I’d always thought of world-building as something that happened in science fiction and fantasy, which is probably how I ended up with such a dialogue-heavy draft of MINOR DRAMAS that my agency’s in-house editor, in a fit of exasperation, asked me if I thought I was writing a play.
Layering in setting (for me, it goes hand-in-hand with inner thinking), led me to a much richer, seemingly tangible final product. Karen, my Debutante sister, flattered me immensely when she wrote during my pub week that Liston Heights High School seems like a real place. I admit it was really fun to mine my memories and experiences as a teacher, to use them to build a fictional suburban high school.
I loved writing the absurdities of the teacher life that people outside of education don’t necessarily know or think about. For example, Isobel, my teacher, chaperones the Sadie Hawkins dance. Evening supervision is one of the short straws of the teaching life, IMO. At one of my schools, every teacher had to supervise either a dance or a hockey game, and neither was a pleasant proposition. For her duty, Isobel chooses the “baller” half of the Scholars and Ballers dress-up theme, and her wind pants rub together as she waits in the school’s high-ceilinged foyer for groups of students to arrive in costume via party bus. Her job is to raise a red marker if she thinks someone should be breathalyzed before taking the dance floor.
Later, she attends a faculty meeting (generally another eye-roll inducing experience for the teachers I know), wherein her principal leads the faculty in call-and-response cheering. Isobel and her young colleague sit at a table in the library, just in front of a shelf of paranormal romances. The top half of an Oreo sticks to the roof of her mouth.
I giggled as I wrote inspirational posters into the principal’s office. “Good Things Come to Those Who Hustle,” reads his favorite, and another featuring Yoda says, “Do or Do Not. There is No Try.” I’ve worked with a couple of principals who seem to think that a slap on the back or a knee-jerk platitude will fix everything.
The Liston Heights hallways smell like industrial antiseptic. In that same earlier draft that my agency editor accused me of writing as a play, I mentioned the true-to-life whiffs of body odor. I guess it’s fortunate that most of those didn’t make the final cut. I think the editor’s exact comment was, “If I have to read about armpits one more time…”
I got the picture, but I’m sorry–if you don’t realize the relevance of body odor to the daily experience of a middle or high school teacher, you’ve definitely never been one.
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