A Jury of My Peers
By Kristen Roach Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio
“But I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers. Still crazy after all these years.” -Paul Simon
Maybe this lyric can explain my long-overdue, 40-something studies at Bluegrass Writers Studio. A jury of my peers always sounded like a dream enterprise. But who, exactly, did I picture as my peers, way back in the 1970’s, when Simon crooned this and taught me what nostalgia was? At the ripe old age of five, having seen a meeting of the minds among a certain Skywalker/Solo/Kenobi/Bacca crew, my idea of justice and equality may have been a bit overwrought. Not only would my “peers,” whoever they were, not convict me for my behavior, they’d probably be alongside me, wreaking the havoc we deemed necessary.
Midway through first grade, I was moved up to second. Rather than doubling my number of friends, my geeky self made sure to use the opportunity to alienate everyone in both grades. Getting bumped from first grade meant leaving my best friend and namesake, Kristen. And it meant I had to infiltrate an older crowd, most of whom had long, vowel-laden names and good hair. My tactical maneuvers consisted of trying to stay under the radar and hide my Benji lunchbox.
Fast-forward through the rest of elementary, junior, and high school. I was still in class with kids older than me. And copying e e cummings and Charles Simic poems into a spiral notebook in my spare time. I still was, though I now regretted it, without peers. In my Connecticut high school, the dynamic didn’t line up nicely with The Breakfast Club (not that I was allowed to see that movie until years later). The “smart” kids were also the “popular” kids, and also the cheerleaders. The people in my AP classes drank peach schnapps out of their car trunks after football games on weekends while I was riveted to Wim Wenders films. There was no glory in being a good writer if you couldn’t host hotel parties after Class Night.
College – I’ll take the blame for that. I wasn’t about to let my high-school foibles fool me twice, so I chose social life over academics. The egotism of jam bands took precedence over that of Melville and Homer. My writing stayed close to my hip, laments over lost love with international students. From there, life only got more dire and more dramatic.
So, yes, I was long past ready. To slash my stories, to beat down my poetry, and to have a jury of my peers weigh those actions on the balances of the universe. The sixth amendment does not actually guarantee this, by the way. It merely ensures an impartial jury. That’s a different thing altogether, no? It’s simply a cross-section of the population, not narrowed down by any definitions. If an impartial jury leads to a fair amount of blind praise or blind criticism, I prefer a partial jury. One that excludes various populations and thins the crowd to those whose literary interests match or exceed mine. I want a workshop of ruthless jurors, holding my words up to the light, seeing where they leak.
Bluegrass Writers Studio has not let me down. For the first time in my life, I have peers. Writers who experience the world in the same wordy way I do, who want to record their experiences in the best and most honest language. People who will not excuse anything less than accuracy, or vouch for anything short of the truth.
These are my people, my peers. Still crazy after all these years. And I couldn't be more blessed.
Published on April 30, 2014