©Sim Chiang, 2011

There is something so intimate about reading someone’s writing, someone’s creation put down upon the page. But a whole other intimacy is created in the process, sitting with a writer and talking about the work. It takes great risk for them to share their words and I try to take great care in offering revisions and advice that preserve the writer’s voice. My recent work has placed me next to writers of all ages and genres, but I’ve found the most meaningful moments happen, not really through the writing, but over it. My days are filled with the personalities and writing of an unlikely cast of characters.

Thursday, October 28, 2010, 6:30pm

Andrew has missed school again, the second day in a row. At the dining room table, unshowered, his hair tousled, he slouches in his chair. He’s isolating himself, not completing assignments, in jeopardy of not graduating high school, sinking into depression. We are writing an essay about an intellectual experience, but not getting very far. Two hours, a few bad jokes, and less than a written page later, it is time for me to go. Silently, I question my ability to help. On the way home I receive a text from his mom, “whatever you do you certainly cheer him up thanks.” Tears come and I think…it’s enough.

Thursday, November 4, 2010, 3:30pm

Yoko and I are side by side in what I like to call “my office” in USF’s School of Education building. A view of the spires of Saint Ignatius rise outside the window. She is putting the finishing touches on her dissertation, a look at how second language learners make meaning out of language mixing, using Spanish and English together. I help her correct articles and prepositions as she tells me how bittersweet it will be to return to Japan. She has loved her time in the Bay Area, but her work here is almost done. I learn from her the tenacity and organization it takes to complete a dissertation. I will use what she has taught me when the time comes.

Wednesday, November, 10, 9:40am

Elle, red hair and glasses, sits in her third grade class. I am close by as we edit and revise her story, looking for b’s, d’s and p’s she’s reversed and for places to add more detail. She is a prolific writer, with dyslexia. She carefully stretches out a description of the day she had to return her beloved, but not quite housebroken, foster dog. We zoom in to add dialogue. She writes, “I was crying and I asked my mom if maybe we could get Lucy back some time. She said I’m sorry, but no.” I ask if Elle wants to add anything else. She replies, “that’s the end.” And it is.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010, 10:50am

Max, an energetic, blonde second grader, drops his flair pen for the third time. He crawls under the wooden table to get it, lingering a little too long. I gently urge him back to the paper, back to his story of the time he turned his back on the ocean and the wave pulled him down and under the water. He looks up at me as I ask probing questions like, “what did you do when your dad pulled you out of the water?” He responds, “we rolled in the sand and laughed and laughed!” I say, “let’s write that down.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 2:25pm

A circle of chairs holds seven teachers free writing about teaching writing. A few are focused, absorbed, pens scribbling across paper. One is texting. One is tapping his pen. One is staring at the tarantula cage. I think to myself, we are not so different, from each other, or from the kids.

Monday, December 6, 2010 2:45pm

Ben is writing his Master’s Field Project on teaching English using drama in the classroom. He will return to Taiwan to teach at the high school level. In the meantime, he is making a movie about love and has cast me in several roles. As we trudge through the final draft of his conclusion section, he jumps up to change the camera angle. He tries to focus on rewording his sentences and proper citations, but all he wants to do is roll tape. Finally, we reach the last page and begin to shoot the scene he has been begging me to do. I am supposed to be teaching, when all of a sudden, I stop, look straight into the camera, and define love. Luckily I have brought a quote by Erica Jong to help me out. As Ben watches the scene we shot, he proclaims, “amazing stuff!” I think so too.

Thursday December 9, 2010 11:10am

Back to Max. He is under the table again looking for the top to the flair pen. He’s avoiding the ending of his story about last Christmas. He’s not happy with how it’s going and I’m trying to coax interesting details out of his account of unwrapping a robot car. He climbs up and perches on his chair, then lays his head on the table, exhausted. I say, “maybe that’s all there is to say in this story.” He nods and we share a Clif bar and talk about what book we’ll read next.

Friday, December 17, 2010 12:10pm

Lisa and I huddle around my laptop, sharing a blueberry muffin in a coffee shop on Polk St. She is writing her dissertation proposal on integrating arts education through the San Francisco Opera into a 5th grade classroom. The work is slow; our deadlines keep getting pushed back and extended as she visits high schools with her step-daughter, Kate, and suffers through her husband’s finals week. We are sick of writing the words “provide” and “integrate” and “Arts Education Master Plan,” but she has to finish if she is going to start the research in February. We are bad and distract each other eyeing possible dating prospects for me. One guy seems promising, but then we see he’s with a girl. “Maybe it’s his sister,” I say. Lisa hears “maybe she’s got chlamydia.” We laugh and reluctantly go back to the summary of Chapter 1.

©Page Hersey, 2011

A member of the BAWP Sonoma cohort in 2007, Page has worked as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, environmental educator, and briefly as an electrician’s assistant. She is currently working with all these writers and pursuing her doctorate in International Multicultural Education at the University of San Francisco. Her research is focused on human rights education. Page lives in Fairfax and just made her first banana cream pie.

2 Responses to “Snapshots by Page Hersey”

  1. Laura Says:

    Wonderful stories, Page! They could all be 8th graders in my classroom. A painful joyous thing, writing is.

  2. Adela Says:

    Sometimes just being there is enough, sometimes it’s all we can do.

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