I’ve been asked to speak at a local high school (Olympus High) at the end of this month. I accepted the invitation, but I am always nervous about high schools. High school kids intimidate me. They did when I was in high school, and they do now. It’s hard to explain. Part of it has to do with knowing how naive I was in high school, and knowing that today’s kids don’t have the luxury of that same naivete. When I was in high school, there were two computers in the whole building – one in the attendance office that ran off of punch cards, and another in the math and science area, but only about three kids in the whole school knew how to use it.
The year I graduated from high school, there was no word for HIV/AIDS. The media referred to this mysterious disease that mostly killed gay men as “Gay Cancer” and then-President Reagan refused to address the issue as a serious threat to public health. These were the days of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and we thought we were bulletproof.
I think most high school kids know more about the world at their age than I ever thought I would need to know at the same age. That disarms me. It unnerves me.
But I love doing these visits. I love being able to talk to others about writing, about the value of language, and about my job as a writer. I love connecting with those few kids who look up at me, as I talk about words and their power, with that secret understanding. I seek those moments when our eyes lock in that “You really get how I feel” exchange. Sometimes I can spot them when the walk in the door, but a lot of them have become adept at hiding their love of language, like you hide your relationship with someone your parents don’t approve of.
So I take the school visits for those moments, and to overcome these lingering insecurities that plague me all these years later. I do it so I can share my passion with those who will follow, and who will go on to write things that will make us laugh, or cry, or gasp in awe and wonder. It’s my version of Pay It Forward. Now I just have to figure out what to wear.