my chicken and realized what looked like chicken was actually fish.  I cried.  No one came to comfort me.  I was so, so lonely.

My yearbook teacher was a pompous, fat-bellied man who taught for who knows what reason.  He prided himself on being a young cousin of Strom Thurmond.  He described himself as “virile.”  He was condescending and sarcastic, and for two days, he did not look in my direction.  A class assignment the third day: Go outside.  Observe something.  Describe it.  (Inventive pedagogy here.)

I moved outside slowly.  I sat in a shady corner and looked out onto the bright courtyard where my classmates paired, cozy and chatting.  I looked back to the dark grass next to me and wrote the words that felt truest.  They were something like: “Oh acorn.  Nature’s tiny David…”

Mr. Pompous loved it.  Mr. Pompous loved my writing.  All of it.  Every single thing I wrote that week.  “You are a master,” he said.  “You get a 5+++.”  He stopped me one day as I headed out of class: “You are one of the best writers I have ever known.  You are Nature’s tiny David.”

I rode that week and its loneliness and my newfound writerly confidence all the way back to school.  Where I promptly regained my friends and my busy life and lost my ability to write anything magical and true.

Okay, not promptly and not fully.  But seriously.  There is nothing inspired in the text of the 1996-1997 Sayville High School yearbook.  I promise.

Which is all to say: I write my best—my very, very truest and best—when I am lonely and discontented.  Lonely as all get out.  Discontented in a blue, blue way.

I do not know if it always has to be this way.  Though corroborating evidence abounds.  Prodigy and madness; profundity and depression.  Tennessee Williams.  David Foster Wallace.  Van Gogh.  It’s stupid to make this list.  It includes almost every genius who has ever lived.  Need we be tortured to be poignant and productive?  Need we be lonely?  Need I?

I don’t even have enough angst to make these questions sound urgent to me.  Do they sound tinny to you too?

I’d rather choose Manfriend.  To that end, I’m sorry for this lame post.  I have, it turns out, been very, very happy of late.  Pity.

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