A while ago, at the public library, I was sitting behind the desk when a middle-aged gentleman came in, looked at me, and said “Are you Andria?” I should have immediately been on my guard because the last time a middle-aged man approached me in this way while I was working at a place full of books was at Barnes & Noble.
I was sitting on my break reading a book when Friend from Cowboy/Ski-Pole country (before she moved there) came up and said, “I have a simply stupid question that I think you might know the answer to. What does R.S.V.P. stand for?”
“Repondre sil vous plait.”
She handed me a scrap of paper, “write it down.”
I went back to my book until I heard an unfamiliar male voice calling out, “Andria?”
A stranger sat down in front of me, holding the piece of paper I’d written on and said “What does repondre mean?”
“Sil vous plait means please, it’s one word.”
He looked very skeptical.
“We have French dictionaries right over there,” I indicated, “you can look it up, if you don’t believe me.”
Of course he had no interest in doing that, so he thanked me and left.
The gentleman who approached me at the library sat down and explained why he was seeking me out, thankfully it had nothing to do with French.
“My daughter attends a Waldorf school in the area and is entering 8th grade. All 8th graders have a year-long project of their choosing, and she would like to write a novel. I was thinking that you might help her do this while you’re working at the library.”
At this point I had never heard of Waldorf Schools, but I looked it up, and it’s kind of like Montessori, only called Waldorf. Either way, it’s a school full of kids who ACHIEVE, and apparently write novels (with a little help from me). My Jewish Friend likes to tell stories about the Waldorf kid she dated years ago who played a dozen instruments, spoke many languages, and drank his own urine to keep from getting sick.
“I’m really not sure that that’s something I can do on library time,” I told him, “I mean, I’m meant to be working while I’m at work, not tutoring.”
“Well, it does seem like helping her is in keeping with the mission of a children’s librarian, doesn’t it?”
It seems like it’s in keeping with the mission of a tutor, I thought. “How long does she think the novel will be?”
“Probably about 130 pages.”
“That’s the same length as my master’s thesis.” I told him.
He just shrugged, “Kids have done this before; are you unfamiliar with Waldorf education?”
I was reminded at this point in the conversation, of the MFA program and the pressure to produce and the fact that while my colleagues spent summers writing novels, and full-length screenplays, I… didn’t. I was more interested in the drinking aspect of this writing life, so I re-worked the same drafts from undergrad over and over again, and wrote very little new material for the first year and a half. Now I was staring down the father of an overachieving kid who planned to produce in one summer, what it took me 4 years to accomplish.
I contented myself with the knowledge that while this girl may write 130 pages, it is unlikely that they will be very good. Also, as smart as she may be, she probably has no idea what she’s getting into.
Turns out that private tutoring while on the city’s dime, is expressly forbidden (shocking). I told the Waldorf dad this when he brought in his daughter to meet me. I waited, hopefully, for him to just acknowledge that he should hire me as a private tutor for an exhorbitant amount of money– but he just said, “Really? That really surprises me. Do you have some books here that will teach her how to write a novel?”
I directed them to the proper section and wished them luck, which is much more in keeping with the mission of a children’s librarian.