I was five minutes late to the first class so I walked in while she was giving an introductory speech. It was about how just showing up to try to create something is noble and an act of courage – not uncommon for a fiction writing class.
I sat down, trying not to make too much noise. The teacher’s voice was so quiet and quivering slightly. She held her hands with fingers tightly intertwined in her lap. She must have come from her day job because she was wearing a sharp, gray skirt suit. And she was reading her speech from a piece of paper. She had written it out so she wouldn’t have to wing anything. She was so nervous but I figured that since she was a writer, any kind of public speaking in front of strangers might not be her forte.
I googled her after class just to see what she had published. I found her book of short stories as well as one film credit for a documentary about bondage. Weird, I thought, that must be a person with the same name.
I was a little worried that if the teacher was too uptight, it could set a bad tone for the class. I had taken a few writing classes by then and learned that they can sour fast. It starts of innocently enough. One writer makes a snarky remark about another writer’s story and, later, the barb is returned and the class sits in tense silence. In one class, I set up a temporary group email for the class and two of the people in class apparently didn’t realize that when you send emails to a group email, you will eventually see the person to whom you are directing your emails. Two women in particular went after each other online and, after that, the class felt like a standoff, like somehow all of us had been in the same marriage and we were now recently divorced and had to be civil to finish up some business before moving on.
But this class ended up being cool. The in class writing assignments were fun and when we workshopped each other’s stories we all got along pretty well. Our teacher – who I’ll call Lisa – loosened up in subsequent classes. She ended up being pretty easy going. She laughed, wore jeans, and generally proved that that first class was just first day jitters. She gave lessons at the beginning of class, brief enough so as not to take time away from workshopping. I noticed her posture when she stood at the board, her weight resting on one leg with the other leg perpendicular, toe pointed, the way a dancer stands.
On the last day of class, she decided to fill the last hour with any questions about fiction that we had. So, naturally, someone asked, “how did you get your first book published?”
And she said, “oh, I self-published it using a bunch of my stripper money.” Most of us made some sort of audible noise of surprise and muted shock as if to say, “I’m sorry your money from what now?” And she said, rather casually, “oh, I just assumed you all knew.”
Another guy in the class went, “yeah, I knew. I googled you after the first class.”
So, when I saw that credit in the S & M documentary, that really was her. I also apparently didn’t even read the description of her book. At that time, just the fact that she had a book out was enough of a credential in my mind that I didn’t look further. But, if I had, I would have found that the short stories were all about S & M. And you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but you can certainly look closer at it. Had I done that with her actual literal book, I would have seen that the blurry red and black photo was actually Lisa on her knees, topless.
Why had I assumed that there was a mistake when I first looked her up? I don’t have to think too hard on that one. It’s because of that first class. She seemed like such a square. She was wearing a suit and she just seemed so nervous. I just couldn’t see someone who had trouble speaking in front of a dozen people being a stripper.
There’s a judgement in thinking that, isn’t there? If you’re curious at all about people, you’ll find unexpected details all the time. But, somehow, to my prudish mind, this was different. She, like, got naked. For strangers. For money!
But that’s on me because she was totally cool with it.
I’ve since read one of her short stories and two of her essays about stripping and her forays into S & M and phone sex. She was fascinated by darkness and the sides of ourselves that we don’t show anyone. So, her nervous facade on that first day of class might not have been an anomaly. In fact, it makes more sense now.
(And perhaps it’s a prudish move to not use her real name but, if I were reading this, I know that the first thing I would do would be to google “Teacher Name stripper.” So, I’m not using a pseudonym to protect her honor but rather to protect her stories. How she talks about her life is at her discretion, not mine.)
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that there’s something else that really stuck with me about her.
We all went out for drinks after the last class and we all got to talking over a few beers. Lisa talked about writing and her husband and mentioned that she was moving to the West Coast for a new job, a new corporate job.
“Really?” I asked. “You like working the nine to five corporate stuff?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I never really did it before and I kind of like being part of a team.”
I remember that. “Part of a team.” Talking about teamwork is the prototypical corporate lip service but she really meant it.
That was just so odd to me. She had an MFA from Columbia. She wrote a book of short stories, which is a dream for any person taking a fiction class, but she preferred a corporate day job. I mean, sure, you can strip for years or be a phone sex operator or even be a submissive in some guy’s apartment.
But leave it all behind for a family and a corporate job?
Jesus, lady, I guess that’s just how you were raised.