What People Want to Hear

Do you remember in Elementary when you would have to do silly writing exercises for your class, or for some school-wide activity? My school had one event that asked every student to write what they would do if they were the school principal. Everyone was excited about the fun things they would add to the school, or simply make attending class wholly optional, an ever-recess. I remember being very pragmatic. No class was silly, unreasonable. But a gigantic swimming pool? Yeah, I’d use my principal power for that.

The winner got to read out what they wrote in a school assembly, and the added “pleasure” of being principal for a day. If it were me I would stage a coup and fire all the staff who could speak against me, and install confederates, yes-men, Shalyn (the cute girl I had a crush on), etc., and keep my position forever or until some great betrayal brought me down. Et tu, Shalyn?

I’m getting off track. The girl who won wrote a lot of eye-rolling stuff like, “I would be fair to all the students,” and that kind of PR wankery. But it taught me a valuable lesson: if I wanted to get anywhere, I had to know how to say what people wanted to hear. The next time we had to write a schoolwide report, it was a poem about how we should treat the world. Or something like that. And I went all-out whitebread conservative poster child on my poem, using conventional rhyming patterns and even name-dropping God. And guess what? I was suddenly good enough to read my poem in front of the whole school in an assembly. My catered, censored, phoney phoney phoney poem.

“I wish I coulda read my poem in front of the school,” said my friend.

Despite not caring a whit about what a wrote, the fact that I could con my superiors into thinking my work was assembly-worthy was like awakening to a new super power. Who knew I could use writing to make people pay attention to me? Only problem was, they weren’t really listening to me. They were listening to what they wanted to hear. But that has its own power, too.

These days, I write whatever I want. For fun, and to learn. I like to think that if I really buckled down and tried to write something that publishers would look twice at, I could. But I worry that I’d have to be that phoney conservative kid to do it. To say what people want to hear instead of what I think. Is it worth it, for a cheque? Does it bother me, whoring myself out? Maybe not. If I can work for money painting or tending till or making sandwiches or testing video games I can make money writing. It’s work, it deserves pay. I shouldn’t make it less than that by trying to make it more than that.

But, for now, I’ll write my goofy stories about memory worlds and accidental stalkers and invisible men. And cowboy wizards. Always cowboy wizards.

– H.

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