In the Netherlands, where I was born and raised, your school years are divided in two: you start around age four, for eight years in one school, then you move up to “high school” for four, five or six years, depending on how smart you are, as determined by a test you take in the final year of the first school.
“School Bags” originated from an exercise I did while studying with the Writers Studio in Tucson back in 2013. It is loosely based on what my high school years looked like and the original piece contained more shouting teachers, the discipline, the hallways (including animal fetuses in jars lining the walls outside the Biology classroom), and the importance and status of brand clothing.
The story started double the size of what it ended up being; with an awkward metaphor of the students being like baby turtles. In time, that morphed into back packs, surely you could see how that happened. The feedback I kept hearing was to keep the focus on the bags themselves, but I was too emotionally invested with the material itself to see that through. Many, many drafts followed but none of them were saying what I wanted them to say, until I became so frustrated with it, I threw the (rather large) pile of drafts in a drawer, determined to burn it one day. Drawer and all.
A year and a half later I went back to it and now I was able to let go of my “agenda”, I didn’t feel the need anymore to tell all the details of all the things that had happened to me as a “baby turtle” with my heavy back bag. That wasn’t as interesting, because that’s the stuff you write in a diary (had I kept one). But now I had found the distance and the room I needed to simply talk about the bags. It felt triumphant and freeing to cut all the unnecessary stuff and see the story that was beneath all that baggage all along.