The first time I taught To Kill a Mockingbird to a group of 8th graders, I was student teaching at Stephen K. Hayt School on the North Side of Chicago, just a few blocks from Lake Michigan. Each morning, I drove down Lake Shore Drive towards my students, wondering if there would be a time when I’d tire of looking at the skyscrapers and the water.
When I sat down recently to start a short story, I wondered what kind of stuff I was bringing to the creation. Maybe I was over-analyzing my thought process, but I already had these images, ideas, and tones and had yet to create even a single character. If our stories are to have life-giving meaning and value, what do we start with? My hunch borders on love: love for our readers, love for our characters, love for language.
“Been doing any writing?” my sister asked me at Thanksgiving.
“How does that make you feel?”
My friend and I are in one of those ironic restaurants where everyone wears dark-rimmed, nonprescription eyeglasses and the sommelier fills wine goblets to the rim. On our table is a steak served on thin, waxy cardboard accompanied by a fork and casually tossed chef’s knife; two sweet potatoes snuggled in a brown paper bag; a china bowl filled with an unidentified cream sauce; and a pile of rock salt that the waiter threw onto the table before strutting away to the beat of the techno remix that accompanies our meal.