October 17, 2007

Career plan

One of my students last semester wrote some amazing pieces in my literature class. The theme was the urban environment, and when I saw how talented he was, I kept encouraging him to do creative writing rather than literary analysis. Inspired by the poetry of Audre Lorde, he began writing down things he saw when he when he was wandering about in the city. We all especially loved these character sketches that he wrote in the form of poems. When he read them aloud, I could just picture the woman sitting at the bus stop, the homeless man on the corner, or the waitress at the diner. His details were carefully chosen, and his imagery vivid.

At the end of the semester, I said to him, "Your writing is fantastic. What kind of career are you planning?"

Everyone in the class looked at him expectantly.

He shrugged. "I don't know. Something with a gun and a uniform."

30 comments:

undine said...

What did you say? Rather, what *could* you say, after that?

niobe said...

Ouch. That sudden change of direction gave me whiplash.

landismom said...

Yikes! What could you say to that?

Twice said...

As a glass half-full kind of gal, I'd like to think that perhaps this will just give him experiences he can write books about on the side?

sherry said...

De-lurking to say OUCH.

But on the other hand, my sister wore a gun and a uniform as a street cop and she has won a national award for her writing.

Overeducated Twit said...

I think my heart just broke a little bit. What do you say to something like that?

Cathy said...

Surely he jests.

Linda said...

Fuck!

J. said...

:'-(

jar said...

My second reaction is that maybe he will be better at his job than others because of his observation skills.

dance said...

What are the chances an observant writer said it that way *just* to shock, to enjoy the incongruity?

liz said...

A good literate police force is a thing to be desired. It does seem incongruous though.

jo(e) said...

His answer sounded startling at first because of the two stereotypes involved (the sensitive poet vs. uniformed man with gun), but it's really not that unusual for one of our students to become a conservation officer. And the campus we have up north, where students go for training to become forest rangers, is one of the few campuses in the country where students are allowed to carry guns.

Poor Mad Peter said...

I'm reminded of a choreographer of considerable reputation in the modern dance world (sorry, can't remember her name), who in mid-career decided to become a police officer. She did, was a beat cop for several years, then wrote a piece that danced police work. In other words, as i think with most of the arts (and especially writing, as you know), her art fed her life fed her art. Whatever your student decides to do with his "day job" life, we will not lose a brilliant writer. We'll likely gain an even better writer than he is now.

lifexhistory said...

Jo(e)-- Your post is as bad as his comment in bringing out your readers' tendency to stereotype! You had me on the brink of total and complete upset because I thought what I always think when it comes to uniforms and guns: military. ::sigh::

Well, perhaps he will be the next Thoreau or Frost ;) We know forests and writing go together very well!

Anonymous said...

Lurker here ...

To all the 'dismaids' out there: Of all the types of people in the world, isn't he the type you'd prefer to imagine with a gun and a uniform ...?

halloweenlover said...

Maybe he'll end up being a writer anyway, they don't have to be mutually exclusive, I guess. That makes me crazy, though.

lizardek said...

Am I the only one who laughed at his response??

Mike said...

I wish I could write like that. And like you jo(e). Can that be learnt I wonder?

YourFireAnt said...

This cracked me up. Good post, Jo(e). Send that kid over here; I have work for him.

FA

kathy a. said...

if he meant being a police officer -- we could do worse than having very observant, very thoughtful people [who can also write] doing that work.

none of us has just one thing to do in life.

(un)relaxeddad said...

I must admit, I'm not in a subtle mood this evening. I just thought "Wow, I hope I get the chance to use that line one day!"
And like another commenter said, who do you really want wearing guns and uniforms?

kathy a. said...

also, it probably shocked him, seriously, to hear what everyone else thought: that he is a great writer. that gives him something to go on that he did not have before. we get gifts in unexpected ways.

bridgett said...

Poor Mad Peter, you're thinking of Judith Rock. I saw some of her stuff when I lived out in Iowa last decade. Very neat.

http://www.imagejournal.org/aom/rock_judith.asp

jo(e) said...

There's a great book of poetry called How to Undress a Cop by Sarah Cortez, who is both a cop and a poet.

Anonymous said...

Clearly you folks read the wrong kind of literature - the canon of detective fiction is replete with sensitive poets. You'd have to be fairly romantic to choose a vocation strictly based on the criteria that it lets you wear a uniform and a gun. The stuff of superheroes, indeed.

dr zombieswan said...

And I have to weigh in as a someone whose parents were military and husband is military, and who, myself, contemplated joining the military as a young woman to send myself through college, to say that in spite of the stereotype, the people with guns and uniforms who stand on the edges of the brink and say "bring it on" to people who would take away our freedoms to write poetry and be free spirits are not all mindless drones who can't read or write. My husband, who would love to give up gun and uniform both if everyone else would so so, too, is also the one who has fantasies of heading out, hitting the road, touring the world on a boat together/alone. Writes lovely poetry.

Once, at a conference on Sci-Fi, a guy reading a paper about Star Trek implied that all military people were mindless Borgs. My sensitive hubby, who up until then had been enjoying the conference, wiggled in his seat and I soothed him by touching his knee. A fellow conference attendee who saw said motion noted it to me later and said that he dug it, that knowing me and my hubby, he saw all the contradictions in what the person who was indeed being a bit of a mindless academic drone himself implied.

Anyway. Before I risk offending someone who I respect, and hopefully haven't done so yet, I should just shut up. But this is just to say that it makes my stomach upset to see the reactions of some of your commenters.

jo(e) said...

Dr. Zombieswan: I appreciate your comment. One of the things I love about teaching is that my students shatter those kind of stereotypes for me all the time.

Poor Mad Peter said...

Thank you, Bridgett, that's her! And Image Journal is where I first learned of her. And for Liz. and some of the others, in Canada, we had a very fine poet named Hans Jewinsky, who published several collections in the 1970s. He was a beat cop with the Toronto Police Force, and his best-known collection is titled, appropriately, Poet Cop..

Lorianne said...

I'm glad there are more than a few dissenting voices here avoiding the "armed, uniformed man = BAD" stereotype. I particularly appreciated Dr. Zombieswarm's comment.

My first response upon hearing your student's statement was, "Good. At least he'll always have a job." I don't know the socio-economic makeup of your student population, but many of my students are the first in their families to go to college, as was I. If you come from a working-class background, you really do need to find a stable, well-paid job after graduation.

It's fine & good for teachers to encourage talented students to pursue writing as a career, but that career path is much easier if you come from a place of privilege & thus can afford being under-employed & poorly paid. If you don't have a trust fund, parents with deep pockets, or other safeguards, feeding a family as a poet is damned difficult. And if you come from a modest background, trying to pay off four years of student loan debt on a poet's salary is downright irresponsible, especially if you have plans to settle down & have a family.

The second thought I had upon initially reading this was "Good. We've just found our next Tim O'Brien, a writer who knows how to handle a pen and a gun." Living here in "Live free or die" New Hampshire, I think it's sad we think the two are automatically mutually exclusive.