Award winning novelist and LARB YA section editor Cecil Castelluci resumes her blog series “Class Notes.” Her new book The Year of the Beasts, which alternates chapters of prose and comics, was published last month by Roaring Brook Press.
Free period, also known as Study Hall. A space in time during a school day without defined subject, curriculum or agenda; an opportunity for kids to study, rest, or transition from one headspace to another. A much needed break in the complicated saga that is a school day. Much like a period at the end of a sentence, it’s a pause.
Before I went to middle school or high school, I didn’t know what a free period was. I thought that it was something that you did when you tried to write a sentence and had nothing to say: an orphan point on a page.
There. That’s a free period. It doesn’t look very serious. Yet a space as small as that can change everything. As I learned when I got to middle school, the brief liberation of free period was huge. It was a chance to rest, but it was also a moment to think about other things. A free period — whether a space of time in the routine of daily life, or a point on a page — can be a turning point. In the study hall scene from 16 Candles, Sam (Molly Ringwald) fills out the sex test quiz, and suddenly finds herself admitting that she would do it with Jake Ryan (Mike Schoeffling). It’s a tiny moment in Sam’s already bad day (her birthday has been forgotten by her family due to her sister’s wedding). But it is during that free period that her story begins to change. She is brave on that page; she admits everything. And then, unbeknownst to her, her sex test note gets picked up by Jake, changing the course of her day. Of course for Sam, the story ends with a birthday cake, the cutest guy in school, and a Thompson Twins soundtrack. But it could just as easily have gone another way.
Not so long ago, something terrible happened in my life that left me fighting and alone. Emotionally, I was wounded way beyond a scratch or a cut or a puncture. In fact, this trauma cut me right to the bone; to the core of the person I thought I was. Worse still, I discovered that some people, even kind ones, turn away from trauma out of fear or grief. They don’t want their worldview to change. They don’t want their boat rocked. As I began to share what had happened to me, certain people in my life walled me out and never spoke to me again, hoping my trauma and its consequences would just go away. Some even called me a liar.
It was a terrible place to be. It was dark and lonely, full of sadness, betrayal and shock. Worst of all, I lost my words. The doctors who cared for me kept telling me to write it all down. To try to process. But I couldn’t. How could I express how I felt? During that time, I thought I might never write again.
Words were too clumsy.
But time marched on and when I got a bit stronger, I found stories again. Or rather, I should say, stories found me.
Perfect Pie, by Judith Thompson.
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Buried Child, by Sam Shepard...