Having worked at Harold Washington for over a month now, I've gotten to see a wide variety of different students from the college coming into the Writing Lab. One of the things I love about this job is the kinds of stories that I get from writers here, and the connections that I get to make.
One woman, probably a decade or two older than me, wrote a paper explaining a process she'd gone through to naturalize her hair (take all chemical stuff out of it, etc). She explained how she detached her self-identity from the state of her hair and we talked about faith and women's image in society, and she had some really beautiful things to say about that. The conversation doesn't involve Plato or de Beauvoir, but the philosophical ideas are just as profound, and the connection is personal.
Another older man, an immigrant from Africa, was writing a paper on violence in African-American communities here in the U.S. We ended the session with a long conversation about the general state of African-Americans in the country. He told me he couldn't see why they couldn't be successful. He had come to the States speaking very little English and knowing no one, but he had worked hard and was about to graduate, and had a job lined up and planned to start his own business. He wondered why the opportunities he had didn't come to everyone. I couldn't begin to answer that question, but we started talking about why. Where are our equal opportunities, indeed.
A Chinese woman recently come to the US comes in and works with me on grammar on occasion. Last time she came in, she told me about her hometown in China and the difficulties of English. She invited me over to her house if I wanted to learn Cantonese. And I could teach her better English that way, too.
A girl from Japan and I talked about the Japanese language. A girl from Poland told me about learning Spanish (as I have) and I shared my travels in that country with her. Another girl and I worried about the prevalence of fast food restaurants and how hard it is to keep from eating there when you don't have money to afford any other kind of food. Many students have connected with me about frustrations and difficulties in the writing process. Others come about the English language and we share insights about just how darn weird grammar is. Each person who comes through here has their own story to tell. When they choose to share it with me, our lives touch. I've taken what I've learned so far from Shimer about conversation and brought it into the world outside of the college. It keeps me in touch with people who haven't read what I have but are still wondering the same things about the world. It keeps me from spending too much time in the wonderful realm of ideas and brings me back to issues that people deal with every day. It keeps me humble. But it continues that sense of awe that I always get from seeing humanity, in the written or real world or both.