Sometimes You Can’t Listen


Today, I was thinking about the next entry for THE WHY DO I WRITE series, and I started thinking about an experience from high school, from my sophomore honor lit course. Each year, we had a project that was due toward the end of the semester. The project for our sophomore year was to write a paper on a career we wanted to pursue, and it was mandatory to include an interview with a person currently in the job you wanted.

We had to notify our teacher before we started the paper as to what job we selected. When I told my teacher I wanted to be a writer she reminded me about the interview portion of the paper. I guess I should mention I grew up in a very small town. The most exciting thing in town was the Super Wal-Mart, and since I worked in the Wal-Mart pharmacy, Wal-Mart held no excitement for me. I digress. Since we lived in a small town, I think my teacher thought it wouldn’t be possible for me to interview an established writer. In fact, she recommended I change my topic from writer to journalist and interview someone from the local newspaper. (I think this might have been the first time I vomited a little in my mouth and had to swallow it because of something said to me.)

I don’t remember how I finally avoided the situation and made her think I was going to write about being a journalist, but I did and immediately set to work at trying to reach a writer. At that time in my life I was obssessed with Oprah’s book club selections. I was reading Pearl Cleage’s What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, and I wanted an interview with Cleage. I stayed after school one day– my high school journalism teacher/FBLA advisor/go to teacher let me use the department’s phone to start my quest.

I was able to get in touch with someone at Harper who in return got in touch with someone in the Cleage camp. A couple of days later I spoke with Pearl Cleage, and I faxed her my questions. She mailed her responses back to me and autographed every page. I made an A+ on the paper, and I still have the interview stored away to this day.

You can’t listen when someone tells you can’t.

You can’t listen when someone tells you to set your sights lower.

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4 responses to “Sometimes You Can’t Listen

  1. This reminds me of my 6th grade teacher who on the first week of class gave us that old “What I Did This Summer” assignment. It was unannounced and done in class, while she walked around the room. I thought I’d done pretty well but was shocked the next week to get a totally unmarked paper back, but one with a big “F” on it. I went up after class and asked her why she had failed me on the assignment. She told me that there was no way a sixth grader could have possibly written it, that I had obviously cheated. I pointed out that I really really loved to read and write, and then on top of that, that my Mom was a substitute teacher, my dad was on the school board and were big believers in education. That though I lived on a rural tobacco farm my Mom had always made sure we were the local bookmobile stop. That I read so veraciously that the bookmobile librarians always bought extra books just for me from their extra donatations of paperbacks. All to no avail, this teacher was far more willing to believe that a student had somehow figured out how to cheat on an unannounced, supervised, written in class assignment – than believe that a student could actually love to read and be able to write well.

  2. Dustin, I love Pearl Cleage–and have a coooool story about Oprah and the phone call I received concerning “What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day” and a letter I’d sent Oprah, regarding it.
    Congrats on your A+ and not taking “no” for the answer!

    Cleo, Good Lord–did that teacher EVER learn the truth? If not, I want her location, and name. I’m serious. I can’t stand injustice!

  3. btw, how ’bout Pearl Cleage in your Why I Write series? Although she’s not known for poetry, her plays are incredibly thought-provoking, and timely.

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