I've figured out the absolute worst place to run into the ex you worry about running into: Penn Station before catching the 10:45 p.m. train back upstate, on a day you've left your bed at 6 a.m. and won't get back under the covers until half past 1 a.m. You're bleary-eyed, an angry hormonal period zit forming on your chin. You've gotten your hair cut that day, and you know how day-of haircuts are — weirdish bad even when they're good. You're buying an overpriced mini bottle of Sutter Home pinot noir from a store called Primo! The man pours it into a Coca-Cola paper cup over ice, as he does each week. After teaching two memoir classes in midtown New York City, under fluorescent lights and in stale air and rooms with carpet, your nerves are shot. You want to emotionally eat: a jam-packed falafel, soft pretzels, blueberry bagels with cream cheese. Hershey bars with almonds. And sometimes you do. Fuck it, you think. This shit is hard. You've learned how to healthily self-soothe by now (you're almost 30, for God's sake) with protein and yoga and WATER and sleep, but damn do those mushroom slices go down easy.
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This isn't a story about running into my ex-boyfriend at Penn Station. This is a story about teaching memoir classes in midtown Manhattan without having gone to college. This past fall, I taught one class at 10 a.m. and another at 7 p.m. Each class lasted three hours.
My relationship with teachers has always been fraught, and I loathed them by default. Even the middle-school gym teacher, during Achilles stretches, kicked me out of class. "Chloe, just leave," she said. "Where do you want me to go?" I asked. The office. I'd been talking too much during warm-ups.
In the classes I teach at Gotham Writers' Workshop, I am often the youngest, least academically educated and financially stable person in the room. My students' ages range five decades. Some have MFAs and went to highbrow colleges. Some are retired dentists and art critics in their 70s. Others are in their 20s, working at HBO and Victoria's Secret.
I hate teaching as much as I love teaching, and I love teaching immensely. But who am I to teach writing?
"Who am I?" David Sedaris says in his infamous essay about teaching creative writing, "The Learning Curve." An outspoken student has asked him the question I'm terrified I will be asked, the question I ask myself all day.
"I am the only person being paid to be in this room," he declares.
"As Mr. Sedaris, I lived in constant fear," he writes.
In 2008, I took the exact memoir class I am teaching. I signed up without a computer and with a sense of entitlement. I'd take my sweet time getting ready — listening to M.I.A. while I showered, choosing an "outfit" off the stinky floor of the bedroom I shared with my friend. I was never realistic about how long it'd take me to take the G to the L and then walk-run from the Eighth Avenue stop toward the Hudson River, where class was held. I'd stroll in, arrogant and rude — while my teacher was speaking. After loudly plopping my bag and journal down, I'd leave for the bathroom. When I returned, I'd ask the person next to me for a pen. I'd raise my hand and ask the teacher something she'd already covered while I was in the bathroom.
I assumed my teacher was rich since she was teaching memoir class and had been published in an anthology called Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers. She was not rich. She looked like someone who was trying to look like someone. Fake-leather boots and purse. I admired her deeply for no reason but the fact she was teaching a writing class.