The Class Vote and Memory Re-filing
Once upon a time I was in a college English class. It was the first day, if I’m remembering correctly. As a fun exercise to loosen everyone up, the teacher had asked each student to compose an anonymous short story to be collected and read aloud. We all sat quietly writing for 10 mins or so before he collected them. Each story was read aloud and it was actually fun to hear what ideas came randomly rolling out of our peers onto paper. Some people only managed a few sentences, some of us more long winded writers (myself included), had composed a couple paragraphs or so. I think he had a candy bar for the favorite story. Two stories seemed to maintain their position as the favorites. One told of a negative school lunch experience involving a piece of chicken and a blue vein. It was graphic and funny. The other was about someone who felt like they didn’t fit it, who wondered if anyone would accept them if they knew the real them. The story of a lost soul. As each story was read, there would be a second or so of deliberation from the class, and then again, the two stories were chosen to remain the standing contenders for the candy bar prize. One of them was mine. I remember being in such shock that something I had created, pretty effortlessly no less, had actually captured any kind of audience for any amount of time. I was beaming with silent pride. Eventually all the stories had been read and the final two still remained. He read the “lost soul” story again and I felt the class empathize with the story. Maybe even identify with the vulnerability of it a little. It seemed to break their heart to hear. Then he read the blue vein story and again, everyone gasped in horror at the uncooked chicken bite and burst with laughter at the shock of it. Time to vote. The teacher asked for a show of hands for the lost soul story, which, again, to my surprise, had a majority. Then one kid, a sporty charismatic sort, pretty loudly recited a gory detail of the raw meat and proclaimed his vote for the chicken story. The votes quickly started to flip like dominoes until it was unanimous. The cafeteria story had won. That blue vein had us all rehashing our own stories of disgusting school lunch memories. The class got quite rowdy, to the point of needing to be calmed down, and I have to say, it was a great introduction. We all felt like friends, even teammates now. The girl who wrote the story and also happened to be sitting right next to me, went to the front and claimed her prize. I don’t remember if they asked the author of the “lost soul” story to claim it, but i know I stayed silent. I had just started free writing and hadn’t planned to create such a somber piece. I didn’t think that represented myself fully enough to own up to. Especially on the first day.
I was reading a book about writing the other day, and the memory of this experience popped into my head. I realized what a swinging door this was for me in feeling I was allowed to be a writer. I have always loved the act of writing. Of free expression. I mostly stuck to journaling where no judgement or grade would be cast for what I had allowed to come out of my head. I am actually impressed by my own bravery that day. Must’ve been the word “anonymous” that pulled me in. As a slightly wiser version of myself, I’ve recently, and for the first time, analyzed how the vote went down. What order the pieces were read. How that charismatic student was so vocal and firm about his opinion and how it swayed the class vote right in front of my eyes. I’m not trying to claim that my piece was better or that I was somehow more deserving of the candy. I am quite certain that the girl who won is somewhere right now writing in some capacity. It was a captivating story and I found her to be fascinating throughout the semester. I have a book on my shelf she recommended to me and I think of her whenever I see it. But, I am curious about this experience because I realize I let it contribute to how I define myself. It’s been a teeny piece of my identity. I can see how a few little factors can change the direction of the wind. Or a vote in this case. I understand that for a fun first day, my piece was a little heavy. Comically heavy when I think of it now. That it wasn’t best read aloud. But it came from my heart. Or my imagination. Kind of both. My piece had been one of the favorites, but because I didn’t win, I’ve filed that experience away as a failure. How heartbreaking is it that we often use finicky voting systems to determine our worth? Or even worse, allow it to decide if we have what it takes to do what our heart calls us to do. I let my writing slow down. I pulled the reins back a bit and decided to let the “real” writers take their place. The ones who win the candy bar. But today I’m calling BS on the whole thing. I’m taking that experience and refiling it as a victory. Victory, because I was brave when I didn’t even know how yet. Victory, because my soul was trying to express and create. My need for that expression has never died. It has only grown in intensity. And as I come to know myself better, the need to write the stories of my soul has increased. I won’t wait for a vote anymore. That’s not the point to writing. I am feeling proud of myself today. That I’ve come to a place where my soul’s need to refile that memory has called it to my attention. It called for a new story to be written.