Slice of Life: Own Your Words, but Not Their Reaction 15 of 31

For the month of March, I'll be writing with the Slice of Life community. Disclaimer: I'll be writing every day so the writing will be a bit unpolished most days. Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for bringing this community together and for inspiring me to try to find the stories that surround me each day.

Sitting beside this stranger reading my words, I couldn't help but be uncomfortable.  A high school student at the time, I wasn't very comfortable with myself let alone someone else reading my every word.  He read the poem resting in his hands and looked at me questioningly.  Shifting in my cold folding chair, self-conscious of my work, I tried to straighten my body to appear attentive and calm.  Here was a man I did not even know, evaluating my words as if he somehow held some magical wisdom.

I wish I could remember the few questions he asked that day, but I cannot.  That year I had decided to take two projects for 4-H.  The first was a lamb that I had spent most of the spring training.  The second was a poem that I had worked to shape.  The lamb had trained quite nicely, but it was the poem I was most proud of that year.  The poem had been inspired by time beside my grandfather.  There was nothing I enjoyed more than time beside my grandpa.  Having been born one day, and many years, apart, he and I just seemed to click.  He shared his wisdom, I shared my questions.  It was our constant conversations about life that became the inspiration for the poem.

The poem from all those years ago.

To this day I know nothing about the man that sat across from me that afternoon.  If he told me his name, I have forgotten.  If there was a reason he was qualified to judge writing, I do not know of it.  I don't remember a smile.  I don't remember a kind word.  I just remember the look on his face - questioning.  I left the table, relieved to be away from the strange quiet of the person across from me.  Later that day, I returned to the table to see my performance, only to find a B ribbon on my poem.  Maybe he didn't like the poem's style.  Maybe he didn't like the lack of formal rhythm or the line breaks in the free verse poem he had read.  However, it occurred to me later, that he probably didn't believe I wrote the poem with its shifting perspective from youth to old age.  It occurred to me, he didn't know about the time I spent alongside my grandfather.  It occurred to me, that he likely didn't believe that I had written this poem in a time that you couldn't just run words through a search to check for plagiarization.

None of this really matters now.  I'm the only person who remembers the B, and the only person who remembers this awkward conversation.  Though I haven't forgotten this bump in the writing road, I've been writing long enough to have experienced a few others.  It has never made me put my pen down.  I don't train lambs anymore, but I do still write poetry.  In a chapter titled "Audience" in On Writing Well by William Zinsser (this March Challenge's read for me), Zinsser reminds, "You are writing for yourself (p. 25)."
"On the larger issue of whether the reader likes you, or likes what you are saying or how you are saying it, or agrees with it, or feels an affinity for your sense of humor or your vision of life, don't give him a moment's worry.  You are who you are, and he is who he is, and either you'll get along or you won't."  William Zinsser (p. 26)
 Friends, it's the middle of the month....keep writing.


  1. You described this moment with such clarity! I've had moments like this. I am so grateful that your need to write is stronger than obstacles like this. I loved the poem. What a treasure to still have!!!

  2. Cathy - this is perfect in so many ways. The poem is everything you described it to be. I found myself reading and reading it - trying to figure out the perspective and realizing it could be told from both. You reminded us how important response is to writers and to choose our words wisely. And the quote - every writer needs to post it at her desk - either you's get along or you won't. Thank you for the inspiration for the next 16 days!

  3. You told so vividly the moments of sharing your writing. I immediately connected to my own writing life. Yes, you remember the B but you will never forget the feelings you had and the words you chose. The quote is such a good reminder.

  4. Cathy,
    I appreciate you sharing this reflective slice and feel inspired by knowing that the important thing-writing for yourself-is what we must hold on to and keep it going. I am going to do this! I know I can complete the challenge.
    Thanks for always sharing such meaningful thinking!

  5. I love the quote from Zissner about writing for yourself. That reminder comes at a great half-way point for this Challenge month.
    And I personally think your poem rocks. So powerful in its images.

  6. Your poem is beautiful as is the story behind it. The quote is one that I want to keep somewhere that I can come back to it again and again. And don't you know...I have added another book to my wish list. :)

  7. I love your poem and it reminded me of times with my grandparents. I think your poem was much better than a B.

    The quote that you shared, as always, is perfectly timed and placed.

  8. Beautiful poem and beautiful story. Maybe the man couldn't understand the sophistication of your poem, or couldn't appreciate that someone so young could be that sophisticated. His loss, our gain. :-) ~JudyK

  9. Wow, amazing writing today! Love how this slice unfolded slowly. And that poem you wrote? Yeah, amazing. Thanks for the nudge of inspiration for the next 16 day!!!

  10. It's amazing to me how so many of us have that one experience that stayed with us and shaped us as writers. I try really hard not to be the person who does that to kids, but I'm always aware that they are sharing a precious part of themselves and I need to work carefully and gently and take my time. I love knowing the back story behind your poem.


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