by cheri block sabraw
My name is Mrs. Sabraw. We are going to be working together during the next three months to improve your writing.
How many of you like to write?
Two hands out of eight go up.
Oh wow. What am I to make of this response?
When do you care the most about the quality of your writing?
[Now I point at students and ask their opinions.]
When the teacher has heavily weighted the paper and I need an A.
When someone I care about is going to read it.
When it is going into the newspaper.
Oh, I see. What do all of these ideas have in common?
Someone else will read my words.
Are you talking about an audience?
So are you saying that unless there is an audience, the writing won’t be as effective as if there were a teacher, a boyfriend, or the junior class reading your words?
[Students nod in agreement.]
What about a diary, a compendium of daily entries about what’s going on in your life? Would a diary by its nature…an audience of one…have the best writing? Or do we need a bigger audience?
Let me tell you a story about a teenage girl who wrote every day for five years in her diary and then lost the small book on a BART train.
I happened to find this diary under the seat while on my way to Berkeley one day.
The faded gold words, My Diary, sat stoically in the middle of the cover.
The navy blue book, its cherished contents locked and protected with a tiny fastener that looked like a small belt, felt warm in my hands. Click. The clasp opened dutifully and the private life of a 16 year old was about to be revealed.
I felt like a snoop.
A peeping Tomasina.
A voyeuristic sicko.
I told myself that I had opened this treasure trove of heartache, sexuality, rage, and idealism because I was looking for its owner, for a phone number, an address.
No one expects to lose her diary. I know that Hannah didn’t.
Did you read the whole thing?
Yes, I did.
And then what did you do?
I locked it in my safe at home where it has been resting for ten years until this moment. I have it in my purse. Would you like to hear the first entry? The author was 13 years old, flat as a pancake, and worried about her shape.
The apathy of the group was gone.
The room heated.
The several girls murmured, No!
The boys shrugged. It was getting late.
I tell you what. How about for next week you write the first entry.