I know you’re reading this, because you’ve been following my writing religiously, waiting for my genius to break through and become apparent to the rest of the world. You’re waiting for me to find my footing, find my voice, find a writing project to throw myself into and make the entire Internet pay attention.
That’s fine. Please, though, stop writing to me.
There’s nothing inappropriate about your letters. They’re chatty and professional, and everyone thinks it’s just so moving and inspiring that the English teacher who nominated me for this fellowship is continuing to follow my work and support me. Fine, yes, you’re a good person—but our time together is over.
I’m sure teachers like you just wait for students like me. Students who don’t just write because they have to, but because they want to. Students who have something to say. Students who aren’t afraid to break the rules. Students who have “a voice.” We make your job worthwhile, and what’s more, we’re your path to immortality. Bob Dylan’s English teacher has never written a book, but his desk has been exhibited in museums across the country. This man recognized genius, we’re told. This man gave young Bobby Zimmerman encouragement, and might just have been instrumental in ensuring that albums like Blonde on Blonde were brought into the world. Thanks, Mr. Rolfzen.
Am I your Bob Dylan? That’s a pretty fucking long shot, but I’m your something. Your only student to go on to any kind of success or recognition as a writer. And I’m only 17—a high school dropout (unless you count Internet school, which I don’t). I have a lot of decades left to win a Pulitzer, or a Nobel, or at least a Minnesota Book Award or something. Someday, it just might happen that I’ll be standing behind a podium and give you a shout-out. You might even be in the room, an invited guest.
Not that you’re only looking for recognition. You’re looking for affirmation that you’re making a difference, that all those papers you’ve graded and detentions you’ve monitored is actually adding up to something—and in terms you can appreciate, not just in terms of students who say thanks and give you a Starbucks gift card at the end of the year. You’re looking for a piece of writing you can point to and say, “Every once in a while…”
You’re doing that already. I see you sharing my shit on Facebook—and in public updates, so all your former students can see, if they for some reason decide to look up your profile when they’re drunkenly reminiscing. You go ahead and do what you do, but you can save your paper and stamps, because I’m not going to read your letters any more—and I never responded in the first place.
Why? Because I hated high school. Because I don’t want to be a stereotype. Because I would have done fine without you. Because a teacher-student relationship is all about the context. I appreciated your encouragement, and obviously I came on this writers’ program, so I think that something good (or at least less-shitty than the alternative) came about as a result of your sticking your neck out for me. Thanks. I’ve said thanks before and there, I’m saying it again. But I’m not looking for a Mr. Chips, or Mr. Holland, or Mr. Robin-Williams-on-a-Desk. I’m looking for someone you’re not, something you don’t have. I don’t have it either, but now it’s time for me to find it on my own.
See you on Facebook, man.