I love being a teacher. Being a middle school teacher is an especially wonderful thing. Let’s face it- middle school stinks. It’s an awkward time for everyone. Guiding children through middle school, however, is a wonderful thing.We all have disastrous memories of some part of our middle school experience. Maybe you experienced truly struggling to learn a subject for the first time. You might have had a rough time with relationships. You most definitely had some strange and terrifying things happening in your body. You probably got embarrassed by something you did. Maybe you even got embarrassed by the actions of others. You may have even gotten picked on at some point.I know it was a hard time for me. I felt torn between a million different versions of myself. I wanted to be the independent artist, but I also wanted to be the popular jock. I wanted to get the girls to like me, but I had the suavity of a wallflower. There were so many options, and all came with an opposite and equal reaction.If I concentrated on being a rocker, then I lost the opportunity to be a part of the “normal” kids. If I chose to be an artist, then I had to go down that path to the detriment of other interests. Nothing was an easy choice.
I managed to become a dabbler; a chameleon. I tried to put my fingers in as many pies as possible. It served me well in the end, but made me feel like a didn’t have as much of a place as some people. I was in some weird outsider/insider zone. I had no defining characteristic. I never felt stuck, but I did feel overwhelmed.
Paul, the main character of Empire, is stuck. He feels like he can’t do anything about the situation he’s in. His town is being shut down. His dad seems to care more about everyone else other than him. His mom seems more concerned with what clothes to wear instead of where they’ll be living when Empire shuts down. He feels his relationship with his friends growing more distant. In many ways Paul is an ordinary middle schooler in an extraordinary situation.
I’ve learned a lot about myself through teaching. I’ve also learned a lot about middle schoolers. They are infuriating, brutally honest, easy to admire and sympathize with, and they deserve a lot more credit than they get from most people just for making it through this hellish time.
I hope my book captures all of this. It is very much about the specific situation the residents of Empire, Nevada must have gone through in the last few years. But, more importantly, it is also about what everyone goes through in their adolescence. Paul is in an extreme situation, but he also goes through many things we all have to during this phase of our lives. He is utterly sympathetic, but also infuriating in his refusal to cope with his situation and take ownership of what he can do to make things better. I think everyone can relate to this, and I hope people enjoy reading it once it is completed and published.