Change to "I’d Like to Meet" List

(Original post date: Sunday, November 25, 2007)

Well, I’m excited to say that I’ve had to take Frank McCourt out of my “I’d like to meet” list… got to meet him and hear him talk at the NCTE conference in NYC a couple of weeks ago. I was afraid that it’d be a let down… sometimes people who write well are total duds in person. This was SO not the case.

The man talks about teaching English in a way that I’ve never heard anyone talk about it… even people who’ve been teaching it for years. If you’ve read his Teacher Man you’ll know what I mean. Or maybe not. But here’s the thing that gets me… he honestly addresses the way kids try to get you off task by getting you to tell them stories about your life. He’s the first person I’ve ever met who admits that it’s sometimes more fun than the curriculum AND that it’s not the worst thing in the world. I love when I can tell kids stories about the crazy things that happen to (or around) me; I think it’s a great way to get kids interested in a point I’m trying to make… if it’s tied to what I’m teaching. My greatest “trick” is letting my kids think they’ve dragged me off track, when I’d planned to tell the story all along because it illustrates something I am trying to teach them. Nobody ever addressed this when I took my ed classes. Not only did Frank McCourt discuss it, but he credited it with helping him write Angela’s Ashes. He said that he’d told most of those stories to his classes over and over again through the years, so when he sat down to write a book, they were largely written and revised in his head. I just love that! It gives busy English teacher’s and “would be” writers hope.

Also, he’s terrifically funny. At the end of his talk, I turned to a colleague and asked, “Is it me, or would you buy this guy drinks all night if he’d just keep talking?” She said she would, and I believe many people in the room felt similarly. Even on our teachers’ salaries. Oh, everyone except the moron who had her laptop open and checked her e-mail throughout the talk. People are such clods, I swear. Ohhh… we’re very impressed at how busy you are and at how well you multi-task. Perhaps you should work in an etiquette course at some point, though, because you’re acting like a self-important boob. But I digress (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing – see above).

So… Frank McCourt’s advice for would-be writers: “Grab a bottle of wine, relax, and just scribble.” Well, I thought that was AWESOME, so I got in line again after the talk (I’d already gotten him to sign a copy of Angela’s Ashes – one of my favorite books ever, and definitely my pick for “most adeptly ended books, ever,” a thought I did share with him, BTW) and asked him to write “Just Scribble” on a notebook I had with me… I’m going to try to write again, and I thought it’d be neat to have his own advice in his own hand to inspire me when I felt like it was pointless. Yes, it’s corny on a level even I’d never experienced before, but I don’t care. Anyway, he was agreeable to it and did so, and since my two colleagues thought it was an awesome idea, too, they followed suit… and Frank McCourt turned around and said to his assistant (or whomever was standing “guard” behind him) and said, “Just Scribble… that’s a good name for a book.”

I’ll excitedly await its publication.

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