Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why I Am an X-Files Monster

A student called me a sponge.  He said I absorb everything people say to me.  I think he meant it as a warning to other students.  Watch out for this one, she’s tricky.  She’ll absorb you.

I do observe and take in the people I meet.  It’s always been true.  I still have speech mannerisms picked up from cousins I met in Ireland when I was 13, college roommates, fourth graders I taught in 1993.  I can tell how someone is secretly really feeling from a mile away.  I remember names instantly.  I absorb people.  I’m like an X-Files monster. 
I might be this.

A person cannot go around feeling other people’s feelings all day long and function like a proper adult in society.  I have a complex set of coping mechanisms to deal with this hyper-sensitivity, including but not limited to starchy carbs, extended gym workouts and writing novels.

I write novels because if I did not then how could I have answered the questions I had after spending a year in the classroom with a young sociopath who lived to inflict pain on other boys?  I wrote The Cameraman about a kid who beats up his victims in boys’ bathrooms from the point of view of the bully’s fascinated classmate who films the beatings to show on his website.

I wrote The Spider Man after spending eight years teaching hundreds of underestimated and powerful high school girls.  Without writing a novel about a character channeling the ancient goddess Brigid in the new millennium, how could I have expressed my awe for those girls who were determined to use all of their considerable gifts to do nothing less than save the world?

I wrote How To Be Manly about a funny and loving teenaged boy struggling to become a man when his male role models are a dad who is deadbeat at best, dangerous at worst, and a grandfather whose dementia renders him more like a child every day.  How do you learn to become a man of worth and honor when the person raising you is a grandmother who sees you only as a boy?  How do you build self worth when to your own father you are worth nothing?  I see boys accomplish this very thing every day.  I’m dying to know how they do it.  So I go home to my computer and turn into a boy for a few hours a day and I tell his story. 

I write my stories for the young women and men forging through their own private odysseys in these crazy times.  I see them slay their own monsters with daily courage and ingenuity.  I didn’t start out trying to be a Young Adult novelist, but when I sit down to type, sometimes very young voices come out. 

Stories line up in my brain like trains in a station, not so patiently waiting for their turn to be told.  I’ve absorbed them and now they must come out.  They must come out or I can’t sleep, I cry too much, and I become cross over nothing. 

My student was right. I absorb stories, roll them over in the tumbler of my imagination.  It’s all I know to do with everything I see, know and feel through my own journey as a human being in this world. 

Call me the Story Eater.