As a writer, I'm aware of tension in the pieces I write. As a fairly sane, amiable person, I'm aware of how much I hate confrontation. Thus, my task is to always provide enough tension. That means I have to tweak characters from time to time. It means I must do the same for how I remember experiences I want to write about and stories I need to tell.
So it was with my most recent piece of memoir about how I balanced student groups, going against some of the strongest personalities in one particular class. I've never been the kind of teacher who proudly and defiantly announces, "This is not a democracy." I opt to agonize instead. A fairly good piece resulted about a time I decided that the lessons of The Grapes of Wrath needed to apply to the inequitable groups my students made for a particular project.
But that got me thinking. First about the novel and then about teaching it this time of year. It's a good December novel given the mass proclivity for giving back. But there's more: Katie and I were recently presented with an opportunity to give back that seems to be taking on a bit more life than we ever intended. I can't even recall how it began, but we decided to play a little game of Pay it Forward. It seems as if we couldn't do what we originally wanted because the opportunity came and went. A little boy was flirting with a Peppermint Patty at the checkout stand at my local grocery store. His mom was preoccupied with two smaller children and locating her Oregon Trail card. That's the name of the Food Stamp program here. So I decided it would be cool to buy the kid the candy bar. Then it got complicated. There were two other kids and a mom who might somehow feel funny about a stranger buying candy for her kids. I let it go. But not the desire. Fast forward two weeks and I purchase a grocery gift card and ask a clerk to give it to a similar family, if not the one I saw.
She's really moved by that and has a family in mind. A couple of weeks later she tell me that she did the deed and now the recipient wants to meet us. That's cool, but I doubt it'll ever happen unless we orchestrate that. What's more gratifying is that the grocery clerk was motivated to so something similar. That' just how it's supposed to work.