The thin girl with pink streaks dyed in her hair picked at the dried skin on her fingernails, as she did during every critique. Her eyes jumped nervously from face to face as she tried to gauge people’s reactions to her story, “Along Twin Paths,” before they had a chance to say them out loud, working hard to pre-emptively steel herself for what she was sure was going to be a barrage of unbearable disdain. What was remarkable was that the girl emerged from nearly every critique rather unscathed. Most of the students either liked her work or were ambivalent, but no one ever dealt too harshly with her. The edginess was a combination of her own overwrought insecurity, and the tone set by her teacher, a youngish woman in a Cheetah-print coat and plexi-glass stripper heels, who seemed to think that she was doling out her barbed criticisms like one of the class, and not, as was actually the case, as the woman being paid to shepherd these fragile creative souls towards some kind of articulated artistic purpose.
“So, like, the main character in your story, let’s, you know, totes dialog about her or what to the evs.”
Professor Cody always snapped gum as she taught, and she took attendance in a Trapper Keeper she bought off eBay, with a pink-leaded pencil capped not with an eraser but with a tiny frizzy-haired Troll doll.
The thin girl seemed to shudder. “Well, I mean, I don’t know. She’s kind of based on my sister, and sort of this thing that happened when we were both little. It’s just a rough draft, though, so…” her voice trailed off.
Professor Cody wasn’t paying attention to the thin girl, but rather was looking at pictures of a young Sarah Jessica Parker on her iPhone and showing it to the student sitting next to her. “Can you believe?” she asked. “Young J Parks was f to the ierce.” The class waited in silence. Professor Cody looked at the thin girl and snapped her gum. “Was the dad in your story your dad? He seems like a friggin emotional hobbit. What did he, like, try to throw you into Mount Doom as a baby or something?”
The thin girl asked to be excused.
Professor Cody then explained to the class that she had just purchased a complete set of all the Garbage Pail Kids cards, and she was going to put them all over her original tin Dukes of Hazzard lunch box. “You’ll see. Next class, you guys will all be like no way, Wayne, and I’ll be like yes way, Garth.” Diablo Cody turned the thin girl’s story face down and drew Hello Kitty smoking a bong. She held it up for everyone to see, then pointed her Troll pencil at a studious looking boy in glasses and a button down shirt.
“Me?” he asked, after a long minute of silence, in which Professor Cody continued to keep her pencil pointed at him without saying anything, while simultaneously making the devil sign with her free hand and banging her head to some invisible music.
“Yes, Finding Forrester,” Professor Cody said.
Everyone turned to the boy’s story, which was entitled “The Only Way Around It Is Through It And Other Lessons From Brunch,” a half-hearted David Foster Wallace rip-off, complete with footnotes and two indexes. He tipped back on the rear legs of his chair and cupped his hands behind his head. His peers thought he was an over-indulgent, pretentious hack, but that never seemed to bother him. He usually spent critiques rolling cigarettes and writing down ideas for ironic t-shirts.
“Dude,” Professor Cody said, “slip me some skin, homeskillz.”
He reached across and slid his hand across hers.
“Your story is da bomb. It’s nuclear good. Did everyone peep this piece?”
The rest of the class rolled their eyes. Professor Cody didn’t notice, as she had put on a pair of Kanye glasses.
“I’ve never read anything like this,” she said. “It’s the most original piece of writing in, like, all of America, and probably even all of California.”
In frustration, one of the students raised her hand. Diablo Cody didn’t notice, as she was wrapping her head in gauze and making mummy groans. Then she unwrapped the gauze to reveal a completely slack face of abject boredom and flopped back onto the floor, spreading her arms out wide. “What is it?” she asked to no one in particular.
“Ms. Cody, I’m sorry, but his story is the opposite of original writing. It’s derivative and lazy. When he’s not mimicking Vonnegut he’s trying to be Dave Eggers, and when he’s not ripping off David Foster Wallace, he’s pretending he’s Matthew Klam. The plot of his story is actually just straight up plagiarized from Kevin Brockmeier.”
Professor Cody pulled a Chewbacca Pez dispenser from her purse, which was shaped like a unicorn on a motorcycle, and popped a candy into her mouth. “So?”
The girl’s eyes narrowed. “So? So, people should not be rewarded indiscriminately for simply copying the work of others and passing it off as their own. I don’t deny that non of us can write without influences, some of them more obvious than others, but it’s the work of pushing through those influences towards creating something new that makes us artists. And that doesn’t just mean masking our impulsive mimickry by creating garbage neologisms and using terrible grammar, it means actually striving towards a deeper meaning and connection with the reader.”
Diablo Cody farted and used a razor blade to etch Betty Boop onto her bared breast. “Take a Xanax,” she said.
The student excused herself and stormed out of the room.
Diablo Cody spent the rest of the class talking about her favorite pizza toppings and milkshake flavors using words no one understood.