[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
i volunteer teach literature and writing to people who are trying to get their ged. the majority of the students are from other countries, and, as you might expect, english is not their first language. most of them have families, and some work two or three jobs to support them. life often gets in the way of class, students don't always show up, or do their assignments.
i felt like i was fighting an uphill battle, despite knowing that i had the easier end of the of the bargain. so, i decided that, at the end of this term, i would stop teaching for a while. i was burned out. i felt as though i wasn't getting through to anyone, or that it was an effort in futility and conflicting goals: i wanted them to love writing. they wanted to pass their test. i didn't blame them. i understood, but it was wearing me down.
at the end of last term, one of my students sat for the ged test. he had struggled with my writing class in particular, and it was his third attempt to pass the test. this time, he nailed it. it was such an amazing and joyful thing to see.
he had been direct and clear in telling me he didn't get my class; didn't understand what i wanted from him. we wrestled with every assignment as i tried to push him to think less and write more. i told him to see the pictures in his mind of what he wanted us to know and then just tell us exactly what he saw, using the most simple and straightforward language he could. tell us the details you see when you close your eyes and imagine the scene. you said the boy was wearing sneakers? tell me about them. make me see them. are they striped? are they new? how are they tied?
time and again he had battled me. pushing back against my questions. telling me he couldn't do what i asked.
"all i want is to be able to pass my test!" he would say, throwing up his hands in frustration. "you want me to be a great writer!"
i asked him to write an essay to tell his son, who had been born in the united states, what his native country was like. he didn't show up for two weeks after that. on the third week, he gave me his paper without comment. the words painted such a vivid picture for me that it was breathtaking. not only because of the writing itself, but also because i knew how hard he had worked.
after we found out he had passed the test, i told him i wanted to have a farewell dinner in his honor. i let him choose what we would have, and so we all sat in our classroom, laughing and congratulating him over cartons of general tso's chicken and shrimp fried rice. as the students filed out, he stayed behind until it was just the two of us.
"someone told me you are not going to teach next term."
"oh, i'm not sure. sometimes i think i push too hard. or that i'm missing the point."
"like you told me a dozen times: it's about passing the test. not about being a great writer."
"you do push us."
"i mean well."
"no, it is good. it is too hard for me to explain, but i hope you will teach here next term. you would be very missed."
i smiled and thanked him, wishing him all the best, and telling him i would miss our spirited exchanges.
"thank you. and thank you for the dinner," he said, putting a brown paper bag in the trash can by the door.
he turned to walk out, stopping for a moment in the door.
"julia? did you get a fortune cookie?"
"hmm. no, actually, i didn't, but that's okay," i smiled.
"yes, i think i got yours," he said. he gestured to an open fortune cookie sitting on the table by the door. "i am sure of it. so i am leaving it for you there. good-bye, julia!"
i gathered my papers and my coat, and stooped to pick up the cookie on the way out of the room. the white slip of paper had been folded neatly in half and placed in the larger piece of the cookie. i unfolded it clumsily with one hand.
i read its red-lettered message: you make people realize that there exist other beauties in the world.
i tucked it into my wallet, and turned the light off on my way out.
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