Dear A. S. King,
I know a novel is not an essay. It’s an experience. But I recently went to see E. Lockhart speak, and she explained the characters in a book are all in a conversation with each other, and the book itself in in conversation with other books, with what’s going on in the world. I recently read your I Crawl through It. Your novel has something to say. It responds to so much that has been frustrating me about our world and education in particular. When I was finished I wanted to shout out my window, “This! This! This!” But when I realized the street outside my house was empty, I quickly googled reviews of I Crawl through It so I could connect with others about my relief at your brilliant articulation. Surely this book was already making splashes of change in a surreal and hypocritical educational system if not the world. Finally! However, though reviewers appreciate that I Crawl through It has accomplished something important, it soon becomes clear that they don’t totally get what that is. I had to let you know that my writing partner and I stayed long past the lunch hour at our local café discussing your book, and somebody out here gets it.
I’m about to tell you what I got out of this book and why it’s important, but that necessitates taking it apart to some extent. E. Lockhart said something else the night I heard her speak. Recalling those teachers who asked us to boil down the meaning of a novel into one sentence, she said, “You write a novel because what you have to say can’t be said in one sentence.” Nothing I say here will remotely compete with the beauty and richness of I Crawl through It as a whole artistic work. Nevertheless I feel compelled to cry out across the country from my little writing room to you, Ms. King, “I get it!”
I get it. I have built invisible helicopters. Dreams I saw quite clearly that people in positions of authority did not see. Dreams I worked on every day. I fashioned them from lines I copied out of books, images I saw in films, art I stared at, lives I listened to, and questions I couldn’t shake. Dreams I wasn’t sure would fly, but which I was compelled to pilot regardless. And so I tried out for the play, I taught in the inner city school, I married a man I believed in, I painted my living room purple, adopted a daughter from China, quit teaching, and have spent years alone typing stories into a laptop. Neighbors, colleagues, family, even friends questioned why I didn’t go into engineering, become a business major, or adopt “one of my own kind”. They lifted skeptical eyebrows, shook their heads –what a waste, asked how long it takes to write a book anyway.
I get it. I have ticked like a bomb. When I brought limp student sentences that needed attention to the principal, and she told me not to ever leave my desk until four o’clock exactly. When one robotics kit for one “trouble maker” took a fight. When schedules, tests, and documentation crowded out the space and time for learning. When one of the sixteen-year-old eighth graders asked me why I would even come teach here. When the children’s need began to be supplanted by buzzwords and doublespeak that safeguard the status quo. When those in charge listen with a smiling face, a nodding head, and a patronizing tone, but do not hear, do not intend to address anything after I exit the room. When seething they say to me, “How can one child be arrogant and tender?”
I get it. What I am forced to eat, I have tried to digest on paper. Real people in torn jeans scribbled on with a Bic pen. Angry boys plugged into electric music resting their heads on backpacks jaw muscles clenching and unclenching as they chew their gum. I type them into Word documents, give them beautiful sentences, ask them questions until their dark places merge with mine. All of them in the process of a great becoming. All of them searching for a path through. But this is light writing. Just for kids. Or so dark it will give them ideas. About who they can love, what is fair, who is missing from the conversation.
I get it. I have heard the cry, “I can be helped.” They sat around the table in an effort not to lose him. I asked if he was using –he said yes. And the rest of them went around the table continuing the litany of missed assignments. I saw the eyeliner, the piercings, the dyed hair, and the dog collar, but I heard a voice that did not want to walk on anyone’s leash. Another asked why she had to do this anyway? They told that one she was rude. And no one said anything when her chair went empty the rest of the year. Lonely, so lonely, so misunderstood, so desperate they thought about taking their own lives, and I was the only one they could ferret out who would do anything?
I get it. I walk through a senseless world in which the most sane are called crazy. Where classrooms are stripped of any curriculum taking up culture because that is racist. Where candidates call for the deportation of whole populations and call that American values. Where the voice of calm reason is drowned out by the zealots, and a child who wants just a little bit more or a different way is taking advantage while litigious parents defend the playing time of kids who crash cars full of empties. Where millions of dollars are spent on tests that ask the wrong questions because no one wants to pay enough attention to the hard questions.
That is why I want to wave your book out my window and shout, “This!” I am compelled to rush down my street and slap it on the high school principal’s desk, explain to him that I Crawl through It should be required reading for every school district, university, and learning community –students, teachers, and administrators, librarians, business owners, and parents. Maybe I still will. I don’t know. What I know is that something stops me. I think those who most need to read your book won’t understand it. They have not learned think in a way that would enable them to process it. That’s when I wonder maybe you did not write I Crawl through It for the people who run the system. Maybe you wrote it for us, the few people who can see the reset buttons so small they’ll only fit an unbent paper clip, so we keep crawling through them. For that I thank you.