I’m taking a class at Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop on Writing Apocalyptic Fiction. With everything going on in my world I felt like the best way to counteract my fears of climate change, economic disaster, and governmental collapse was to immerse myself in the apocalypse for 8 weeks. Layer a writing class on top of anxiety on top of a crazy work schedule -including weekend travel- and one of my carefully balanced life pieces was bound to come crashing down. Cue leaving my laptop at TSA security in Austin and not realizing my mistake until I was midair and halfway home.
At the moment I realized what had happened the first thought to hit me was, “but my homework was on my laptop!” I intentionally timed my trip to ensure I’d be home right before my writing class. I’d done the homework and now I was faced with going to class with the lamest excuse. So, being a total goody-two-shoes I got home and rewrote my 600 word assignment from memory. Arriving in class I told everyone my story only to discover I was the only person who did the homework, and I did it twice. (See earlier goody-two-shoes comment.) Thus I got the honor and privileged of reading aloud my hastily thrown together homework to everyone. It wasn’t bad. I got a few snickers at the funny parts, and no snickers at the not funny parts.
However, now find myself faced with a fun personal writing experiment. My laptop is due to be delivered by FedEx any moment, and I can compare my homework I spent time on – checking grammar and editing – with my 30 minute word dump. Often I’ve wanted to just trash something I wrote and start over, but I always wonder if the new version will really be any better. Now I’m going to see, and I’m going to let you see too! Here is my hastily slapped together homework. The assignment? To “imagine a person with an idiosyncratic way of seeing the world…Have this character witness a traumatic event.” The assignment was to be in first person point of view and 600 words. (Check out the 3 AM Epiphany for this writing assignment and a host of others.)
Here is the slapdash version for your entertainment:
I am not one of those go getters. In fact, I’ve always liked being told what to do, which is a misunderstood and undervalued skill. People waste a great deal of effort chasing after elusive requests. It’s more efficient to spend time really understanding what someone wants before you go into action. Even my mother – who has always complained about my lack of “get up and go” – admits there are times she appreciates my approach. If she asks me to do the laundry or make dinner she gets exactly what she wants: provided she gives clear direction.
My technique really shined in college. I utilized professors’ office hours to ensure that I really understood their assignments. What programming language did they want me to use? How should the end product look? An unexpected advantage was that often they’d start my project for me to ensure I had perfect clarity. Always my goal is perfect clarity.
Since graduation I’ve been in and out of jobs. Every interview I’ve very up front about my approach, and the three companies that hired me seemed excited by my process. But something always changed; each time I got let go for “lack of initiative”. Lack initiative? The problem was that my managers and mentors never deeply explained what they wanted me to do. They wanted me to take some vague idea and magically turn it into something they wanted. If they weren’t so lazy I would be more effective, but I learned that people don’t want that kind of feedback.
To make ends meet I spend weekends at hackathons. Hackathons are events where programmers, entrepreneurs and big thinkers come together and prototype innovative ideas. My strategy is to listen for the guys who have a really detailed idea. Those are the ones who need my help. I seek them out and we spend all weekend creating their vision. I won first place once – $5000 – but the best thing that happened as a result of hacking was that they made me a hero.
At my last event there was this really old guy who knew exactly what he wanted. He went way over time talking about his idea and encouraged questions while he was being shut down by the event organizers. He and I were a great team. Late at night we were nailing down some final details when he grabbed his chest and collapsed. I didn’t know what to do. Crouching next to him I asked, “What do you want me to do?” but he didn’t answer. I yelled for help, but everyone else had left. After a bit I decided to leave. What else could I do? Then I found total clarity when I walked past one of those AED things on the wall.
I ripped it down and the thing started talking to me. It gave me very specific instructions, and I followed them perfectly. When it told me to call 911, I did, and the dispatcher gave me very specific instructions, which I followed perfectly. Then the paramedics showed up. After I did what they told me, one of them turned to me and said, “You saved this guy’s life. You are a hero.”
They rushed him to the hospital and he made a full recovery. His company had this big event when he went back to work and they presented me with a medal. My mom even got to come. It was great, but I was really hoping for a job. I mean, my clarity saved that guy’s life. We made a great team.
Oh, ding dong! My laptop is here! The original version of my assignment coming next!