Idol Chatter

This is a story of gratitude, and that’s why I am excited about “Little Children.” Not that the story has anything to do with gratitude; it’s a hilarious, biting social satire about suburban boredom and grown men and women acting as much like the title’s “little children” as their offspring do. The novel, by Tom Perrotta, is wonderful, and the movie is getting amazing reviews. But that’s only part of why I am excited about it.

No, the gratitude in question here is more personal: Tom Perrotta was my college writing teacher, and it’s no exaggeration to say he is the reason I’ve chosen the career I have. He was that teacher for me, the one I will always remember, the one who inspired me and pushed me and made a difference. Though he is a novelist and I opted to go the nonfiction route, he remains my greatest professional influence. He taught me to write, and more important, he gave me confidence in my writing, without which my life would have looked vastly different: I would likely have followed the pack to law school, ending up much better paid (um, thanks a lot, Tom), but far emptier inside, where it really counts. Come to think of it, I could’ve ended up not unlike the desperate characters of “Little Children.” But I digress…

What was remarkable about Tom is how patently clear it was that he didn’t want to be where he was, teaching college writing courses: He just wanted to write, but as he waited and waited for his writing to proffer a paycheck, he did what so many others have done, taking thankless adjunct-type positions to pay the bills–not that they really even did that. Despite that, though, he never showed the least bit of bitterness or resentment, and managed to have a profound influence on his students, even as he strived to succeed in the literary world and say good-bye to grading papers. He stuck to his dream, refusing to give up, believing in himself, even as he and his wife started a family and he hit his mid-30s. In other words, long past when a lesser person, and a lesser writer, would have given up and gone to Wall Street (or law school). And in the end, his tenacity and sacrifice paid off, and his succession of novels has reached ever-larger audiences. It couldn’t have happened to a better person.

Though I dreamed of it, I never had the cojones to choose that sort of life of struggle and poverty for the sake of my writing. Luckily, I had good teachers, who gave me the skills to succeed as a working journalist. And that’s why I can’t wait to see “Little Children.” Thanks, Tom.

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