I arrived to class thirty minutes early. The room was packed. The professor took roll. He peaked over his wire-framed glasses, and mumbled, “I don’t know the best way to do this…” As he spoke, two more people walked in and stood by the wall. They wanted to add, too. Dang it!
“The only fair thing to do,” he responded, “is to have a raffle. Everyone who wants to add this class, write your name down on a slip of paper and put it in this hat. I only have room for thirty-five students.” Paper tears echoed throughout the classroom. I wasn’t excited about a raffle. Couldn’t we find a more fair system—like who had arrived first? I had arrived in class thirty minutes early, but I had arrived at school an hour and a half early. Didn’t that count for something?
As the raffle began, I was hopeful. Surely my name could be one of the six picked to remain in the class. After three names had been selected, my hope began to diminish. By the time the fifth name was called, all hope was gone. My name was not going to be called. And it wasn’t. I sat in my seat, surrounded by a blanket of disbelief. But I had felt that I should take the class. How could I not get in?
“If you didn’t make it in this semester, you can try again next semester,” the professor told us, in hopes of absolution. For a moment, I thought that I should just take the class the following semester, but the next semester was six months away.
That was six months of putting off my dream. Six months of trying to figure out the art of writing by myself. That was unacceptable. I thought, I persist until I succeed. With heavy backpacks in hand, and heavy faces to match, the rejected students walked out of class. “Or, you could try again next week. Maybe some folks will drop…” the professor muttered.
I sat in my chair. I couldn’t—wouldn’t move. I had to get into the class. Two other students sat in their chairs, unwilling to move. Eventually the professor said, “If you’re not enrolled in the class, you should leave now.” I walked up the front. “May I stay for a little while, just to see what the class is like?”
“Sure,” he responded, hesitantly.
Hearing the professor detail the books and topics to be covered, I became more convinced that I did belong in the class. So, I decided that I would just stay. I would participate, like I was a student, and then return the following week, like he said we could.
So, as he walked us through the syllabus, I took detailed notes. He divided us into groups and had us brainstorm story ideas. I created my list and shared it with my group. They liked it so much that they selected my idea to share with the entire class during discussion time.
During the break, the professor looked at me intently and inquired, “You’re not in this class, right?” “No…but I will be,” I responded confidently. “How?” he asked. ”I don’t know, but I figure that if I leave now, then when I do get in, I’ll be behind.” He looked at me and smiled, very slowly. “I like your persistence.”
“I persist until I succeed,” I responded, almost robotically.
Then he gave us our first assignment. “Interview someone in the class and then write a story about them. If there is an odd number, one of you can just interview me.”
I walked up to a beautiful Filipina woman and asked her if she wanted to be partners. “Sure,” she responded. But just as I began to interview her, I realized that there was an odd number of students in the class. One of my classmates was stuck interviewing the professor. I walked up the front and told the guy to take my spot because I wasn’t actually enrolled in the class yet. This way, I wouldn’t be disturbing the flow of the class, plus I would get to talk with the professor, which would increase the likelihood that he would let me in the class.
“What was your very first writing gig?” “Who was your favorite interviewee?”
“What would you tell your daughter if she wanted to become a writer?”
Thirty minutes later my professor was smiling as he reminisced about his twenty plus year career as a writer.
“Now it’s time to write your stories,” he instructed the class. It was at this moment that the weight of my predicament hit me. Yes, it had been a good idea to interview my professor because it enabled me to build a relationship with him. However, is it ever a good idea to write a story about a writer? Especially if you’re a novice writer and your subject is a professional writer with credits that make you salivate?
I began to type. The words came, ideas emerged, but fear lay submerged. What if I misquoted him? What if I got the facts wrong? Was my tone okay? It had been years since I’d taken a news writing course.
I handed the story in to the professor, very hesitantly. In fact, I took it back. (I wanted to spell check it again, just in case.)
To follow up, I sent him and email the following day:
I had a lot of fun in class last night. (I wish that I could say that I had interviewed Quincy Jones! )
Anyways, I am eager to join the class. If space becomes available during the week, you can email me the add number. If you don't know until Monday, however, then I can add it when I arrive.
Thanks! I'm looking forward to learning a lot this semester.
I arrived at class the following week early. I looked around for the people who had left the week before. None of them returned. Professor Stambler handed my interview to me. “Chante, “ he wrote, “How can I refuse you now? Here’s your add code: 282983022.” Then, he took roll. I was number thirty-six.