What we write about when we write about teethmarks.

Sometimes writing is a very fierce thing. And for that, we have ferocious quotes:

Sometimes we choose our topics. Sometimes our topics choose us. | lucyflint.com

So, here's a vivid memory from sixth grade. We were in music class, and our poor music teacher... well, discipline wasn't her strong suit. The kids from the special ed class had joined us, and I remember my classmates verbally savaging a mentally retarded girl named Tina. During class. I watched and listened, horrified. 

I could see that Tina didn't understand everything my evil classmates were saying, but she understood enough. I could see that my music teacher was overwhelmed, the class galloping away from her, but I hated her for not acting.

And I hated myself for being helpless. 

After music class, I couldn't focus on our English assignment at all. I wrote a note to our teacher, explaining everything that had happened, all the brutal teasing. I pretended I needed to ask her a question, and I dropped it on her desk. 

She smirked at me after I sat down. (She wasn't exactly a brilliant teacher herself.) She set the note to one side, looking amused. And I remember feeling in the pit of my stomach that no one, no one was going to do anything about this. 

That persisted through sixth grade and seventh grade. So many moments when I witnessed the bullying equivalent of a twelve-car pileup. I would step in and try to intervene. I'd try to say the thing that might shut the bullies up. Never actually helped anyone.

It's burned into my memory now. The cruelty, the helplessness.

So maybe it's not surprising that I find myself writing about misfits and outcasts banding together. Usually eleven-year-olds. If I want to get psychoanalytical, I might say that I'm still trying to rescue Tina from that pack of sixth graders. I'm still trying to find the right way to stop them, all through seventh and eighth grade, even into high school.

I still want to fix it. I want to fix all of it.

So I keep writing about that junior-high age. I write about the kids who don't fit in anywhere, for whatever reason. And I give them the tools I didn't have, the chances I couldn't find, and a loud enough voice to make things right. A chance at justice.

Because those are the moments that sank their teeth into me, and they sank deep. 

The teethmarks are always there. Even in the mundane days of not much happening, even during writing vacations, even when I don't have an exact topic or an exact character in mind, this theme is still there, below it all. 

It's my fuel tank.

Probably a good idea to know where your fuel tank is.

You write about the thing that sank its teeth into you and wouldn't let go. -- Paul West