Can I Sit with You?


Can I Sit With You? At Book Passage August 9th
July 20, 2008, 11:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Can I Sit With You? will be at Book Passage in Corte Madera (Marin County) on August 9th at 4 PM. Please come!

We’d also love to read your Can I Sit With You? story, and feature it as one of the new stories we publish every week on this site. Send your tales of schoolyard social horror or hilarity to ciswysubmissions@at@gmail.com. (Send them by August 31 if you want to submit for our second print anthology, to be published Fall 2008.)

CISWY? Book Passage event description:

Shannon Des Roches Rosa and Jennifer Byde Myers discuss a brave new model of book publishing success, one in which authors retain all rights and profits, and social networks take the place of agents and traditional publishers. This approach resulted in Can I Sit With You?, a collection of frank stories describing real elementary and middle school social experiences. These heartfelt tales speak to anyone who ever struggled to fit in with the other kids at school, wondered about feeling different, or felt no one understood what they were going through.

Editors Myers and Rosa will describe how they made Can I Sit With You? profitable, cover artist Lea Hernandez (Manga Secrets) will talk about her creative process, and authors Judy McCrary Koeppen, Michael Procopio, and Amanda Jones will read their stories.

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Can I Sit With You? At BlogHer
July 16, 2008, 7:52 am
Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , ,

Can I Sit With You? will be at BlogHer!

Specifically, Shannon will be selling CISWY? books and t-shirts plus giving away stickers at the BlogHer swap meet on Saturday, from 12:15 to 1:30.

She will be sharing a table with CISWY? author Laura Henry. Additional CISWY authors Jenifer Scharpen, SJ Alexander, and Liz Henry may float by as well. SJ might even sign your copy of her story All’s Fair in Love and Mucus. In the mean time, check out her reading of that story, from our Annex Theatre show in Seattle:

(more audio versions of our stories are coming soon)

Shannon will be scampering from the swap meet directly to the panel on which she is speaking: Blogging About Our Children With Special Needs. You should come along, if only to be dazzled by the sight of Susan Etlinger, Vicki Forman, Kristina Chew, and Jennifer Graf Groneberg in the same room at the same time.



THE BOY KING

by Charles Ries
High School

Another high school exception for this frank struggle with the popularity pecking order. -Shan & Jen

“Hi, Chuck. Congratulations on being elected Ice Carnival King. It’s about time a regular human being got elected king. I am so sick of the Kens and Barbies around here winning everything. You’d think looks were some kind of ultimate blessing like ethics, honesty, sincerity, or intelligence. Why should we reward people for what they look like? What matters is what people are like on the inside,” Clara Weidemeyer said between classes. Clara was the subject of unrelenting taunts by our classmates. Her appearance became of thing of legend. A local garage band even wrote a song in her honor:

You can kiss me anytime

Clara

You’re so ugly you make me blind

Clara

You’ve convinced me dumb is fine

Clara

You’re all right

Yes, you’re all right

The song continued on through six more stanzas of rhyming humiliations. Things weren’t good for Clara Weidemeyer. She was ugly. The kind of ugly that made people who didn’t know her assume she was retarded. Short and stocky, Clara had horrible acne and frizzed-out hair that bloomed on humid days into a sizable Afro—God hadn’t given her much to work with.  No redeeming physical attribute like great legs, a wonderful voice, or beautiful eyes. She did the best she could with the considerable intelligence she was given. She excelled in every subject. She participated in student government. She had a social conscience, but despite her heroic efforts to fit in and be accepted, she was as fragile as any girl would be with a face and body no one wanted to look at.

Knowing Clara led me to the uncharitable conclusion that a person may be better off dumb and good looking than smart and ugly. The proof of this theory was all around me.

“I told everyone I could think of to vote for you. You’re one of us. You’re a regular person,” she told me one day in the hall between classes.

“Well, thanks, Clara. I’m just as surprised as anyone. I mean, I’m not a jock and I’m not a brain and I’m not one of the beautiful people. So I just figured, why even think about it? But, I think I’m pretty happy about being selected. I mean, who wouldn’t be happy about it? Right?” I said, looking furtively over her shoulder to make sure no one had spotted us.  Fifteen seconds in the hall talking with Clara Weidemeyer could have serious consequences for one’s social standing. I was trained to be more compassionate than most, but I wasn’t blind. I wanted to slip away from Clara before I was branded Quasimodo’s boyfriend. It was one thing to talk with her at student government meetings or exchange views in social studies class, but it was the kiss of death to hang with her in the hall.

“I would be honored to have a dance with you tomorrow night at the Carnival,” Clara said.

“Wow. Well, thanks. I’ll have to see how this whole thing plays out. I’ve never been a king before. It must come with certain responsibilities. So my time might be a little tight. I’m sure I’ll have to do a few turns with Molly Murphy. But maybe you could help me with my math, which I am still flunking.”

I wasn’t sure if Clara would take the bone I’d tossed her and forget about the dance. God, I can’t believe I’m being such a coward, I thought. But I can’t do it. I can’t dance with her in public. Hell, I can barely talk with her in public. It’s one thing for her to help me with my math, but dance? I can’t do it. I had told a white lie. If Clara was the epitome of ugly, Molly Murphy was the pure embodiment of beauty. Perfect skin, large round breasts, full round brown eyes, tall and thin, with hair that glistened and lips like two party invitations. Clara’s ugliness and intelligence amazed me as much as Molly’s beauty and vacuousness. They both left me speechless, but for very different reasons.

“Chuck, anyone in this school would be honored to help you. You’re such a nice person. You’ve never made fun of me. I know what I look like. I know what they say. There isn’t too much I can do about it. I mean, look at me. I’m not going to be picked for the lead in the school play unless the character is an eighty-year old woman. But you never join in. You respect people, and that’s why you deserve to be our King.”

“Hey, Clara, maybe I’m just a good pretender,” I laughed nervously while admiring her ability to just accept who she was. “I might secretly be a detestable person. In fact, I often think I am. Look, neither one of us are going to win any beauty contests, but it’s like you said—there are a lot of beautiful people who don’t have one original thought in their heads. They wouldn’t know civil rights from civil engineering. Hey, in case you didn’t notice, there’re a lot more ordinary looking people in the world than there are beauty queens. So as Ice Carnival King, I do hereby declare that every day shall be ‘Take an Ordinary Person to Lunch’ day.”

“There. You see what I mean, that’s exactly why we voted for you. You’re just so darn cute and nice to people,” Clara beamed at me as I headed off down the hall to safer ground. She had mistake me for someone else and it made me nervous.

As I walked away, I patted myself on the back for jumping into the same ordinary boat as Clara and thereby raising all ugly people to a cultural ideal. I had developed a forger’s instincts and could quickly detect and become what people wanted me to be. I went wherever social acceptance blew me. But something deeper was happening. I was growing curious about people like Clara Weidemeyer. She was hard on the eyes, but her mind was unique. I was becoming a student of slackers, eccentrics, and intellectuals—kids who didn’t fit in, but seemed to be uniquely themselves. I was tired of oatmeal for breakfast. I wanted more chocolate éclairs.

________________________________

Friday night was the Ice Carnival. It was a simple affair held in the gym, with a band and, of course the highlight of the evening, the crowning of royalty. I was invited forward with my queen. Principal Paul Hersch draped red velvet capes over each of us and placed crowns on our heads. After the coronation, we were invited to do a spotlight dance before our subjects—just Queen Molly and King Charles. I had my arms around the most beautiful girl in the world. I smelled the strawberry scent of her shampoo and brushed up against her young firm breasts. When it happened; a predatory hard-on sprang from out of nowhere. I wasn’t driving the bus any more.

Just what I need! I thought as I pulled my cape more tightly around me and distanced my hips from my buxom queen while still holding her tight. It was a rather gymnastic move, but hard-on or not, I wasn’t going to release my grip on paradise.

I was in love with Molly Murphy. Every guy in school wanted her, but I had her. Me, the people’s choice. We danced badly, rocking back and forth. Given my surprise visitor, we leaned toward each other creating a kind of dancing pyramid. I’d prepared for this moment by getting an ID bracelet—the marker by which all men would know Molly was my woman. As we rotated in the glow of three hundred worshipful eyes, I whispered, “Molly, will you go steady with me?” Her eyes opened wide. I wasn’t sure whether she was overcome with emotion at finally winning my heart or in shock that a dork like me would say these words to her. I wanted to retract my offer. I wanted to return to the practice sessions I’d been having in my head, each one ending with Molly saying, “Yes, Chuck, I will be your girlfriend forever and a day!” But her reply was not the one I’d scripted.

“Joel Stegameyer just asked me yesterday to go steady with him. Thanks for asking. You’re such a nice guy.” She replied as if she were thanking me for loaning her my stapler rather then offering her my heart. It was no big deal to her. She was a pro at going steady. Hell, she had a scorecard just to keep track of all the offers. I was no match for the quarterback of the football team.

I hadn’t realized how fleeting regal privilege could be. When the song ended, Queen Molly quickly deserted me and floated like a touchdown pass into the outstretched arms of Joel Stegameyer. Wearing my cape and crown, I walked to the punch table. My heart had been ripped out of my chest, leaving a cavernous hole. Of course, it didn’t take much in those days—young love came and went so quickly and so painfully. At the punch table I reached up for one of the two royal goblets that were set atop a fake ice pedestal for the King and Queen to drink from after their coronation dance, and ladled myself a cupful.

“Chuck, I want to dance with you a bunch. Come on, let’s boogie down!” I heard a raspy voice from behind me say. I froze. I knew who it was. “Hello there, King Charles,” she sang to get my attention. “Would you like to dance with one of your subjects?” I heard the voice speak to me again.
How bad could it get? First being denied by Molly Murphy and now being sought by Clara Weidemeyer. Heaven and hell were next-door neighbors tonight. My balls tightened up under me. The remnant of the stiffy I’d gotten in anticipation of claiming the fair young maiden Molly was now limp and racing after my balls in a hasty retreat. “Oh, its you, Clara. What was that you said…you want some punch?”

“Close. I said, ‘I’d like to dance with you a bunch.’”

I had no choice. It was the right thing do. I did the pity dance. I danced like the cornered, equal opportunity ratfink I was. I heard the occasional “woof woof woof” or the slightly too loud “I think I’m going to throw up” as we circled the dance floor.

“So, how’s it being king for a day?” Clara asked.

I didn’t want to tell her that I thought it sucked and that this kind of honor was better bestowed on beautiful people who don’t need a single original idea in their head to be happy. I couldn’t tell her the truth. She thought my achievement was what it must feel like to be popular. How could I step on her dream?  The truth was, I wanted acceptance just as much as she did.



Once Upon A Stairwell

by Pat Gallant
10th Grade

We have made an exception to our usual elementary and middle school time frames for this lovely high school tale. -Shan & Jen

I had made it through first period at my new school without incident.  But there was still a whole day ahead of me and I knew all too well that a new student is a likely target.

I slinked up the stairs, heading for my next class, staying as close to the wall and as invisible as possible, as I had done for so many years, at my former school.  Frankly speaking, I was not popular.  I was the youngest in my grade, the smallest, and perhaps not so much shy as intimidated by the popular girls in my old school. My hair stood out in a bunch of corkscrew curls. The same curls which adults ogled over, fellow classmates teased me about. I was painfully skinny but finally, at fifteen years old, beginning to “develop.”  But as my best friend pointed out, she and I were already pigeon-holed, having been classified for too many years in the unpopular group.

My mother said many times over the years that she regretted her decision to put me ahead one year. My birthday falls in the summer, so I could have been the oldest in the class behind, or the youngest in the class ahead. My mother opted for one year ahead, remembering her school days and figuring I would like one year less school better than one year more. I agreed with her on that and despite my reassurances that she meant well and did the right thing, she felt badly about it.

A “good” school day was one in which the unpopular group was largely ignored. A bad school day was one where we were picked on mercilessly.

During breaks, I hid in the ladies’ room rather than have to walk past the cliques of taunting girls. After lunch, when all the kids went to the rec room, I was back in the ladies’ room. It was too daunting a task to have to face all of them at once; worse if they taunted me in front of the boys.  It was just too embarrassing.

****

It was the first day of 10th grade. All my friends had changed schools for one reason or another. I was now a posse of one in a school I hated. The workload was nearly unbearable. The pressure to succeed ever-present. And the cliquey girls had teasing down to a science. Worse still, this was the year we were required to put a live frog “to sleep,” for dissection. No excuses. No doctors’ notes. No parents’ notes.  This was mandated in order to stay in this very prestigious New York City school.

So, this posse of one sat in the first class. The teacher was nasty. Really nasty. Sarcastic, tough, and ranting that next semester, frog dissection was a must and that no one could get out of it.

It seemed counter-intuitive to ask students to kill a frog.  I glanced over and watched as the frogs hopped gleefully in their tanks. I looked out the window at the sunny day, the smell of grass filtering through the open window. I knew I wasn’t going to kill one of the frogs. They deserved this beautiful day, too.

At the end of the day when I got home, I told my mother I wouldn’t go back to that school. All my friends had left. The teacher was mean. My arms were stiff and back aching from carrying the eight heavy textbooks that held the five-plus hours of homework that awaited me. She saw how distraught I was and began phoning schools the next day, to find a new one for me.

We opted for the school my best friend had changed to. But I wasn’t relieved when I got word that I was accepted. In fact, I was terrified. I hated school. Or at least I thought I did. Another place to be teased.

****

So, there I was, halfway up the stairwell of the new school.  A tall, handsome, upperclassman came lumbering down the stairs. He stopped a few steps above me.

“Hi,” he said.

I looked behind me. No one was there. In fact, we were the only two people on the stairwell. He couldn’t possibly be talking to me.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?”

I nodded, pushing myself further into the wall, waiting for the taunts to begin. He introduced himself and then added, “Would you like to go for coffee after school?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was almost afraid to say yes. Was this a set-up? Was he joking?

He continued, “We can meet at the lockers at three o’clock.”

A small voice responded, “Sure.” It was mine.

“See ya later,” he said, and he was off.

And in that moment, I had an epiphany. He had no idea I was unpopular. He had no idea I was shy or scared. In fact, he knew nothing about me. It was a defining moment. I moved away from the wall, straightened up, and walked up the stairs a new person.

I could be those popular girls. I knew how to do it. I’m a good study. I had watched from the bleachers for so long. At last, maybe it was my turn. But I wouldn’t be mean. Not to anyone. I promised myself that.

I couldn’t wait for lunch to call my mother and tell her why I would be late coming home, that I had a date with an upperclassman after school. It took her about one second to know she had made the right decision in allowing me to change schools.

The date wasn’t a setup after all. In fact, we had a great time. And many more after that. So, I began my performance as a “cool,” popular girl; a performance worthy of an Academy Award.  I bought new, more “grown-up” clothes, changed hair styles, and bought the very trendy yet delicate Papagallo shoes. I forced myself to walk with my head high, to speak up in — and out — of class, even if I was shaking inside, and even if I wasn’t taking a popular viewpoint.

Eventually, I found my own voice and I didn’t have to “act” the part anymore. Heck, I had become cool for real! And popular! A cheerleader. Secretary of the whole school. I had plenty of dates. But I never forgot to extend a hand to the “unpopular” kids and to stick up for them, even if that was the unpopular position to take — even if that meant risking losing friends. I stuck to my guns and to my surprise, was respected for it. Most important was the change I felt inside. I didn’t hang onto people’s opinions of me anymore. I did what I thought was right and stood by what I believed in. I began to like me.

Another big surprise was that I loved to study and loved school. It wasn’t school I had hated after all; it was the other school that I hated. I loved this school. It was a good fit. The B’s, C’s, and D’s of my old school were now all B’s and A’s, using the same text books. The work wasn’t easier; it was because I was happy and motivated. The pressure and workload was decidedly less but it, too, was a pretty hefty load. But I loved the teachers and environment as well, and that made all the difference.

****

In senior year, there was still one stone left unturned. Could I cut it in my old school or would I regress to my former self? Would I once again slink around the halls, afraid of my own shadow, scared to talk, no dates, intimidated by those girls? But I was a woman now, I reminded myself, albeit a young one. I had straightened my hair and it blew willingly in the wind. I dressed the part, talked the talk — but could I walk the walk? I had to find out.

My same best friend and I both got permission from our mothers to cut class and visit our old school.  We arrived during lunch hour; the hour that had intimidated us the most when we were students there.  The hour where everyone congregated in the rec room. Nonplussed on the outside, hearts in our throats on the inside, we sauntered into the rec room. We walked center stage and propped ourselves up on the ping-pong table, something I wouldn’t have done for a million dollars some three short years earlier.

And then we were noticed. There were whispers. We overheard, “Is that really them? Oh, my God, they’re beautiful. Can you believe it?”

We still got glares from some of the clique-girls but they were glares of jealousy because we were surrounded — by the guys and many of the popular girls. We were invited to classes. Asked out for dates. We even became life-long friends with some. They, too, had grown-up.

****

Now, some 40-plus years later, there is still the little girl inside with the corkscrew curls. And I like her.  She has her place. She keeps me centered. She is the holder of memories.  But there is also the woman, the wife, the writer, and the mother. And if I ever feel intimated by someone, I smile at the little girl and remind her of that day on the stairwell when she became a woman — and I walk with my head held high, speak out, and don’t allow anyone to intimidate me. But when I return home, I give a secret wink and a High-Five in the mirror — to both of us.