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Please Don't Kill the Freshman

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I was in the eighth grade, and I took this class called "Writing Skills." We met in this little room in the back of the district office, and did writing exercises, like remix poems or free-write on topics like a really spoiled pet or Celine Dion's nose. Kevin Sampsell taught the class. After it was over, I asked for his email address, because I thought he was really neat, and I checked out his book, How to Lose Your Mind with the Lights On from the library. I thought it was really awesome; it changed my mind about the way writing should be. At school, they teach you about a beginning and an end and a climax, and that's usually what kids need, but I always learned from what I read.

I realized writing didn't have to be dry and use so many adverbs, and it really encouraged me to experiment with my own writing, so I emailed Kevin and started sending him journal entries I was writing at school. He wrote back and said he really liked the writing and wanted to turn it into a chapbook.

In November, after the chapbook came out, I took the book to school and gave it to some of my teachers, who I thought were cool. But maybe they weren't, because I'm sitting in English class when this security guard comes up and says, 'Hey, I need to take you to the vice principal's office.' Well, I know where the vice principal's office is. I don't need an escort. That was a total scare tactic. I was trying to figure out why I was going to the principal's office, and all I could figure was that I had made some snide remark in an earlier class, but I couldn't be going because of that

So I get into her office and she tries to make small talk, and then she tells me that some teacher--she never told me who--gave her a copy of the book. The things I said about a certain character could be considered libelous, she said, and if he chose to sue, he would win. Well, I didn't believe her, I mean, where'd she get her legal degree, K-mart? I explained that the names are changed in the book, the school is never named, my name is changed, everything is changed. How can this be libelous?

I knew she was full of crap. She told me I couldn't advertise the book at school or have any connections with the book at school, which was totally fine. I didn't want the book at school.

She said I should be careful what I write in the future, that the more copies I distributed, the better chance I had of being sued. It just frustrated me; I have consistently felt like no one at the school really wants me there, like all I do is cause problems--but I'm not trying to be a troublemaker. I'm trying to make things better, make things different. And the administration just thinks I'm really difficult. They always try to anticipate what I'm going to do or think. So finally I was like, 'Are you going to punish me for this? Do I have detention?' And she was like, 'Keep the book out of school, be more careful of what you write, and we don't want anything to do with the book.' There was no ultimatum. Nothing really happened.

I changed the names because I wanted to protect my identity and my friends. And I didn't want the story to be about me; I wanted it to be anonymous. I wanted it to be about anybody. I want it to be about any girl in any high school.

So What's High School Really Like?

I didn't expect any of this to happen, it was never my goal. A lot of writers are really concerned with 'I want to be in this magazine and I want this person to be my publisher, and that's my goal,' but since I wasn't trying to do this in the beginning, I can never fail. And if this all goes away, I'll still have more than I started with; I'll still have learned so much. So it's really just a big experiment. My parents, my friends, they don't put any pressure on me. It's not that I don't care; I write because I love writing, and of course I want to push myself in what I can do, but it's not like I'm going to be really sad if HarperCollins suddenly rejects my manuscript.

People are always asking me, 'What's high school life like?' People want to know what I think about youth, and how youth are represented, and how things work in my high school, and I'm really not the right person to ask. I mean, it's where I am but it's not what I am. Like, I was in marching band rehearsal for the last two weeks, and I'm being yelled at to stand up straight, and then I go meet my agent after rehearsal one day and we talk about my book contract and royalties. It's difficult for me to separate my life sometimes. I have this English assignment that's due on the first day of class, and I can't make myself do it. Wouldn't it be ironic if the girl with a manuscript couldn't even pass her high school English class?

The biggest lie I've been told, and I've been hearing this for years, is, 'Oh, wait until you get to college. You're going to love college.' I'm so sick of being told to wait for my life to start. I know a lot of amazing people who do a lot of amazing things, and I'm happy about where my life is going. It sounds really pretentious, but I feel like high school is holding me back. My parents won't let me graduate early, and I don't really want to anyway. I don't think going to college tomorrow is going to help me be a better person, but I do feel like the intelligent youth of the nation are being told this lie--that they have to wait for their lives to start when they get to college.

I think that another lie people are told is: 'Everyone hates their jobs. You're going to hate it too. Just pick something, you're going to go there 9-5, and they'll give you a paycheck, and you're going to spend it on your kids, your mortgage, your car, and you're going to take your kids to McDonald's. Live with it. Deal with it.'

Just Dealing With It

I think that so many people I know are just dealing with it, thinking their lives are just going to be miserable, and they think they have no control over it. And I just feel like it's not worth their time. If you want to be happy and have a life, then do it. Stop holding yourself back. I don't have a lot of patience for people like that. There are probably plenty of people out there who are really depressed and look at me and say, 'look at her, she's got everything,' and I'm sorry about that, but I just don't have any patience for them.

It's been really inspiring and uplifting for me to know there is a way out, there are other people out there who have passion and love what they do and are making a living out of writing. And maybe they're really poor, but at least they love what they're doing. I think there aren't a lot of kids out there who have seen adults like that, but because of what I've been doing, I have. I think I'm very naîve in a lot of ways, but I know I have options. I don't believe that kids my age don't have potential, I just think they don't know what to do with it.

So many people are so depressed. And my family, my friends have forced me to believe I can do whatever I want. Something my parents have really instilled in me is that you don't have to have money. This is not all about money for me. I love writing, and if I'm poor and happy, then that's fine.

Band Camp

I play trombone, last week I was at band camp. I tried really hard not to get sunburned. I mean, it was like 103 degrees and we were sweating like mad. The funniest thing I can remember is that we had music rehearsal, and we were all standing on the stage. All the woodwind players had gone off with the other teachers, and it was just the trumpets with the music director. The trumpets are kind of like the problem section. So the music director was lecturing the trumpets on how to move their feet while standing still, and it was totally silent, until all of a sudden, the guy next to me just ripped the loudest fart in the universe. And the director just keeps talking to the trumpets, and then, when he was done, he goes "Did you feel the intensity in that?" and everyone just started cracking up.

That teacher is kind of a jerk, but it's just that he has really high standards, and when we're doing music he usually ends up relating it to some kind of female genitalia. He's like, 'and now we're going to play the clitoris section,' or 'run to the ovary set,' or whatever, he's just kind of ridiculous. Another instructor said 'shit' in front of us the other day, and he was like 'oh, now I'm getting fired.' Sometimes they have to actually touch us in order to correct our posture; you know that 'shoulders back, head up' thing. But when they do that, they do it with two fingers so they touch us as little as possible.

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

Something I feel is lacking in the general population is communication. I've learned a lot about communicating with people, about being honest. It surprises me how many of my friends have trouble saying how they feel or what they want. If everyone was more honest, I think we'd live in a much different world. I also think it's the thing that really gives me so much anxiety. I try to be completely honest all the time. I'm afraid of being a liar.

My parents keep me pretty grounded. They're always like, 'How do you get into the door with a head that fat?' and my friends do a good job of keeping me in line. If I say something about my agent or my lawyer or my publisher, they'll just be like, 'Shut up, Zoe,' so I have a pretty good attitude about it. I'm so incredibly lucky, I have such a headstart on things. I love my parents, they are the most awesome people. They've worked really hard to make sure that I don't get screwed out of anything through all of this, and my mother's worried I'm going to drop out of school.

I don't think I will, though. I think my mother would be really sad, and it would be kind of pathetic if I do become a one-hit-wonder. I mean, I want to graduate from high school, I want to go to college, though it is tempting sometimes to walk out of there and never come back.

But I've got two more years. I'll survive somehow.

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