Friday, February 5, 2010

Person of interest

One of the toughest parts of being a writer is convincing anyone that you're as special as, say, a barber. The plain truth is, text-messaging and Division 1-A revenue sports notwithstanding, anybody with any education can write.

Anybody can cut hair, too. The trick with either is to do it well, and for some reason people have a lot more confidence in their writing than their barbering. I know I do, which may have less to do with writing than it has to do with discovering a while back that I had done a fine job of shaving my head but at the cost of the outside one-fourth of one eyebrow. But I digress.

Writing well goes beyond spelling and grammar and resistance to digression (and hallelujah for that); it really comes down to having something worth writing about. Research helps with that. So does education, or a good memory, or a tendency toward brilliant insight. Since I run short on all those, I try to live as interesting a life as possible and write about that.

The other day, I learned the difference between being an interesting person and a person of interest. I was applying for a pass to use a particular institution's pool at the very generous invitation of its very cool swim coach. (I'm not naming the institution here because I have no complaints and don't want to take the chance that anyone Googling or skimming catches something out of context that makes it look like I do, when, in fact, everyone involved was terrific.)

I've attended, supported, paid money to and even guest-lectured at this institution, but I still haven't graduated, so I'm not recognized as "alumni" (other than they were more than happy to sell me a lifetime Alumni Club membership a while back). So I didn't fit into any protocol; I was just some guy dropping a name and asking for a pass. I looked like I could have been trying to scam them, which, had I been, could well have put me in a bigger group than graduating would. There was a certain amount of polite but unmistakable skepticism.

Long story short (too late!), I'll pick up my pass today when I go watch a swim meet. The staffers acted properly, were friendly and professional, and I was impressed with and grateful to each one of them … and I still felt intensely uncomfortable and a little bit insulted for a while. That's good. Not that I'm an unsympathetic person, but I am about as white and middle-aged and male as they come and thus just about the last person to worry about being profiled. If that has eroded at my sympathy for those who do get the stink-eye just for looking or dressing or being tinted a certain way, this pushed a few things back into place.

I still haven't graduated, but they continue to educate me.


Tim said...

I never completed grad school, but the alumni association still considers me an alumnus. In fact, they specifically say it as long as you complete one class, you're a member.

Personally, I think they just want my money.