Just Unlike Me



When an older, continuing-ed student, so shy she typically blushes when she has to talk, says that she really liked the parts of Persepolis where Marjane was a confident loudmouth who spoke out against the post-war Iranian regime. When a Floridian frat guy says he likes “ghetto-nerd” Oscar Wao and understands how hard it is to not be the person everyone expects you to be. When the orthodox Jewish boy who hadn’t participated all semester was the only one who didn’t think “For Esmé With Love and Squalor” was about a pedophile and defended it to the class by saying: “They’re trying to save each others’ lives.” When the young African-American guy in the nursing school who was only in my class because it was required came to life during our unit on August: Osage County and demanded to read the part of Violet, the cruel Okie-mother. When a kid named Frankie performed the greatest Lear I’ve ever seen in the trailer under the West Side highway that was our classroom with an umbrella for a scepter because it was raining that day…these are the times that I remember why I write and why I teach.

And this is why I want to become a teacher. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I have quite the temperament for it, at least for now. (I sorely lack patience, and as one personality test put it “hypocritically intolerant of those who don’t manage a task the first time, or the second time after guidance.”)

But I digress; the article is about the characters that resonate with us that do not reflect our own images back at us. Mine include one Mr. Holden Caulfield, a young man who frustrated the crap out of me for never considering the consequences of his self-centered actions, the money he wastes failing out of school after school, the impact of his decisions on his little sister, the pointless social discomfort he places on many of the people throughout the book. Bumbling, I thought, annoying; he seriously needs to grow up. But he’s also allowed me to understand that the wishes of one person and the wishes of another do not always tie up succinctly, and that seeking comfort even for something as important as the victimization of a child is difficult, incredibly difficult, when it’s difficult to tell who is or isn’t a “phony.”

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