Staying Part of the Conversation

I like to listen to other people.

It’s the kind of personality trait that’s praised in books on making friends, corny quotes in email forwards, and in high school and undergrad might give the impression of sophistication.

When I was still in high school, I was invited to Capstone Scholar’s Day at the University of Alabama. I had to spend a day on the campus taking part in various activities in order to secure a small scholarship.

One of these activities was a leadership test. They placed us in one of those classrooms with the stadium seating, broke us up into groups, and gave us a sheet of paper with a conceptual problem to solve. A panel of five or so people sat at the front of the room, watching us and making notes. Two people in my group decided they would do anything to be seen as the leader. One snatched up the piece of paper and started reading it aloud to the rest of us, the other gestured and talked loudly, restating the other person’s points. At first I tried to be part of the conversation, but the charade of it all felt so gross to me. I eventually sat back in my chair and gave up. If that’s what it took to win an extra few hundred dollars for a leadership scholarship, they could have it.

This experience and others like it made me hate group work for years. When I first became a teacher, I vowed I would never make my students do group work. But my teaching mentor, Sarah, convinced me otherwise.

“When it comes down to it, we’re all on this planet together.”

That moment changed many things for me. I gave my students group projects and saw how they benefited from the exchange of ideas and feedback. I tried to reach out more to my fellow MFAers, and I made some amazing friends.

It’s the reason I sought out the type of bellydancing that is only truly alive when performed in a group.

But it’s still hard for me to be part of verbal conversations that include more than one person. There’s that pulling for the sheet of paper, for control. I listen. The points go to the person who has made the most noise.

Writing is my way of speaking without having to elbow someone else out of the way. I want to be part of the conversation, but I’d prefer if it’s just you and me talking together instead of a crowd.

This long ramble started with me thinking about two rejections I’ve gotten this week, both asking to see more of my work in the future. “Please keep us in mind.”

These types of rejections fuel me. Especially when the letters mention aspects of my story that have spoken to the editor.

Even when I’m getting rejections, I’m still part of the writing conversation. I’m growing my voice, word by word, so that I can speak through my stories. I want to make friends with a reader, maybe someone kind of like me.

They’ll hold the sheet of paper, but they’ll also listen.

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