No one asked if I was the instructor, as they did at the counter when I was picking up a parking permit. I grabbed the corner seat furthest to the back, near one of the blackboards and facing the black and white clock that hangs in every classroom I've ever sat in. Across the desk, a skinny Asian kid with black wire-rim glasses, a wanna be fu manchu mustache, and a ponytail was scrawling furiously into his composition notebook and filled two full pages during the five minute wait. Finally, the instructor walked in, and he was older than me. As in, he attended Woodstock older. Whew.
We went around the room and blurted out short introductions. Well, I'm sort of trying to figure out my major and you know, I like writing, so, ummm, I thought this journalism class could be good for me... Uhh, I haven't really decided my major yet but I need to get my credits, so that's why I'm here... We had a string of the same intros in more or less the same words until we came to the fu manchu kid. He put his pen down, closed his notebook, pushed his chair back, stood up, carefully placed his hands on the edge of the table after adjusting his glasses, cleared his throat, and then listed, in one run-on sentence, all the websites where he regularly submitted comments as well as all of the periodicals he read, including The New York Times, BBC, SF Chronicle, and as he pointed out with special emphasis, Al Jazeera. He then launched into his personal aspirations to re-unite North and South Korea because, as he saw it, North Korea has not been doing anything for a while now and there is no reason why the two countries should be separated. The instructor tactfully told the kid to shut up and then we went on.
When it was my turn, I said, Well, I graduated from college fifteen years ago and from law school ten years ago... And I swear some of the kids sucked in their breaths and their eyes got rounder. The girl who looked like she stepped out of Flashdance in her cut off black t-shirt hanging off her right shoulder even leaned in to taker a closer look, as if I were some exhibit at the world's fair. The one dressed like a dancer for Madonna flared her nostrils. I took a breath and continued. So, I'm trying out a career change and I would love to write some pieces to build my portfolio. The instructor (bless him) gave me a warm smile, nodded as if I were just another kid, and moved on.
The hour and a half passed quickly. We talked about the elements of a good piece of journalism, the importance of writing simply, clearly, the art of story telling. We read a couple of samples of beautifully written pieces. We then talked about our assignments for the week. I sat there, took notes, and absorbed what was presented, like the other kids in the classroom.
The instructor had been working as a journalist for over 40 years, with the last 22 at the Chronicle. Not too long ago, he took the buy out package that the Chronicle has been pushing on its employees as the paper shrinks more and more each day. And it made me wonder (again) if there is a future in this writing business. Even if I make it in that world, could I really succeed, as in make a living with it succeed? But as Jeff reminded me, I don't need to answer that today. Today, I get to be a student.