“Maria Semple has a total boner for your writing.” So said Katty, far and away the best part of the writing workshop we finished last month. Tom Skerritt was a fellow classmate, too, because my life is just a series of What The Fuck moments held together by carbs and decorative washi tape from the dollar store. I want to say meeting Katty was nice, a word that describes nothing and leads to other nothing-words like interesting or cool, but really, it was a relief. There is so much weight lifted when you meet a kindred spirit, someone you don’t have to be anyone else but yourself around, loudly and without apology; someone who gets your language and likes making fun of the same people. Our friendship was forged rather quickly — a satirical shotgun marriage, if you will, pregnant with a friendship baby who likes yelling fuck over various dessert items. She is a curly-haired, barely-contained East Coast tornado, which works since I’m a West Coast weather system trapped in a supermodel’s body.
Maria Semple was disarmingly forthright, a word I usually reserve for military heroes and Downton Abbey. Her openness in class always caught me off guard, and I found myself looking around at my classmates like, ‘Did she just fucking say that? Was that some inner-circle shit? Does anyone else want to know how much square footage literary fame can buy in the Seattle real estate market?’ Maria was a good teacher: opinionated, sardonic, a little old school, and always off-the-cuff honest. She has mastered that IDGAF vibe while still feeling accessible; not 100% warm – not cold, either, maybe just…busy? – but her enthusiasm was infectious and she seemed genuinely weird (perhaps ‘quirky’ is a better word), something I venerate in fellow humans. Being in her class was like jumping off a cliff spontaneously and also writing about someone jumping off a cliff with calculated logic in a really creative way. She laughed and cursed easily, two traits I didn’t realize would be so important to me as an adult, and gave excellent feedback when working one-on-one with people. I have so many good notes from the class, but my favorite one – written in a dog-eared corner of someone else’s manuscript – just says “Be like Nabokov. Maybe with less hebephilia.”
A few nice things Maria said stood out to me: She said my writing was fresh (and very literary, that was one I’d never heard before) and she was rooting for my characters, and that she’d told her partner I was really funny (the incredible writer George Meyer, who shaped The Simpson’s for 20 years like, HEY NO BIGGIE) which made me vomit stress rainbows later like some kind of living Snapchat filter. I’m so grateful to her for allowing me to attend the class on scholarship, based on the writing sample I pulled from this barely-read blog. It really changed the direction of what I’m working on and imbued me with a confidence I didn’t previously have. The most important thing I learned from the class? I really should have written Lolita. Sadly, I did not.
The last day of class, our fellow classmate Racha Haroun – co-owner of the delicious Mamnoon on Capitol Hill – had a ton of food delivered from the restaurant (yet another WTF IS THIS LIFE moment) and it was just the perfect closure to a really sweet experience. The lesson I continue to forget and remember is: when I do stuff that terrifies me, I am always rewarded. Here’s to the next big leap.
“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.” (Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette)