The behind, the right now and the ahead |

The behind, the right now and the ahead

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Jenny was a short skater/hippie chick – cute, with blue stripes in her long, wavy blond hair. She wore glasses and baggy pants, and was full of witty remarks that could really sting at times when I couldn’t keep up. She sat next to me in art – our very first class in our freshman year at Rifle High School – and behind me in English.

We spilled reservoirs of mean remarks to each other. However, we obviously liked each other enough to share constant company. She was part of an entire new group of friends, in fact, a result of the two middle schools merging into one high school. We all played lots of hacky-sack and attempted endless kickflips on our skateboards. Not yet old enough to drive, we were together in a constant battle against boredom within the small-town life. Jenny might have been the first person to point out to my face that I had a near-debilitating competitive streak. On some levels, she had me figured out better than myself. Maybe that’s partly why she’s still my friend at age 28.

Now that Jenny lives in California, it was fun coincidence that I happened to share lunch with her last Thursday when she came through town, for I had just been a guest-speaker for a freshman English class at Roaring Fork High School. It was a peculiar braiding of the past and present.

That morning, standing in front of about 12 teenagers, I realized I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be 14. Some students doodled, some giggled, some glazed over. I have a tendency to ramble on topics I’m passionate about, such as writing and self-discovery, and in the silence of the room, listening to my droning voice, I remembered pieces of those teen years. Most of us then had yet to have a real job or responsibility; we’d never had to take care of ourselves in the way we’re used to now. I found myself talking about life purpose and manifestos, spewing existentialist rambles in response to questions like, “What’s your favorite topic to write about,” or, “How do you come up with ideas?” Then I’d try to reel the concepts back in, closer to shore. While I spoke, memory blips bubbled up in the back of my mind, as if I were watching my young self through an out-of-body experience. I could see the day when Jenny pulled dandelions from her pockets, reached around and smeared them on my cheeks, rubbing in circles while the class watched the climax of “Old Yeller.” I was very allergic to pollens then, but Jenny didn’t know. My face swelled up, my eyes watered and I sniffled, snot and tears running over my chin. Jenny snickered, “Derek’s crying! He’s crying about Old Yeller!” I had to leave and wash my face, and my friend ultimately felt bad. The point is, those are the kinds of things high school freshmen do. I had to remind myself of that because, truth be told, one of the main reasons I’m a writer is because I feel I express myself best in that way; public speaking has always been a challenge. (Karaoke night has helped me learn how to cope.) I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a second of insecurity on my part as I stood before those young eyes.

Involuntary self-analysis, discovery and reflection in front of an audience can feel awkward, as if a well-timed question might undo a button holding all my clothes and composure together. Suddenly I was calling everything about myself into question and almost making up answers as I went along.

“Who is your favorite snowboarder?” I even stuttered at that softball question. (I hate to admit that it’s Shawn White, though only for his ability to perform in the clutch; I have little idea about him as a person. For this same reason, my favorite quarterback is Michael Vick, even though I’m a dog lover.)

The teacher told me afterward that, in terms of class attention and participation, it had all gone very well. I believed her. The kids were nice and fun. It’s just that I was surprised how I benefited from the experience.

The best advice I could give the class about writing was what I still try to practice: Simply start writing – simply start anything you’re trying to do. Action forces the mind toward a purpose. Sometimes I forget that we all start somewhere and what it was like for me when I started. And like they say, you gotta know where you’ve been and where you are to know where you’re going.

Having lunch with Jenny afterwards capped the day. Apparently I was right where I was supposed to be. Maybe that means I should do more doodling and giggling than worrying as I age.

Derek’s column appears every other Monday. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise. com.

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