Thursday, June 19, 2008
This might be hard to believe, but I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with writing.  Ever since I first learned how, reading has been a passion, but up until fairly recently writing has always seemed like more of a chore - a chore I was always fairly decent at, but a chore nonetheless.

I'm really not sure why this is.  Obviously, both activities were closely associated with school, neither one ever gave me too much trouble, and both could be considered hobbies, but while I always had a fairly easy time separating "work" reading from "fun" reading, writing - even creative writing - only ever felt like work.  I suppose I could blame past teachers for not engaging me enough, but I know all too well how hard it is to convince kids that writing - like reading - is something that can be done for pleasure, an act separate from the mandatory sort done for school and rubrics and grades.  

It's been my experience that those rare kids who do enjoy writing in their free time are often secretive about it, like they know it's considered weird to most of their peers, so they don't really discuss it with anyone other than their English teachers.  You might think these writerly kids would be a blessing to have in a writing classroom, but that's often not so.  The kids who truly love to write often roll their eyes at required, "composition"-type writing.  Like most of the other kids in the room, it's seen as a chore that must be endured rather than an opportunity to express an opinion, take a stance, or reflect.  All-in-all, the vast majority of my students tend to dislike writing, and as an English teacher who once disliked writing herself, I certainly sympathize, but am at a loss for what to do about it. 

All this leads me to the subject of one of the more interesting experiences I had during my most recent trip back to New York.  Within walking distance from my brother's Park Slope apartment is the  Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, one of the quirkiest "stores" I've ever been in.  Shopping there is a fascinating, however puzzling experience.  On one hand you're thrilled to be in a place that sells secret identity kits, bottles of x-ray vision, aqualungs, and liquid ESP, but on the other hand you're walking around wondering why?  There has to be more to it; how can a store this silly possibly survive?

I was considering this very question when I happened to stumble on the shelf full of McSweeney's books, and after watching a employee swing open the back wall revealing a secret room, my suspicions were confirmed.  I wasn't in a store at all, but in a Dave Eggers's 826 writing center.  The store itself was an elaborate, lovely hoax  - a creative way to fund the non-profit center while making the act of writing appear impossibly fun and cool to the kids on the other side of the wall.  By all accounts, the kids who frequent the center absolutely love it.  For them, writing is worthwhile, satisfying, and fun.

I left the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company feeling completely awed by the genius of it and slightly jealous of the kids who were able to frequent it, wishing such a place had existed in the mid-80's in Columbus, Ohio.  Who knows what I could have become had I been more engaged with writing at a much younger age?

But bemoaning the past is pointless, so in the spirit of looking forward to the future, a quick Google search led me to the 826 Michigan Center (cleverly disguised as the Robot Supply and Repair Company), and I fully intend on donating some of my time and skills to it, since places like these are rare, important and should be helped to thrive. Care to join?

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Oh, hell yeah. Count me in!

Blogger Nathan said...

Besides being generally awesome, here are some specific points that I think are awesome: They have writing work shops, classes, and walk-in tutoring all for FREE. If you are under the age of 18 all you have to do is stop in, open the door disguised as a wall, and you're good to go. The tutoring/workshop area looked awesome. Like the library at Hogwart's. I wish I could have had a closer peek at it but adults are not allowed to enter. They only open the door for a quick second. Just enough to reverse the opinion you had as a kid when you were always jealous of what adults could do but you were not allowed.

They also sell half-gallon jugs of Chaos, which rules.

Blogger Mrs. White said...

Miskadventures, you just so happened to be on the short list of folks I had hoped to carpool with. So, shall we? :)

Blogger Gregg said...

Sounds like a magical place where kids can let their creativity run wild!

We do a children's Christmas album in our newspaper each year, and it's so much fun to read what young minds can drum up when they write about why they like winter or what Christmas means to them, or their how-to stories. (how to decorate a Christmas tree, how to build a snowman, how to wrap a present.)

Alas, there doesn't appear to be one in Wisconsin. So not only does my state not have Magic Hat beer (yet), it apparently has no creative writing playgrounds for children, either.

I need to move.

Blogger JMW said...

That's funny, I live a few short blocks from that store, right on 5th Ave. Next time you and Nathan are in town, perhaps I'll buy the two of you a drink. (Well, I'll buy you two drinks. You won't have to share just one.)

Blogger Mrs. White said...

Then I'm completely jealous of you, John, because that neighborhood is fantastic. I would move there in a second if I could. And I'll definitely hit you up for a drink next time we're in town! Small world, eh?

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