I have never felt a great sympathy towards children. In the event that I should ever have some of my own, which would require some finagling, either by adoption procedures or a lot of science and technology, I would expect such sympathy to present itself. I have, though, been in circumstances that require I interact with children and even build relationships with them. As a camp counselor, I manufactured a tolerance for pre-adolescent idiosyncrasies like leaving your soiled underpants on the bathroom floor or imposing your hierarchical social regimes on other 12-year-olds. I tolerated these quirks for the sake of the job, but if anyone outside the walls of this camp exhibited the same behavior they would immediately earn the tag of “asshole.”
It’s a truth we can only know once we are no longer one of them, and so we are glad to know it: kids are assholes. To live among them is to be on the frontline of human grossness, to the abject indelicacy that each of us were once, or maybe still, are still capable of. We learn to pass it off with humor or jaded realism; suddenly you’re the weirdo if you’re sniggering at the willful fart of a coworker. If that perturbs you, then you must be holding onto a façade of infallibility. Kids are just beginning to construct this façade. Apart from the unregulated flatulence, the residential hall wouldn’t have anything in common with a room of post-modern, self-effacing young adults who have given up the hope of fooling themselves or anyone else. Kids cannot bear to be undermined and they take themselves very seriously at all times. If they just had a sense of humor about themselves, I could overlook the foul things they do and say. But in my labors at camp, I discovered that children are humorless.
Zachary, one of them, once made up a completely humorless story in which his girlfriend tragically dies in a car accident. Zachary told this story in the morning before breakfast. We immediately contacted Zachary’s mother, a familiar figure. She had often called to make sure Zachary did not keep too much to himself the first week, and to confirm that her shipment of sixty organic cupcakes to share with his fellow residents had arrived safely. However, when asked about what steps should be taken with her son following his loss, she had no idea what we were talking about. There had been no accident.
For a long time, parents probably see their children as perfect beings. Parents have a vision of their child’s future, and they him or her that story. It is the velvety story of immortality. It sounds about right to say this vision begins to crack around the age of middle school, Zachary’s when he made up his utterly humorless story. A cracked version of that story our parents told only feels less painful if you compare it to a terrible story like Zachary’s. I think that is why he told it.
In a recent jobs search, I found an open position for a counselor at a summer creative writing lab for kids. It made me think of Zachary. Should we really be encouraging these kids to make up these stories? In spite of all my doubts, I begin to think of why I love the idea of helping children to write short stories because that’s what the question on the application asks for and this summer I will once again need a job.
I want to apologize for what I said earlier. My vision of the future is hazily childless and I resent those who can reproduce whenever they want to. If I write about why I love to help children write short stories, I will gradually start to believe in a future summer job, that I do naturally sympathize with kids, and even that I will have my own someday. I can at least think of one kid towards whom I’ve felt warm and magnanimous: the late Shirley Temple, when she danced with Bojangles, clattering and percussing on the parlor stairs. I suppose it is true that both children and short stories have the slimmest possibility, unlike the rest of us who have none, of being perfect little things. I suppose I could write this cover letter, claiming it is a good idea to let me, the depressive writer, loose around your youngster.
I need the job so here it goes: It’s safe to consider the short story as being alongside vanilla ice cream, Shirley Temple, and breakfast in bed: they all verge dangerously on perfection. Telling a story, the oldest and essential of any pastime, in the span of two-dozen pages is what it would be to hold a chicken egg in the palm of your hand and then watch it hatch a fully-grown chicken. While many of life’s essential processes frustratingly require patience, the short story is an exception. As satisfying a form as it is to the reader, it has greater value to the writer. It’s probably the first thing she ever wrote. The short story is also a very powerful tool in the hands of a young person. I want to allow…
No, I really do!
I want to allow kids the ability to express their thoughts and defy their own expectations. As a chicken springs from an egg, a creative talent emerges from a young mind, sooner than you expected. As a highly experienced camp counselor and a self-published creative writer, I have a particular sensitivity to the minds of kids. Bearing witness to their expression would be my privilege.
And so I humbly request that you please hire me as your son or daughter’s camp counselor. I know I may have sounded a little earnest at some points, but I really need this job. I have full availability for the summer. I am staggeringly unsure about the future. I may call myself a depressive writer but I am really only a child.