The problem with today's pic is that you really can't tell how much fun we had!! (I only remembered to get a pic at the end of my session when most of the students had left.)
I'm home from my second visit this week to Vanier College where I worked with Sophie Jacmin's Humanities "Youth Culture" classes. (That's Sophie to my right, and next to her is Vanier Humanities teacher Lili Petrovic, who also came to hear my talk. Sophie and Lili are both authors themselves, so we have a lot in common.)
I worked with two groups of students -- all intelligent and sensitive and good listeners with good questions! I shared my usual writing tips, but the focus was on youth culture -- what kinds of things teens in my day and today are dealing with, and strategies we can use to help each other.
This morning, a student named Deb asked a question that I've never been asked before: "How do you grab teens' attention?" I told Deb that the most important thing is to be HONEST. I also explained that I try to write about the kinds of subjects I wondered about when I was growing up -- such as mental illness, loss, sex, love and finding our place in the world.
When I showed the students the journal that I write in EVERY DAY, I told them that being a writer takes as much discipline and practice as being an athlete, and that I work hard to keep my writing muscles limber. I caught a student named Mauricio nodding when I used the sports metaphor. It turns out Mauricio is on the Vanier basketball team, where he is a pointguard. When I talked about the joys, but also the frustrations of being a writer, Mauricio said he could relate. This is what he told me: "Sometimes I'm good in the game and I scream out of joy. I scream and it's acceptable. Other times, I have a bad practice, or it's after a bad loss, and I feel powerless." Me too!! And the trick, Mauricio, and all of you blog readers out there, is to keep on keeping on, whether it's when you miss the net, or when your sentences just aren't coming out right!
As usual, several students stole my heart. One was a young man on Monday morning who responded when I talked about what it feels like to love someone who has not always treated us right. I never learned the young man's name, but I had the strong feeling that he's got stories inside of him -- start writing, Sir!
Today, a young man named Kidus was sitting at the front of the classroom. (I can't help it -- I have a soft spot for students who sit up front since that's where I always sat!!). Kidus told me that he loves to write, but that he rarely feels satisfied with his work: "When I re-read, I feel like nobody's gonna read it and I give up." Give up, Kidus? Not anymore! Not now that you've met Monique!! The trick with writing, the trick with anything important and meaningful, is to keep trying even when it's difficult -- especially when it's difficult. And you know what? Even with 24 published books, I still find writing difficult. In fact, I think that's why I can't stop doing it!!
Special thanks to the students for being so open and kind; to Sophie for inviting me to speak and sharing your students with me; to Lili for joining the class; and to Writers in the Cegeps for making my visits possible. Here's to stories and courage and kindness!