I Always Said I Wouldn’t Go Back To High School If You Paid Me



I guess I’m just a big damned liar.

As Thunder Road was about to be published, I contacted my high school English teacher, Ron Samborski, because he was a huge influence on my love of reading, (and when I turned in a writing assignment full of monsters and heroes, he never once told me to write something different).

I was invited back to my old stomping grounds as a guest speaker for his Grade 11 and 12 English classes. To say it was odd to go back was an understatement. I was speaking in the same room where I had been taught. And while the teacher’s desk had moved in the ::checks watch:: twenty years since I’d been back there, the room felt like I’d never left. Even walking the halls to get there, I think I could have picked out my locker and remembered my old lock combination.

I spoke with the Grade 12s first, talking about my journey as a writer, Thunder Road’s path to publication, and creative writing in general. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked in there. I’ve spoken to Red River’s Creative Communications and ACI Manitoba’s Teen Writers’ Workshop, but those where students who had sought out writing either as a hobby or a career. My best case scenario was that one or two members of the class would listen and engage and the rest would quietly ignore me.

Wrong again.

The class was great. They asked some good questions, answered me when I asked questions of them, and when I looked up from my book during the reading portion of presentation, no one was asleep, instead, they seemed, dare I say it, interested. I was expecting far more ambileance. I mean it’s been a while, but I think I can remember being that age (it involved a lot of walking, uphill as I recall, in the snow, -30–you know the drill). The Principal even stopped by to check things out (he got called back to the office before I had a chance to talk to him, unfortunately. I hear he’s a book collector) and their was a photographer taking pictures for the school newsletter.

My first presentation was followed by an informal meet and greet with students and teachers (even better, people actually showed up! Of their own free will–or so I’ve been led to assume) in the library. Lots of memories there too. I met some budding writers, who given their passion, I hope to hear more from in the future. I answered questions about my writing, their writing, Writers in Residence, Arts Grants, I talked about NaNoWriMo with some novel month participants, there was even a poetry question from someone who wasn’t there to see me, but I’m glad she joined in the discussion.

After a nice lunch with Ron, it was back to talk to his Grade 11 class. These students were right in the middle of a creative writing assignment that sounded like a lot of fun (a fusion narrative) and at least a few of them had read Thunder Road. And based on anecdotal evidence, even teenage girls like Loki best. This class was great too, attentive, inquisitive. I do feel like I let them down on the reading and presentation. Maybe having a bit of adrenaline pumping before I spoke to the first class or that by the time I talked to the second class, I’d been talking solidly for almost three hours but my reading felt off. I hope that wasn’t the case, and that it’s just me overanalyzing my work (nothing new there).

This feeling isn’t something new. I noticed it last year at When Words Collide, where due to the vagaries of scheduling, I had to do both of my readings within five minutes or each other. And again I felt that I killed the first reading and stumbled over the second. Something to remember for the future, I guess, try to find some downtime in between readings to recharge the batteries.

I think that besides being able to personalize Ron’s copy of Thunder Roadmy favourite part of the visit was pulling out my Grade 12 project, as an example of why as a writer, you never throw anything out. The world of my “First They Came for the Pigs” in Fungi is drawn (yes, somewhat modified) from material in that twenty year old, handwritten, yarn bound collection of short stories and bad illustrations.

Thank you for having me back, Morden Collegiate. It was a pleasure and a privilege.

Write on!

4 thoughts on “I Always Said I Wouldn’t Go Back To High School If You Paid Me

  1. This is awesome! I can still remember jake MacDonald coming to visit my creative writing class in grade 12 (at the invite of our teacher Sarah Klassen) — what a blast it is to talk to a real, live writer when you are a teen scribbling or typing your mad, complicated, brilliant thoughts. Sounds like the Morden Collegiate students got all that and more!

  2. How cool to go back to your old high school and talk about writing! Glad it seemed to go very well for you, despite any perceived stumbling during the second reading. 🙂

  3. It was interesting hearing your perspective on how the day went. Let me assure you the fruits of having you in my class was very evident in the faces and mannerisms of students the very next day. The students were fascinated to hear about the process and hard work involved in professional writing. Haveing you here made it authentic and real. Its amazing how little things can have a huge impact on people. I saw my kids more focused and serious about their writing in the very next class, after your speech and reading. Your talk helped to unite my classes because together we experienced something real. By the way, the second reading was also terrific!

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