For awhile now I’ve known I need to go back and finish out my teaching career if I want to receive my pension. I gave myself time to write all the books in my head, and I resolved to start teaching full time again for just the semester or two it will take to make my 10 years. I’ve been teaching, off and on, for 20 years, but most of it was part time, and that was my choice. I’ve been able to write and teach and it’s been a perfect combo for me. Most of the time.
I’ve had issues with students over the years, but nothing as serious as what James Lasdun encountered when he met a talented creative writing student he calls Nasreen. His memoir of being stalked by her over many years is every professor’s worst nightmare. And yet he mustered the creative spark to tell the deeply instructive tale.
My life is typical of many writing lives: teach part time for money, write part time for a lot less money. Lasdun set himself up in the same way, but on a much bigger scale than I’ve ever achieved. He’s taught at Princeton and other high brow institutions; his books are brought out by a New York publisher. I teach at a community college and have an e-Publisher. Lasdun’s life is big, mine is smallish. And, after reading all he’s been through, I like it that way.
Lasdun has a wife and children. He did a good job keeping his family safe and mostly out of Nasreen’s destructive path, but he took so many hits, I’m amazed he even wanted to write about it. And so grateful he did. I’ve heard for years about the harm people do on Amazon review pages. It hasn’t happened to me, but then I might have the lowest number of reviews ever. Nasreen did more than write bad reviews about Lasdun. She accused him of stealing her work, wrote to his publishers, and even sent out emails supposedly from him. She was an internet terror. And there was almost nothing anyone, not the police, not the FBI, could (or would) do.
This is a horror story. But it is also true and teachers of creative writing everywhere should read it today. When I decided to go back to finish out my teaching career, before I read Lasdun’s book, I decided I’d like a new direction. I have asked my dean for courses that teach the students who need to learn the basics of grammar and sentences and three paragraph essays. After reading Lasdun’s harrowing nightmare, I’m really glad I made that decision.