Something to say

All you have to do is open

All you have to do is open . . . Mike HartnettCC BY

If you want to absorb rich dialogue, hang out at a hair salon. I keep thinking that a lively full-length play could be derived from the banter and candidness between a stylist and clients, with minimal staging needed. Conversations are not constrained; there are no boundaries, no topic is taboo.

I confess that I cannot help listening with writer’s ears every time I visit my salon. Not that I eavesdrop. Nobody whispers. It’s all just out there.

So it was, while waiting for my turn at a recent appointment and helping myself to the coffee bar, that I heard a woman with her head in the nearby shampoo bowl mention the word writing to her stylist (visualize how I froze, ears perked, coffee stirrer held aloft):

“My son never liked writing. He didn’t do well at all with it until he went to college. When I saw his first college paper, I actually said: ‘What? YOU wrote this? You didn’t get somebody to write it for you?’ But he’d really written it himself. I couldn’t believe it!”

They laughed together as the stylist lathered up the client’s hair.

I stirred half-and-half into my coffee, thinking: The boy finally had something to say.

I don’t know who he is, this college student. I don’t know where he attended school or anything about him other than those few sentences. But as I sipped my hot cinnamon dolce, I wondered about those statements.

My son never liked writing. 

What made that change? What drove him to pour the words onto the page and to hammer them into shape? Was this the first time he felt passionate about his topic, whatever it was? Had he ever been able to choose his own topic before, one that mattered to him? Did he have any authentic writing experiences in elementary or secondary school, or was it all formulaic, step-by-step, assigned for a grade? Surely this college paper was assigned, too, but apparently something new—within the writer—had given it life.

He didn’t do well at all with it until he went to college.

What was his process, or was it just real for the first time? Did someone in college give him feedback on his strengths, validate his ideas? Did he visit the campus writing lab for help with this paper? Or was there a professor who inspired him, stirred his interests, made him realize he had a voice and something to say, at last?

I caught myself sighing between swigs of cinnamon dolce. Why, why, why did it take him all the way to college to “do well” as a writer?

Maybe it’s simply freedom. His not being confined by what’s all too often considered “writing” in school, but being able to articulate what he really thinks, what he feels in the depths of his heart, and having a safe, supportive venue for communicating his perspective to a real audience, even to the world. Maybe he got a professor who loves to write, who showed the students how and why to write. All I know for sure is that SOMETHING was the game changer for this young man; even his mother was amazed. Could it be that someone finally believed in him? That’s where the true business of education begins—in throwing doors wide open, not in closing them. Learning and understanding are like coming from a stuffy closet into a living room, or from a comfortable living room into the whole vibrant outdoors.

Or the hair salon, where you can speak what’s on your mind, where someone listens and responds, where voices are not constrained, where there are no boundaries, and no topic is taboo.

14 thoughts on “Something to say

  1. That’s where the true business of education begins—in throwing doors wide open, not in closing them.

    This is what we’re trying to do every day, isn’t it? Yet, I’m positive that there are those that slip through just like this college student.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now is a good time for me to say that I celebrate this college student’s recent accomplishment with writing. It took me several months, honestly, to complete this post due to despair over the all-too-familiar story (students not liking to write/not being successful). I have no way of knowing how comfortable all of his teachers were with authentic writing/facilitating workshop, or whether the schools valued it and invested in it. Can’t say. But I know it’s an ongoing struggle for so many. Keeping that door open so begins with vision. And belief. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Dawn. Continuing our work is absolutely key, yes – as advocates for students and on behalf of colleagues. This is one of the many reasons I treasure our teacher-writer community and delight in seeing it grow! We help each other keep those doors open, even when curriculums or systems or values sometimes crowd it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Every success story is worth recounting, even as we speculate on the reasons. Your post also speaks to the idea that developing academic skills is not always as predictable as a pediatrician’s guide to physical development–and that we should never, ever write off a student as being unable to do something because he didn’t meet a certain deadline for a skill.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. An enticing snippet of conversation that sends my thoughts wondering…What’s the story? As I read this, I wondered if perhaps the son hadn’t shared his writing with his mother before and had now reached a place where he could do so. Could he have been writing all along? Maybe. Or maybe his writing had been validated by his college teacher and so he now shared, feeling more confident. Or perhaps his writing before had strengths that were overlooked or cloaked in “I don’t like writing.” …
    You did a wonderful job capturing both the unique hair salon environment and your thoughts about this young man and writing and education. I’ll be thinking about this piece for a while I think.

    Like

  4. First of all I love that this post was initiated in a hair salon! What a great example for your students to remember that stories can be found everywhere!
    Secondly, your post makes me wonder whether like reading – it’s not that a student doesn’t like reading it’s that we haven’t found the right book for that student. Could it possibly be that we haven’t quite found the genre, or audience, or purpose, for that writer? Wondering…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed following your thought process on this encounter. Like you, I believe the lack of freedom in writing, the scripts and the prompts, and even the gosh-darned four square, suck the life out of any true expressions, thus making writing in school a chore and not a joy. I wish for a longitudinal study of a writer to actually see where the shift happens.

    Liked by 1 person

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