Stephen King is God
Of all the amazing things being married to Michael has brought me, the opportunity to meet famous writers is really the most minor, I swear to God. Still, it's pretty cool. Last night, I met someone who has been scaring me senseless for most of my life. I remember when I was in high school and I read Night Shift, his marvelously creepy short story collection. The title story is about mutant rats, and thus began a rat phobia (wait! I forgot that one!) that persists to this day. I can't even see a rat on TV without freaking out. I cover my eyes and shriek until Michael tells me it's off the screen. Remember that scene in El Norte when the rats run over their bodies as they are going through the tunnels to the US? I nearly had an apoplectic seizure. And it was all Stephen King's fault.
And I got to meet him. Not only to meet him, but I got to appreciate what an amazingly generous guy he is. A while ago I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about how this lame ass "university" (actually a diploma mill/real estate scam) in the city had expelled a student for writing a violent short story. Not only did they expel him, but they fired his instructor on the grounds that she had assigned a reading by some unknown writer -- that unknown writer was, according to the Dean of the English faculty, "George Foster Wallace." Um. George?
Anyway, a lot of people got up in arms about this. Daniel Handler ended up leading a huge protest, which resulted in him being tossed out of the school building. Michael wrote an Op Ed piece for the New York Times (I know, but he's a brilliant writer type, not a fiery protestor lay-your-body-down type.) Stephen King sent a message to the protestors.
It turns out that all over the country in response to Columbine kids are being prosecuted ... yes PROSECUTED ... for writing fiction. Now, I understand the fear. I understand the horror of the shoot out. What I don't get is the response. My response to Columbine is to wonder what is wrong with a culture that so ostracizes and alienates a child that he ends up so crazy. What is wrong with the mentality of a high school where kids are made to feel so bitterly freakish and outlawed? Instead, we fixate on the kid writing the fiction. Instead of worrying about what's going on in his head, instead of feeling his pain and wondering at its source, we arrest him. Instead of stopping the bullying, we target the bullied.
Michael had a brilliant response to this. He decided to teach a class at 826 Valencia in horror and dark fantasy writing...for teenagers. He told Stephen King about it, and this incredibly famous man, this man with a million things to do, a million commitments, a million demands on his time, said, "Dude, you teach that class, and I'll be there."
On the last day of class, he was there. As a surprise guest. You should have seen the kids' faces. They were out of their minds. When he told them that he was an amateur, just like them, they scribbled in their notebooks. When he asked them what they wrote, what their techniques were, you could see their self-confidence expand before your eyes. It was amazing.
I've met some incredibly generous people in my life, but honestly, he's something special. This guy flew across the country (obviously at his own expense -- 826 doesn't have a pot to piss in) just to inspire a dozen kids. Now that's a mensch.