open letter to my students

Dear sweet sometimes-clueless but mostly well-meaning students:

I asked you to write open letters to anyone or anything. I pretty much gave you complete freedom; I mandated only a page limit and that you get real. I asked you to be vulnerable and raw.

And (omigod) you did. You really effing did.

You berated your roommate, DJ Douche-Bag, for using the shower mat to soak up the leaky toilet water after his giant shit; you ripped into your drunk dad for turning you scared and passive and anxious; you yelled at your metabolism for keeping you creepy-skinny; you pleaded with your inner critic to stop pointing out your yellow teeth and hollow-eyed stare; you interrogated your shadow side for luring you with thoughts of suicide; you mocked the women looking for love on The Bachelor; you mocked your peers for being chronically bored and stoned in class; you mocked everyone who thinks auto-tuned sugar-pop can hold a candle to Leonard Cohen; you mocked your own inability to let go of sleeping with a security blanket.

You wrote to redwood trees, helicopter parents, empty toilet paper rolls, razors, ungrateful cats, ex-boyfriends galore–one of whom found himself “six inches deep in some chick from Chemistry.” (I snorted.) You wrote to your mothers: drug-addled, doting, dying, even deceased. (I cried and came back later.) You were so brave. You humbled me.

You are the students I’ve sometimes written off as spoiled brats, victims of your own white privilege, apathetic and shallow. You often stare at me in class, blank-faced and humorless, and I joke that I need to check your pulses for signs of life.

But on the page you spring free! You dare to own your pain. You make me ache for you and all you had to go through when you were only eight years old. I wish I could take each of you aside and hug you tight and assure you that you will be fine, that just by writing this you are on the path to freedom and redemption and love. Instead I will gently show you how to correct those sloppy run-ons, how to recognize shifts in tense and person, how to wield verbs like weaponry, how to pare your sentences down to the bone and expose even more of your hard-won truths.

2 thoughts on “open letter to my students

  1. Super inspiring, Jess! Especially as I am embarking on this teaching journey with my own “sometimes clueless but usually well-meaning” high-schoolers who sometimes look at me with equally blank stares, or worse, uninhibited disgust.

    What an awesome and useful assignment!


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