I like how this birthday project of mine has dragged itself into September, but we’re almost nearing the end now. To see my complete list of the 28 moments that I’m glad I lived through, use the category search function on the top left hand side of my blog and select the category “28 Moments I’m Thankful For.”
22. THE GIRL AT THE FRONT
My first day of Journalism school was full of nerves. I had been accepted to the most reputable journalism program in the country and the very first thing on my schedule was a 5-hour reporting class.
I walked into a room full of computers, not know what to expect. There were about 30 other students and nobody knew each other. Within minutes we had an assignment that was due right away.
We were told to find someone in the room and describe them in such a way that they could be easily pictured, but without mentioning any of their physical traits. We could instead make assumptions about their personality, their background, where they had been and where they were going, etc. Essentially, we were to judge them.
The purpose of the exercise was to teach us to describe things accurately in a way that we were not accustomed to. Right afterwards we would do an icebreaker to get to know each other and see if our judgments had been on target.
I was sitting in the corner so I had a great view of the room. I picked a girl that was sitting near the front. She was white and tall with light brown hair and very pretty – long eyelashes and strong cheekbones. But I didn’t write any of that down.
Instead I wrote about how she had lived a life of privilege. Never worked hard a day in her life. Didn’t really even know what “hard” was. I wrote about how supportive her parents were. How many friends she had had in high school. How she had always been popular. I wrote that she was ordinary. That her day-to-day life was boring. No depth. No complications. No surprises.
Then we all had to hand in our work.
Our teacher collected the papers and skimmed through them right in front of us. Then – to my horror – he started reading mine out loud! I wanted to sink into my seat and die.
There were no names involved (we didn’t know each other’s names and the teacher didn’t reveal mine), so nobody knew who I had written about. But I slowly watched the girl at the front grow angrier and angrier. Her cheeks turned a bright red. Her lips tightened and with each sentence she grew more furious. Then she exploded.
She went into a rant about how this was not appropriate, how you can’t judge people this way, how what I had written was obscene, etc. I thought: This is it. I’m about to be expelled from the entire program.
My teacher sat quietly perched up on a stool until the girl was finished. Then he calmly pointed out that the very fact she had recognized herself proved that I had done a great job. He said that a great writer will always draw strong emotions from the people who read his/her work, whether those emotions be positive or negative. So that sometimes when people get upset, it’s a good sign. We’re pulling at their humanity. Touching the rawness of their emotions. He also said a great writer and reporter will always trust their instincts.
That didn’t really help the girl at the front to calm down, and after it was all over I understood why. At the very end of my piece I had written that a girl like her could only have two possible names – I had boldly predicted that she was either a Jennifer or a Sarah.
Her name was Sarah.