Who Does That?

I knew something was up when a group of students’ heads simultaneously swiveled toward me for no apparent reason yesterday.

The grins on their faces made it clear that the reason for their sudden attention had nothing to do with the Great Expectations review they were supposed to be working on. It is the rare student who breaks into a smile over Dickens, and even then it’s a quickly hidden giggle, not a grin.

“So.. uh.. hey, Mrs. Landau,” the biggest grinner said, “What do you do in your free time?”

I wasn’t sure why that question inspired grins. Was it the idea that I existed outside of the classroom? Had there been some supposition about what I did when I wasn’t teaching English? I didn’t ask. When you’re dealing with a group of 9th grade boys, it’s often better not to know.

“I drive my kids around. I do mom-type stuff. I see my friends. I blog.”

“You BLOG??” they exclaimed, “Who does that?”

“Lots of people,” I told them. “There are blogs about anything you can imagine. You should check it out and see what you see.”

“Yeah, but you?”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I’m a writer. It’s what I love. ”

As I said it, the world slowed down. The room got a little brighter.

“I’m a writer.”

It’s been clear to me and to those who know me well that my drive to write has been reawakened, but it’s not something I broadcast. In fact, I’m a little shy about “coming out” as a writer. It seems pompous, somehow, to say, “I’m a writer.” Bogus, even. Sure, I write, but I’m not really published. It’s mostly me and my Mac, just as it’s been me and a succession of notebooks since I was 12. So I haven’t been able to simply call myself a writer.

For me, the difference between “I write” and “I’m a writer” is one of tense. The former is present tense; it describes current behavior. The latter, though technically a present tense clause, essentially functions in the present progressive tense; it says that this began earlier, it’s still going on, and – darn it – it’s going to keep going on. Saying, “I’m a writer,” feels like a bigger deal because it supposes a future.

English weenie that I am, after applying grammar to the situation, it dawned on me that my ability to call myself a writer, to suppose a future for myself, happened amongst various conversations about Pip, the protagonist of Great Expectations. In the first part of the novel, Pip comes to find that he’s got “great expectations.” His perceived dead-end life as a lowly blacksmith vanishes, and he finds himself facing a wide open future as a gentleman.

Now, my life is not a dead-end and my job as a teacher is not lowly (despite what the press has to say about teachers), but I do feel a little like Pip does when he’s told of his good fortune. Having great expectations for my re-burgeoning passion for writing feels like a door’s been flung wide open. To quote Pip’s brother-in-law, Joe, “Astonishing!”

My referring to myself as a writer meant nothing to my students, of course.

Though my proclamation and subsequent personal connection to our current unit had me feeling giddy, my grinners promptly turned around and went back to pretending to review for the test. The world resumed its normal pace. The change in lighting, which had nothing to do with my personal growth and everything to do with a student hitting a light switch with her head, was quickly remedied to a soundtrack of giggles.

Oh, and it turned out that the boys just wanted to know if I watch Jersey Shore. The grins? I’m still not entirely sure.

In other words, life quickly returned to normal. But normal feels a little more open, a little braver, now that I’ve “come out” as a writer.

“Who does that?” my students wanted to know.

I’m a writer and I do, that’s who.

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