Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Challenge 15: Conversation

I have challenged my students to write a college application essay of at least 300 words every day for 30 days, working off a long list of essay topics. Below is one of my attempts. (Note from the future: Out of about 50 students, 22 actually completed it. I tried but gave up after 18 days.)

#22. Tell us about one of the [most memorable] conversations you have had. (Stanford)

"Most Memorable Conversation" recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes, Cook Time: 2-3 hours, Remembered: forever

Serves: 1

2 best friends
1 dark evening
1 empty park
6 inches of fresh snow
1 leather football
2-3 lazy hours
1 discussion topic: our futures
0 interruptions

Meet best friends after dinner in the neighborhood park. It's not so late but dark and quiet -- the freshly fallen snow has hushed all city sounds. Imagine yourself in the countryside somewhere, even though you've grown up in the city and can only imagine what the countryside is like. Stand in the center of the park and survey the unbroken snow. Realize that it should be colder than it is, but an inner happiness keeps you warm. Make small talk, maybe about eighth grade graduation, which is about six months away, maybe about that cute new Mexican girl Kim; everyone's in a good mood, so no one argues about who will ask her out. Remember the football one of you brought and take turns practicing passing, receiving, and tackling. Throw long, spiraling bombs. Dive for the ball. Trip and knock down the guy with the ball. In this powdery snow, no one gets hurt. After some time, stand around in the center of the park again. Ask the question on everyone's mind recently: What do you want to do with your life? Make bold predictions. I will be married by age 21 and have children by 23, named after grandparents I've never met. Thoughts linger on Kim momentarily, but, no, only a Polish girl will do. And career? I will be a firefighter, or maybe a lawyer. Remember the nearby apartment building that burned down recently, the terrifying flames and smoke, the noise and confusion, and decide to be one of the men that make everything right. Dad is pushing for law, but he doesn't realize the years of school that would take. More than anything, you want school to be over with. You were impressed when an older kid spit on the school building and kicked it on the day after his graduation. I'm gonna do the same thing, you declare. Once I'm done with school I will never set foot in one again. Your friends laugh, agree. Everyone also agrees that nothing can separate us, that we will never leave this city we know so well. More snow falls, a steady flurry that'll cover up our tracks before the night is over. If this keeps up, maybe school will be cancelled tomorrow. As you and your friends separate and you walk up the block towards home, you pray for the first time you can remember. You start with some bargain with God -- if we have a snow day tomorrow, I promise I will be good.

Nutritional Information
This is a harmless little memory, lacking in detail and clarity because it's such an old one. A classic! What's noteworthy, however, is the absolute simplicity it reveals. At age 13, I was wrong about everything. I thought I knew it all, of course. I was especially confident in my future. But every prediction was off-target. I moved away from Chicago soon after college graduation. I became a teacher. I took almost twice as long to marry as I thought I would, and I ended up with a brown girl after all. Even these two best-friends-forever have been replaced and forgotten. What I thought would make me happy -- or who I thought I would be when I was older -- was wrong because, really, I couldn't predict the future and I didn't realize that the future me would be a different person, with different thoughts and opinions based on subsequent experiences. What will remain forever -- maybe -- is the memory of that long-ago day when everything fit so perfectly in place.

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