Meet 2nd year WritersCorps teaching artist Rose Tully, who teaches at Downtown High School and the San Francisco Main Public Library.
What inspired you to work with WritersCorps and what is your background as both a teacher and a writer?
I’ve wanted to work with WritersCorps since always. While I was studying teaching at SF State, I went to a few WritersCorps youth readings, and at one of them I spoke to Melissa Hung [WritersCorps Program Manager]. I thought, Anyone who gets to have that job is the luckiest ever. They weren’t hiring at the time, so I just sent my resume in the mail cold to keep on file. I taught memoir and fiction at Woodside and volunteered to lead fiction writing at Home Away. I have been fortunate to teach classes at SF State — first a small class, Art of the Short Short Story; and then a lecture-style class for over 100 students, Intro to Creative Writing. But high school is my favorite to teach.
What is your favorite thing about teaching for WritersCorps?
Making my own lesson plans, and designing my own curriculum. I borrow ideas and give them my own style, make them mine. High school students see phoniness before it walks in the door, so it teaches me transparency in the classroom, and in life.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I freak out, cry, and torture my girlfriend with obsessive worries about my future. I try and bike it out, read work by someone I’m deeply into, disconnect, go off the grid in my mind. Then I try to get just one line down, and see what happens.
What do you like to do when you aren’t teaching or writing?
I watch a lot of movies and make so much popcorn on the stove that I should run a concession stand out of my kitchen. I go to see bands play. Thrift stores, yard sales. Bike around. Talk to strangers. Draw. Brunch. Mango at El Rio is my favorite daytime dance party — like a big block party for queers in the afternoon, so sometimes I’m there. I dance like a blender. In a tornado.
What are you currently reading?
Tenth of December by George Saunders; Mo’ Beta Blues: The World According to Questlove; Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair; Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you about writing?
Tell the truth.
An example: There’s this story I’ve been kicking around, inspired by a true story, that I know will end with two main characters in a hotel elevator; one person holding the other’s typewriter, the second person holding the other’s cooler with an organ-harvested heart in it. A maintenance person will enter the elevator. The maintenance person will ask the guy with the typewriter if it’s an Underwood, etc., and the guy will come out and say, “I’m a writer.” And the real writer holding the cooler with the heart in it won’t remember where she became the organ harvester and the organ harvester became the writer.
I have tried and tried to write this story, and it will happen but, in trying to write this story, I ended up writing about my neighborhood growing up and it was so raw. It was true for me in that moment and it had to come out, whether I liked it or not.
What’s your advice to young writers seeking to branch out and become more serious with their craft?
Read, read, read.
Learn to type. Typing will make your entire life easier by a million percent.
Be healthy, stay alive. Don’t be crazy with it but, you know, go to the doctor every now and then, eat something decent, drink water, know your body and its weird quirks and conditions.
Go to therapy, develop self-awareness. Eventually you’ll get bored of playing out your issues and you’ll have more time to write.
Don’t speak badly of other artists. Aside from family and friends, they are often your only audience.
Get a job, save your money, and manage it on a spreadsheet. I wish I had been taught fiscal responsibility. If you do go to college, go to a public university, not a private school, and don’t take any of their unsubsidized loans.
If you want to major in creative writing, don’t let people tell you that school is a “waste” or will “ruin your talent,” because how is school going to ruin your talent — with a Grace Paley poem? It’s true a lot of creative writing programs are white and a boys’ club, but racism and homophobia are everywhere and you can find jerks everywhere you go. I’ve seen at least 5 people ruined or dead by partying too much and 0 ruined by school, so those are my numbers.
That said, you don’t have to go to school to write, but your life will be harder if you don’t go to school at all.
Unfortunately, in this country, you need a “real” job because this isn’t Denmark where you can be like, “I’m an artist,” and they say, “Cool, here’s some money.” So if you like to write, be a phlebotomist or something. Whatever you think is cool to support your writing. And then just write.