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Monday, August 18, 2008

Contributor Spotlight: Kate Kostelnik

Distractions aren’t all bad. I gave the past two years of my writing life to two-hundred fifty teenagers who: cheated on tests, plagiarized, tried to get me fired, lied, texted while I lectured, took advantage of my trust, challenged everything I said and thought I knew, surprised me with their patience, rewarded me with their progress, made me laugh, and, all things considered (despite a couple of authentic assholes), were some of the finest people I’ve ever met.

Teaching public high school students how to write was a job that, as it rightly should, consumed my entire life. I am not a noble person and I didn’t take the job to right a wrong or prove a point. Initially, I did it because I thought I could. I took the position to save money. Eventually, I did it because making fourteen-year-olds appreciate Hawthorne’s “kick ass” characterization of Hester Prynne is so much better than sitting in a cubicle. I did it to show AP composition students that effective repetition can add rhythm and emphasis to paragraphs but can also be tedious. I did it to support my husband while he worked on his novel. That made me noble until the hundredth time I proclaimed⎯to him, my friends, and even a few strangers⎯how much I was sacrificing for his work. It was a worthwhile job that was horrible for my writing and almost as bad for my marriage. I resigned last June.

Today, I’m in my basement writing again, but my students, among other things, still distract me. There’s also the twelve week old puppy we adopted because we have to make books before we make a babies. There are hundreds of books that I need to read. Just my husband and I used Egyptian technology to ease a three-hundred pound treadmill down the basement stairs. The machine diverts me daily to repent for my sedentary career and also reminds me how my thirty-year-old metabolism is literally fucking retarded. Add vanity to ignobility. My former students, who had so much fun googling me and laughing at my earlier online work, will read this blog and repeat what I said about profanity, how it’s just automatic language. What did I really mean when I cursed in the lines above? Well, I truly meant that some kids are assholes, whether fully-formed or not, they know what they’re doing.

And that meta-mess at the end of the last paragraph exemplifies one of the wonderful, invited distractions in my resumed writing life. I think about what they’d say. How they’d call me on my bullshit. I worry that the ones starting college will make my same mistakes. I worry that the ones still stuck in high school will let their frustrations about still being stuck in high school get to them. Or that they won’t live in the present. I worry that they’ll forget all those preachy lectures about the importance of reading, writing, and original thinking. Some days, really bad days, those speeches were more for me.

This week they’re sending emails and Facebook messages asking for college recommendations. Last year I wrote original letters for forty students. This year there will be more. The letters will interrupt my novel chapters, make me neglect my incontinent puppy, and keep me from properly editing my short stories. Basically, they’ll screw up my writing life. The letters will be some of the best things I’ll ever write.

Kate Kostelnik’s fiction has appeared in 42 Opus, Invisible Insurrection, and most recently Hayden’s Ferry Review (her story, "The Dancing School" appeared in issue #42). She is the recipient of a 2007 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship, holds and MFA from the University of Montana, and will begin the PhD program at UNL this fall. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with Chewbacca, Witt, Boo Boo, and Derek Cavens.


Anonymous said...

As one of those students (not the assholes, of course), I'd just like to say good luck on your writing career.

Neel said...

haha I take pride in being one of the better students who didnt lie or cheat; however, I was "fashionably" late to class every other day. Uhh and maybe I'm guilty of looking you up and being perplexed by your works (though Sid looked you up and sent me this post).
Hope things are going well. I will be sure to pick up a copy of your novel someday and feel honored to be one of those rotten high school kids you taught back in the day.
Anyways, good luck with everything...

abhijeet said...

WOW, pretty good article
and i might or might not be one of those assholes mentioned(hahaah)
but i wish you great luck in your writing and your life.

Nirali said...

Mrs. Kostelnik,
Every word in this article defines who you are and the impact you have made on our lives. Although we may not show it (thanks Abhijeet and Neel), we miss you a lot in school, and your name/your class comes up at least once a day (especially because of the whole recommendation situation). This article was brought up almost as much as the cheating article(s) from "The Hawkeye" were last year. Someday you're going to be a famous writer and we'll all take even more pride in having you as a teacher (for 2 years straight). Good Luck!

P.S. - I hope the cows are treating you well.

jason said...

hi mrs k
carol showed me this
i just wanted to say, i didnt do bad on the ap scores even tho i was prolly one of ur worse students

oh and that varuns probably the authentic asshole hahaha