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watching the snake channel

Here I am in Ottawa, teaching at a cool children's writing workshop called MASC. The kids in the classroom are funny and excited, the hospitality suite is always full of food and drink, and I get a "shadow" -- a volunteer who follows me around and takes care of all my small personal needs (mostly more coffee).

It's the closest I come to being a real teacher. I am used to standing in front of a gymful of screamers (or worse, yawners), and trying to entertain them for an hour. This is different. The kids are quiet; the notebooks are open; they want to learn. I open my mouth, and they lean forward, pencils poised. Quite intimidating, let me tell you. Because I have no real wisdom to impart. I can not teach them to become writers in a day. I am a fraud.

Thank heavens for my shadow. She takes attendance, shows the way to the bathrooms, and gives the whole thing a veneer of professionalism. She's much more of a teacher than I am. I just tell stories. There's one about me losing my bathing suit; another about a pet turtle who went for a walk.

One story yesterday was about a girl who sat on her own birthday cake. The kids laughed, and asked what happened next. Well, what do you think should happen? I said. And they suggested different things. Maybe her pants caught on fire, said one. Hey, that's good, I said. We followed that storyline along for a bit until we had the girl (whose name, we decided, was Iphigenia -- like I said, these are intimidating kids) falling in love with the son of a firefighter, and turning a backyard swimming pool into a place where they could play with their pet snakes.

So what do you want to call the story? I asked.

What story?

The one we just made about Iphigenia, I said.

But that isn't a real story, they said. That was a bunch of goofy lies.

Welcome to my world, I told them.


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