Melissa Riley
Correspondence with Skyline Student
Notes on the correspondence
  • Written for school or not? From the few responses that I actually got, I could tell that he wrote mostly for himself. He did not have any writing from class, but he mostly wrote short stories, none of which I received.
  • What did they struggle with? He does not struggle with writing at all, it flows easily for him, but he is not good with directional writing. He goes all over the place in his writing, but has a good start.
  • How do you feel about the results? I feel like he is overly judgmental about others in his writing style.
  • How much do you revise? When do you revise? How important is revision? He does not really revise he does a quick check of his writing and then he is finished.How do you prepare to write? Brainstorm? Talk? Freewriting? He basically just sits down and writes.
  • His favorite form of writing is short stories, but he was unable to send me anything. He did however do a form of writing based on my original letter. He sort off assessed my letter as a piece of writing and judged the content. While I was a bit offended I did write him back and he wrote me back once apologizing and asking my nationality, to question why I would get “offended so easy”. After that response to his questions and asking him again for a writing sample he refused to write me back.
  • Melissa: These notes are all I see of your Writer Profile. There was quite a bit more required, such as Background, Analysis, Strengths and Weaknesses. I can see that Max was a handful, probably trying to keep up to speed with a college student. And he was offensive in a way you would never expect from a total stranger. Did you ask Ms. Richberg to speak to him?
  • Without the substance of the Profile, I can only give you half credit for enduring a challenging relationship.
  • 10/20 for Profile
  • 5/5 Notes
  • Total 15/25

First letter to Skyline
Dear Skyline High student,
Hello, my name is Melissa. I am taking a writing for writing teachers class, and this has me writing to you. I should be finished soon with my teaching degree I hope.
I am told that you are in a creative writing class. I would have loved to take a class like that in high school. What do you like to write? What inspires you to write? I know just my daily life has inspired me to write most of the pieces I have already done. I love to write books and short stories.
I really hope you enjoy your class and take advantage of all of the wonderful things that you can learn from it.
Attached is a short expressive and reflective essay that I wrote for class. I know the subject matter may be a little advanced, but I hope you will enjoy it anyway and be able to look past the faults within to understand what I am trying to tell the reader.
I am looking forward to hearing back from you,
Melissa Riley
Pink Plus Sign
The waves of emotion came and went as I looked down at the faint plus sign that only meant one thing. I could not help the smile that crept up on my face and I called to my friend who was waiting in the other room.
She had been skeptical to start with about my possible pregnancy then about the test that I had bought, but I knew better about how they had made those tests. She could not suppress a lush laugh and she blushed heavily as she apologized for the comments that she had made earlier about the possibility of ME having a child. She knew I never had an interest in children and in truth I disliked many children for their over use of higher frequencies and the abundance in which they used them, that aside, I neither had the ability, nor the time to take care of a child, all of which she had mentioned in the store as I headed toward the aisle that held the pregnancy tests with a face of red.
Why had I smiled? Why a smile when I myself had not considered the possibility of being a mother. I had taken great lengths to avoid such a condition. I, who held a firm distaste for the little breed of humans. I, who had not had a childhood of my own, was going to have a child and raise it… on my own. The smile I had, no doubt was most likely from the internal and maternal drive that feminine nature pumps in to female veins and ovaries. That smile tainted my lips, because my body wanted this to happen, it relished in the prospect of caring and nurturing for the little parasite that had been feeding off my body. The smile could have also been an unexplainable phenomenon as strange and undefinable as life itself. Whatever the reason for the smile, it would not leave my face until my mind took over the control of my body once more.
Then the seat of panic over took me as I considered the possibilities and the consequences to my actions. Then my heart fell into my stomach as I thought of the prospect of telling my family and friends. My overly religious family, that did not even know that I had been dating someone for close to a year, would not be very happy with a child born out of wedlock and I had had no intention of marrying the man either. We had just said our goodbyes six weeks before as he and I had agreed a long distance relationship would not work for either of us. I shuddered even at the possibility and shut it aside quickly, I just would not tell anyone, I reasoned… I could hide my condition for some time and by then it would be too late for termination and my family would have to come around to the idea with the prospect so near.
My friend protested to the idea as soon as I said it, saying that I needed prenatal care and my mother would have to know why her insurance company was being charged for so many OBGYN appointments. I reluctantly agreed to her reasoning, because my mother had no interest in keeping secrets, no matter how small, and this was no small matter.
Looking back I do not know what exactly I was fearful of when it came to my uncertainty of telling others, other than the fact of getting over the word ‘pregnant’. I remember even now how strange the word felt on my lips, like an unspoken oath or a foreign swear word. As for the smile, I even to this day think that it must have been a reaction that I felt that I should feel as a woman. Even now the maternal instincts I thought I would never obtain are so easy, as easy as breathing in and out.
I laugh now at the whole situation as I stare down at my beautiful baby boy. To think that this being had caused so much commotion, and internal and external conflict even before he had taken his first trembling breath, was and still is amazing to me. My son then gazes back at me with my own eyes and casts my own smile back at me, minus most of his teeth, and eagerly crawls forward in such determined and forceful movements that there is no doubt that this little being is mine. When close enough I scoop him up and he accepts my embrace only for a moment, before helping me type this paper with occasional dfrknfdvkn and efrnjjknfrdjn and oianbvvre that fit the constant babbling that is issuing from his lips. I give him a kiss on the top of his head as he continues to help me type and smile faintly to myself at the knowledge that this amazing and wonderful boy was once but a faint pink plus sign in my every thought.

Letter back from Skyline
Dear Melissa,
My name is Maximilian Killough. I am seventeen years old and am currently a senior at Skyline. I enjoy playing baseball, watching movies, reading, mixed martial arts, and taking long walks to reflect on life. My ultimate goal is to study film and, hopefully, one day, do anything that has to do with movies. My favorite types of films are independent and British films. The finesse of British movie making goes far beyond that of American moviemakers.
In terms of writing, I enjoy writing scripts for short films and I love writing short stories. I love short stories, because to me they are the realest form of writing. I have a hard time focusing on four hundred page books with the slow buildup, the climax, and the one hundred-page wrap-up. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy long novels. I do, but they are my main course, short stories are my dessert. And I don’t mean to say that novels are invalid or superficial, not at all. I just believe short stories have much more to offer. One writes a book over a long period of time. In that long period of time, the writer experiences many different emotions, meets new people, and as a consequence comes up with millions of different ideas, all of which, cause conflict with one another. The substance of an aged writing piece is diluted with so many factors, before it gets filtered through countless edits and critiques. The work is impure. A short story is different. Short stories are raw, powerful, and eloquent in every way. A writer writes a short story with no limitations, no chains. They are products of pure lust, rage, and beauty, perfectly summarizing what drives us as species.
I am a spectator. I am very withdrawn. I observe people alone and contrast them with the, very different, same person who is surrounded by friends. I draw my inspiration from illusions we perceive to be true and change. I also love to ponder on what motivates us as human beings. What I always find, is that fear is what motivates us. Fear of being gay, fear of having no friends, fear of being stupid are all fears created by us, to evaluate our surroundings. We use this criteria to choose our friends, and gain perceived popularity. It’s a big game. Why is it that the most popular people, are the people who are hated the most? Many people would consider me and attractive, athletic, and some would say I’m funny. For most of my high school experience I have cheated, lied, and pushed people down in order to gain popularity. It wasn’t until this past Summer that I realized what a disservice I had done for myself. I was arrested because I stole 3 bottles of alcohol, for a party that consisted of people who didn’t care about me. When I was caught, I was alone. I was so afraid of being alone and being overlooked, yet by lowering myself to that level made me just that. Now I am free, I realized that the first people who embraced me, where my old friends, the people I had abandoned. I spend time with not only them, but also with myself. I believe that isolation is underrated. We seem to forget that WE know ourselves that best, and are the best listeners to confide to. It’s very consoling. But enough about that.
Maybe with the next letter, I will share my short story with you, but as of now it is incomplete. I hop around with it, leaving huge gaps in the timeline. In terms of your writing, I liked it quite a bit, despite the warning alerting me of “mature content”. I don’t think it was to explicit. I appreciated it’s sincerity, describing real challenges you faced during a defining period in your life.
Parts in the story I could really relate to in your essay, were those describing your emotions of happiness, panic, uncertainty, and embarrassment. “The smile I had, no doubt was most likely from the internal and maternal drive that feminine nature pumps in to female veins and ovaries.” I liked this quote, because it expresses a sort of, fabricated excitement, if that makes any sense. Could it be that it wasn’t your maternal drive exulting at the prospect of parenthood, but society expressing it’s influence on your perceived wants? I feel that young women are drawn to the idea of having a baby, because they, themselves feel abandoned. Which goes back to where you reflected on the absence of a childhood. Women are very strong beings, stronger than men in many respects. African American women are recorded to have the lowest suicide frequency, which is ironic, because it seems African American women struggle the most in our country. Men are dominant, still, in every aspect of politics and business, yet the number of males who killed themselves in 2005 neared 26,000. The number for women wasn’t even close at almost 6,000 deaths. Even though women posses unmatched strength, I believe young women become mothers as a substitute for something missing in their lives and living proof they can take care of another being. With a baby comes a companion, a friend, a listener, someone to bring happiness, and an opportunity to emulate your mother, or to prove your independence.
Another excerpt I could relate to was when you described your panic and your embarrassment. Your family seems very judgemental and extremely partial in what they want to support you in. My family is very much like that. They view report cards as the sole measure of intelligence, and deem creativity, art, and expression unworthy of recognition. One of my cousins attends the University of Michigan and the other goes to Princeton. My father attended NYU undergrad and received his law degree at the University of Virginia. I could name many more of my family members and family friends that attend, or have attended prestigious colleges, but I get exhausted thinking about the bane I am to my family. Last week I received my first rejection letter, from my backup school. I realize now, that a 2.4 GPA with no special accommodations won’t get me into the college of my choice, but I also know who I am and what I want out of life. My grade point average shouldn’t define me as a human being, nor should the fact of you birthing a child out of wedlock say anything about who you are and what you will one day achieve. Occasionally, my father will tell me about a great come-back plan he has for me, and that the rest of my grades are irrelevant. I feel like crying while I’m in these moments, because I know how much he loves me, and how much denial he must feel, to tell his underachieving son to apply to Harvard. I see the sparkle in his eyes and sometimes his optimism is like a drug, taking over my expectations. Other times he will berate me, reminding me of the opportunities I was given and how I threw them away. The worst, is when he speaks to me like I am an infant. He artificially smiles when I tell him I am doing better, and responds with, “Ah, there we go son, then you can go work near your mom. Take a few classes as Washtenaw, so you can broaden your skill set.” I know that he isn’t sarcastic, which saddens me.
I realize that I am no scientist, I don’t want to study medicine, and I am far to creative to be a lawyer. The main message I got from your essay, was that we care too much about what our parents want, that we lose sight of who we are and what we want. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and our decisions make us human. Our parents went through their own struggles, struggles very similar to yours and mine. I love to write, it’s what keeps me going. Your son gives you strength, I know the feeling. As a brother of a beautiful baby boy, I see hope in “little man”. I really enjoyed reading your essay, and I hope to hear back from you very soon. Good luck with your teaching degree!
Sincerely, Max

Letter back to SkylineDear Max,
I would like to thank you for getting back to me and taking the time to read my work. I would also like to respond to your offence at the comment about mature content. I would just like to clear up that I had meant to offence, but I know that when I went to school my peers could be very immature about topics like premarital sex as well as the touchy topic I had brought up about termination of a pregnancy.
I wanted to thank you for opening up about your life and I hope everything turns out well for you in basketball and with friends as well as your writing. On the last note I wanted to mention that I liked your style of writing. It was well thought out and was wonderfully informative, though I would advise to never assume anything in your writing or when editing. I appreciate your interpretation, and some portions you were able to see the main portions, but some assumptions can prove to be just that. I am only talking from experience.
I hope everything works out with you and your family, and I am sure you can decide what is best for you. Who knows you may end up writing short stories for a living. I hope to hear some of your writing soon.
-Melissa
Letter back from Skyline (With attached note from teacher)
Melissa,

I'm Max's creative writing teacher at Skyline. I haven't been reading students' letters to EMU students but I happened to read this one because Max shared it as a google doc rather than just sending it to me as a Word doc to post to the site so I had to go in and copy/paste to you. I'm not aware of the comments you made about your son or his comments when he responded to your letter but please let me know if you'd like me to intervene and speak with Max. I apologize if he made any inappropriate comments. Below is his letter. I will leave it to you to respond (or not) as you see fit. Max's e-mail address is: mkillough31694@gmail.com

Thank you for giving my students the opportunity to do the letter exchange. Dawn Richberg



Dear Melissa,
I’m sorry if you were offended at my assumptions about your son. In no way did I intend for them to offend you. My cousin gave birth to her daughter while attending Michigan State, during a quite unstable relationship. The father has long since, been out of the picture. I can’t say I know how it feels to give birth and raise a child, but I know how to give support to someone making a tough decision. Also, I wanted to compare your experience with some of my, very mild, experiences, in order to highlight a possible commonality between us, for the benefit of this writing exchange. In no way do I hold reservations for you, or this exercise, I just don’t want you to be angry at me, or think I was being disrespectful. I enjoyed reading your letter, and think you are a very good writer.
As for me, I have great news. I got accepted to a liberal arts college I had been pursuing. A few weeks ago, I believed I was doomed, but now I feel as if a weight has been lifted. In terms of my family, it’s going downhill. My mother has been depressed these past couple weeks, and it’s polluting my thoughts. She just started working at a job and is already witnessing pay cuts and cut-backs on staff. I am so proud of her and everything she has achieved. She fights to keep my sister and I afloat, despite our arguments and conflicts. Yesterday, my mother and I were driving home, and she was talking to me about her life. I was upset about something she had said, so I criticized her, resulting in her telling me how little she makes, and the absence of her happiness. She hadn’t taken a vacation in three years. When I got home, I fought hard not to cry, but it was inevitable. I cried so hard that my stomach began to hurt. I don’t know why I’m writing this, but I see no harm in sharing something with someone I’ve never met. I feel like I just need to tell someone, because I don’t cry often.
I do have a few questions for you though. I have always been wondering what ethnicity you are. I think identity would make for a great discussion in future letters, because I have had many struggles with identity throughout the years.
I hope that all is well with you and your son, and that everything is working out for you in terms of becoming a teacher. Can’t wait to hear from you!
Sincerely, Max

Last Letter to Skyline
Dear Max,Thank you for getting back to me. I appreciate your sharing this personal experience with me. I know how hard it can be to fight with daily troubles that come with family life as well as with the knowledge of the uncertainty of the future. I am happy to hear you have gotten into the college you have been looking at and I think it is well deserved. You are an amazing writer, from what I can see from your letters. Have you been working on your short story? I would really like to see what you have so far. As far as your writing process are you one to just sit down and go at it or do you fully formulate your ideas before you even grab for a pen and paper? I know for me it goes both ways, sometimes I have an idea and I have to get a piece of paper in front of me before I loose it, or other times I have to think about the story line for months on end...As far as they question you asked, I am white, mostly Irish. I am 21 and I hope to be done with school soon, I have to finish up my minor, which is math. I honestly hope everything works out for you and I know your writing will take you very far. Sorry if this was a bit short, I was a bit pressed for time, I will make sure to respond properly next time. -Melissa