O’Shaughnessy’s “Writing a Bicycle” made me laugh multiple times. The first time I laughed was when she recalled asking her student Ethan where he got lost, and “he leaned over and picked up a green marker. ‘I heard you say this,’ he said, and he wrote on the whiteboard between us: ‘writing a bicycle’” (7). In addition to being completely endearing, Ethan’s mishearing constructed an elaborate metaphor that followed the class for the rest of the year, and for me, being avidly in love with biking and a ambivalently in love with writing, it was a metaphor that particularly clicked. The second time I laughed was when O’Shaughnessy was analyzing the Numi tea box and imagining the writer: “This person likes poetry, values tea, is willing to spend time and take care with things that matter to him, and, if I had to guess, I’d say he wears Birkenstocks. I like him” (9). The picture she creates here shows an author with personality, quirks, and passions.
These two bits strike me not just because they are funny, but because they illustrate real people, people with idiosyncracies and charms, people we are interested in hearing about and hearing from. Her main point, that we don’t need to abandon voice to write professionally, is captured by these two characters, one 10 years old and one middle-aged. She herself embodies her message since she writes this very article with levity and a casual voice.
The article as a whole meant a lot to me because I’ve been struggling with a similar dilemma. While I’m not very interested in professional writing, I am very interested in narrative writing and have had trouble getting pen to paper let alone making it to the press. I went across the country last week to visit a teacher and published writer that I had never met. I stayed with him for three days and we talked about teaching, teaching, teaching. We drank whiskey and wine. We ate out. We watched an old movie with the first car chase scene that defined car chase scenes. We read together in the living room. I left with five books. I went for a hike. I didn’t write one word. It’s not that I don’t have time exactly; it’s more like I don’t have the mental space. If I could merge teaching and writing rather than seeing them as separate acts, I think I would find the mental space. My plan is this: next year, when I ask my students to write, I will not only tell myself to write with them, I will actually write with them. I am going to start the year, meaning the first few minutes of the first class, reading from my journal. I haven’t chosen the pieces I want to read yet, but I think sitting on a stool in the front of the class reading from my book will set the tone that we are all authors and we are all in this together. My hope is that this type of beginning will entrance my students and myself and will bring us all to a place of writerhood.