When I was in high school, I was the shortest kid in my class, and I looked like a twelve year old. Oh yeah, it was great back then. I got to talk to all the guys. They confided in me. Told me all their problems. Whined about their love life. Never once asked anything about me. Yada yada yada. I was a convenient match maker, a relationship counselor, the mediator.
But what I really wanted was someone to listen to me.
Being the cordial, shy young thing I was, I never spoke up, and as time passed I forgot how to speak. When it was other people’s turn to listen, I didn’t have anything to say. Most people eventually wrote me off as shy and didn’t waste time prying information out of me.
I never grew up. I’m still around 5’ or 5’2” or somewhere in between. During the early years of my career, I substituted at a middle school in Murfreesboro and suffered horrendous embarrassment at the hands of the Lunch Ladies. All I did was return my tray, and they screamed. “You’ve been here all year long. You know your tray doesn’t go here.”
Yada yada yada. The Lunch Ladies thought I was just another middle schooler, not a teacher. I tried to explain, but they wouldn’t listen.
I found my first real teaching job at the high school where I went to school. I’m still there. During my first years I blended in with the students quite well. It was kind of cool because I felt like an undercover agent in the halls. I listened and picked up all sort of useful information from their conversations.
But my co-workers were ruthless. The assistant principal gave me the nickname Little Debbie, and it stuck. You know what I’m talking about, right? He said I reminded him of the little munchkin on the outside of oatmeal pie boxes. My fellow teachers put a framed photo of Little Debbie on my desk. How clever. I tried to tell them I was nothing like the cherub-faced little snack cake, but they wouldn’t listen.
Even today if people read my blog and leave comments, I am so grateful that I just want to hunt them down and give them a big hug. If someone actually talks with me—and not at me, my heart melts. I think one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is your attention. Look me in the eye. Ask me what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see. Okay—I confess. I stole those lines from Toby Keith’s song, “I Wanna Talk about Me.” But don’t you get what I’m saying?
Published writers, whether you write novels or songs or magazine articles, never take for granted the wonderful gift your readers give you. Even if you have never received a hefty royalty check, just the fact that readers choose you to listen to is pretty special.
Wow. Imagine someone curling up with your words at night. Or how about someone singing the song you’ve written? Pretty special, huh?
I’ve had Keith Urban’s tune “Put You in a Song” rattling around in my head for days. I like it when he sings, “And when they see you on the street, they’ll say ‘Hey, ain’t you the girl in that song?’”
Now there’s a topic for another blog. Oh, wouldn’t l love to be the girl in that song. I’d love to be the girl in any song. How romantic. I get giddy just thinking about it. But with my luck if someone did write a song about me they’d call it “Little Debbie.”
We writers all want to be published. But we can still change people’s hearts, minds, and spirits with our words even we don’t see them in a magazine or in a book. Our writing doesn’t have to be about us. Have you ever received a card, a note, an email, a Facebook message, or an honest-to-goodness handwritten letter that turned your day around?
Words have power. They can bless, or they can curse.
This year the seniors on my newspaper staff made me a very special gift, a scrapbook with their articles and pictures and headlines. They asked every member of the staff to write me a personal letter.
Tonight I sat down and read the letters again. I listened to what each one of them had to say, and I learned something pretty special. Despite the deadline tensions, the red marks, the ad pressures, the computer crashes, the staff drama, etc., my students recalled something special they had gleaned from my class or from me, and they wrote about it in my letter.
Their letters were proof they actually listened to me. What a wonderful gift.