I teach a Creative Writing class that meets last period. It’s an elective for students grades 10-12. We have pretty good time in CW. The writing exercises are fun, and I encourage students to be as creative as they can without creeping or grossing me out.
Selma is one of my favorite students in the class. She’s an excellent writer, she’s clever and sarcastic, and most of the other students enjoy both her writing and the comments she makes in class. In fact, one student enjoys them the most of all – James, my LEAST favorite student. I realize that James has a pretty serious crush on Selma.
James is a sophomore and Selma is a senior. Selma is a good student, while James regularly neglects to complete or turn in work. Selma actively looks for feedback on her writing to improve it; James, on the other hand, thinks he’s “really smart” (his words, not mine) and argues with all of the uniformly negative feedback he gets. James loudly proclaims himself an “independent thinker” and says that anyone who disagrees with him is a “sheep.” He regularly vents his disdain for religious or “narrow-minded” students; his favorite targets are the devout Catholic or evangelical Christian students in the class.
I don’t have a problem with James being an atheist or an independent thinker if he even knows what that is. I have a problem with the fact that he’s a loudmouthed jerk who, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, thinks he’s smart.
But what makes James’ crush on Selma so amusing is the fact that Selma is a VERY devout Muslim. Yes, she’s cute, but she wears a long skirt and her hijab every day, and in her culture, dating is out of the question. James and Selma are opposites in almost every way. But every time she talks in class, James leans back in his chair and looks at her with a dreamy half-smile on his face.
I’m not sure how this crush developed, or why. Maybe James has fantasies of “freeing” Selma from her “oppressed state.” Maybe her oppositeness attracted him. I must admit, though, that watching this one-sided romance grow has made the class a whole lot more fun, at least for me.
I first noticed something unusual when I had to partner the students up for an in-class assignment that required giving feedback on the writing. Selma and James ended up as partners and neither seemed happy about it initially. They were quiet as they read each other’s work. Then the critiquing started. Selma was pretty forthright in pointing out that James wasn’t using evidence to support his assertions. James, naturally, blustered on that his piece was just fine, and maybe SHE just didn’t “understand it.”
Selma glared at him. “No, I get it. Maybe YOU don’t get it. Ms. Marlowe gave us the guidelines, but you didn’t follow any of them.”
James shrugged and rolled his eyes. “It’s not like your paragraph is any better.”
Their voices steadily grew louder. “No, but I think –“
“Maybe if you’d let me FINISH!”
“I heard what you said, you said that the point of view isn’t right, but you aren’t…”
“And if you’d let me FINISH, I could tell you why it’s not…”
“Geez, do we have to go over this again? I said I heard you!”
Then I heard Selma bark, “Are you an idiot? Or do you just act like one, Captain Fabulous?”
You have to admit, Captain Fabulous is a pretty good title, especially for James. I asked them to lower the volume, and the barks became heated whispers and hissings, until I heard James say, “Fine, if that’s what you think.”
“That IS what I think.”
“I can tell.”
“Oh shut up. Don’t talk to me anymore.” I noticed that James grew progressively quieter until the end of class.
The next day he asked if we were going to work with partners again, and seemed disappointed when I said no. Later, when I asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to read what he or she wrote for the day’s free write, James raised his hand and volunteered Selma.
“I’m sure it’s going to be interesting,” he said with a sticky smile. Selma looked at him, horrified. The entire class was so shocked that the room fell silent for a minute.
The next week, Selma stopped by to tell me that I had ruined her life. I’m used to students telling me this, but I asked, “How so?”
“James! He’s stalking me! He tried to sit with my friends and me at lunch, and he keeps walking up to me in the hallway and asking how I’m doing. If I don’t answer, he’ll tell me that women have a voice at our school too, and I should exercise my right to my voice.”
I started coughing violently to cover up my laughter. “So use your voice and tell him you’re not interested.”
“The more I tell him to go away, the more I see him around! Can’t you get him transferred out of this class?”
I wish. “Selma, seriously! He’s only a sophomore anyway. You’re going to graduate soon, and you won’t even see him anymore.”
“But now he’s following me on Twitter and commenting on everything I put up! What do I do? He’s stalking me, Ms. Marlowe! That’s not right!”
“He’s not stalking you,” I said mildly.
Her eyes were big and round. “Oh yeah? Yesterday he followed Felicia and me to Taco Bell. I don’t even know how he knew we were going there!”
Okay, that IS stalking, because most of us want to eat our Burrito Supreme in privacy and shame. And it doesn’t help that James looks like an unwashed Dwight Schrute on his best day.
I tried to reach deep, DEEP down to pull up some words of wisdom to help Selma. Nothing was floating up, except “restraining order” and “hired hitman.” So I said, “You know, Selma, sometimes in life you just have to put up with hard things. Maybe James is one of those things and he’ll eventually go away.”
“That’s really all the advice you have for me? Seriously?”
“Uh, restraining order? Contract killer?”
“Can you seat him on the other side of the room?”
“But Selma, he’s quieter when he’s near you.”
“I shouldn’t have to suffer because it’s better for the class!” she complained.
No, she shouldn’t. But you know, sometimes people just need to make sacrifices for the greater good, blah blah blah. And James is finally turning in his work and actually considering the feedback he gets, so… Yeah, sorry, Selma. I have to think of the greater good, and get my entertainment in where I can.