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A scary essay

Some time ago I wrote this essay prompt to use at the jail:

Your friend Mike is a manager at Dunkin Donuts. A girl you know, Callie, is applying for a job there.

Scenario 1: You know Callie would be terrible for the job.
What are three reasons why she would be terrible?

Scenario 2: You know Callie would be great for the job.
What are three reasons why she would be great?

The two people who originally wrote the essay wrote that Callie would be great--they essentially wrote letters of recommendation for her.

Then last week, one woman chose to write that she'd be terrible for it. She had lots of good reasons--essentially the inverse of the reasons the other people had given for why Callie would be great (instead of being great with people, she's terrible; instead of being reliable, she's unreliable, etc.) Like the other two essays, this one was written as a letter to Mike.

But, about two paragraphs in, the writer started getting nervous. "I really hope there's no one named Callie out there. . . this is really bad karma," she said. "What kind of awful person would write a letter like this? I hope Callie doesn't know anyone like this."

The implications and backstory were coming alive. I empathized with the essay writer. Who wants to be the backstabber who destroys a person's chance at a job? The backstory needed tweaking.

"So," I said, "Maybe Mike isn't really your friend. Maybe you thought he was, but actually he's a real jerk: he sexually harasses everyone who works for him. You don't want Callie to have to face that."

The essay writer was moderately consoled by that addition to the story.

When she finished the essay, I said I'd type it up, as I always do, and give it to the main teacher.

"And if you want, it can go on the board," I said. (There's a board where finished essays get displayed.)

"No!" she said. "No, I do not want anyone to see I wrote that! No way!"

Because however ameliorating my addition to the story were (and my addition had its flaws--like why didn't Callie's friend just talk to her? Then Callie could pull her application), they weren't part of the essay. The essay was still just too damning.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2015 01:56 pm (UTC)
Your student knows that writing is powerful....
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:11 pm (UTC)
You bet! I was like, whoa. This is the power of words.
Feb. 11th, 2015 01:57 pm (UTC)
That's interesting for so many reasons--how we balance moral decisions, how story intersects with reality. Mostly, though, I feel sorry for that poor soul who got so anxious. What a tough road she has to have had to put here whee she is, with that emotional burden.
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:10 pm (UTC)
I may have conjured up more anxiousness, in my write-up of the encounter, than there actually was. She was anxious, but laughing at the same time. I think she definitely felt like it was bad luck to write such a thing, but she was also enjoying--or seemed to be enjoying--herself. But she definitely didn't want it posted, and I understand.

I agree with you though about the rest, including the rough road. I have never prayed so hard for good breaks and second chances as I do now. So many lives depend on it.
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:12 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. Well said.
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:12 pm (UTC)
It's magical thinking, but I do the same thing in my own way.
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:14 pm (UTC)
I think we all do. We may discount or joke about our magical thinking, but we all do it.
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:32 pm (UTC)
There is power in that there story
Thinking on your addition of backstory:

Backstory is a great clarifier, isn't it? At least in the minds of some. So many things can become excusable (or not) if we know someone's past.
Feb. 11th, 2015 02:42 pm (UTC)
Re: There is power in that there story
Yes! The complete (or more of the) story really casts things in a different light. We might still question the action but at least we understand it better.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 11th, 2015 04:41 pm (UTC)
I feel like I want to tell her the rest of the story--that everything ended up okay for Callie, who got a better-paying job elsewhere.
Feb. 11th, 2015 04:26 pm (UTC)
Heavy. Do you think some folks who get in trouble with the law are too trusting of friends? I am asking that bcs your story makes me think the writer is not good at separating real from pretend. Also makes me think of people who got into big mortgage trouble bcs of trusting friends who recommended a broker. If you lack the education to know how to buy a house, you would like ask a friend. I know I would.
Feb. 11th, 2015 04:40 pm (UTC)
I understood it as her feeling empathy for this fictional person (Callie), who was being bad-mouthed by an acquaintance--whose role she was filling. And then on top of that, I think she thought--at least, I suspect **I** would have thought--that if her essay was posted, people might think that she, having chosen to write the essay in that direction, was a nasty person who would torpedo someone's job chances. I don't think she really is that sort of person! The fact that she felt all sorts of empathy as she wrote shows me that.

So why did she take on the role in the first place? I don't know; as a whim, maybe? Because we've all had to work with that person who never pulls their weight, and maybe at the moment she chose, she was remembering that sort of a case? But she had been lighthearted and joking about it, to start out.

I think she can tell the difference between reality and fiction; I think it just feels too close to home, maybe.

(Deleted comment)
Feb. 11th, 2015 05:38 pm (UTC)
I find it interesting that your reassurances with backstory didn't entirely take the fear out of it for her.

I agree--though I think, upon reflection, that part of it is that the story I told was kind of unconvincing. But part of it really probably was the too late feeling that you mention. In one timeline, Callie has been doomed by a backstabbing friend, no matter how hastily and completely we try to rewrite history.

But yes: I also agree that we can change our self-told tales, too.

And LOL, I first read your last sentence as kinky thoughts and was trying to relate that to self-told tales, but now I realize the error of my reading :-P
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 11th, 2015 05:52 pm (UTC)
Too Late
Feb. 11th, 2015 11:29 pm (UTC)
Callie needs to apply to jobs to meet some criterion.
Feb. 11th, 2015 11:44 pm (UTC)
Can you expand a little?
Feb. 11th, 2015 11:48 pm (UTC)
Her parents will throw her out of the house if she's not honestly looking for employment.

Her unemployment is contingent on the same criterion.
Feb. 11th, 2015 11:59 pm (UTC)
Got it! Which is why she can't just withdraw her application, which is why it makes sense for her friend to send the damning letter to the lecherous manager.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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