Most people think I’m not particularly sentimental. Some would call me cynical. Others have accused me of being some sort of highly advanced robot, or possibly a meatsuit sans soul. I would assume that the sliding scale of how people perceive me might be related to the sliding scale of how big of an asshole I’ve been to them.
In actuality, I am sentimental. I am affectionate. I’m just really uncomfortable expressing it. Genuine heartfelt emotion brings on mild panic attacks, so I fall back on snark and humor to make all those awkward silly feels go away.
So it should come as no surprise that in the process of preparing my first book for publication, one of the albatrosses swinging from my neck is the dedication page.
I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to have a lot of wonderful people support me over the years. How do I choose who to thank in particular? How can I possible whittle everything they’ve done for me down to a line or two? How do I crawl up to them with this absurd offering, like holding my own beating heart in my hands, and try to hand it to them with any hope that they’ll understand, truly understand, what it actually means?
Fortunately, my propensity to plan ahead – in this case, very far ahead – has made it a little bit easier for my very first self-published work. Even though it’s technically a novella, clocking in at around 50 pages, but since I get to determine the parameters for the rules I establish for myself I say it counts.
Way back in high school, my creative writing teacher, Ms. G, held me after class one day and asked me if I’d join the literary magazine staff, for which she was the faculty adviser. At first I had some scheduling conflicts, but they worked themselves out so I signed up the next semester. The first day I walked in, Ms. G stood up and applauded.
Just me. She gave me my own private standing ovation – which confused the two or three other students who were already in the classroom, as she hadn’t done so for any of them and she wouldn’t for any of those that followed me.
I’m not very good at attention, even positive attention. I don’t like the spotlight. One of my biggest character flaws is my tendency to resent those who thrust me unwillingly into it. But there was something about the enthusiasm that Ms. G showed me, about her excitement to have me be a part of the magazine, that struck me to my core in a positive way. I really wanted to make her proud.
Because the group was small (there were about 8-10 of us, if I recall), and we constantly workshopped and critiqued each others’ writing, we got to know each other really well. We knew each others’ writing to the degree that we could easily identify any one person’s work without their name attached. Ms. G taught us how to talk to each other about what worked and what didn’t, how to thicken our skins against criticism and learn from mistakes and embrace the opportunity to do better.
This lesson, as the best ones always do, went beyond just the way I wrote. I was not a happy adolescent for a number of reasons, and the understanding that not everyone was going to like everything I wrote and that it was okay translated to a lot of my issues with self-worth. Learning to toughen up about how people responded to my stories taught me how to toughen up about how people responded to me. It taught me how to sift through feedback and learn what was valid and what wasn’t. It made rejection just a little bit less devastating, and praise just a little less important. It taught me to write for me, to live for me, and not for anybody else’s approval, but to accept when I was given a chance to improve.
I’ve had a lot of creative writing teachers over the years. Some I remember well, others not so much. I learned a lot of valuable things from a fair few of them, but Ms. G will always hold a special place for me.
Way back then, I decided that I would dedicate my first novel to her and to my peers in that class. Even though it’s taken me an embarrassing number of years since to get to that point, I’m honoring that decision. When I submitted “Grime”, I made sure to include a dedication page:
To Ms. G, and the Mayhem Within
I’m not sure how yet, but I plan to get a copy to her – just a tiny thing I can give to let her know that the standing ovation goes both ways.