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It’s an ugly truth.

Show me the food and I’m there.

For the past month, I’ve been crash-learning to become an instructor, but a sidebar to this story is that I’ll pretty much go anywhere they promise to feed me.

You see I’m in the midst of a 5 session tutor-training program at my local college campus. Cookies, muffins and coffee are provided as a courtesy and an incentive. Damn it, they know me well.

I’m hammering away at becoming a volunteer tutor to literacy-challenged adults (verbalizing the word illiterate doesn’t conform to modern polite discussion I’m told) and since I have a passion for reading and writing, it feels like a perfect Cinderella glass-slipper fit.

Cinderella? CinderFella?… as per my usual state in life, once again I find myself in a classroom surrounded by women. Seven or 8 women, all shapes and sizes, all sharply intelligent, aged between about 30 and 70 years.

YUP, no men… NADA… just me as the solo Testoster-lad. I look around the room and discover myself in that “Familiar as my own face in the glass; as the speech of my own tongue” (Victor Hugo).- role of describing myself as the token male in the group.

I’m an outsider.

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I’m surprised there aren’t some men involved. It seems that almost everything I associate myself with (laboratory career, yoga, spin/boot camp classes, soup kitchen, chick flicks) becomes a hen party where I’m frequently the solitary rooster… what’s with that?

If I felt that I was somehow effeminate… or had homosexual leanings… maybe if I grew a set of breasts (moobs don’t count)… maybe if I cut back on my sugar consumption… then perhaps, just perhaps it somehow would make logical sense, maybe become even a touch understandable. So many maybes and ifs.

I need some sort of translator or transmogrifier to explain to me the reasons behind my ability to GPS the hots spots where women congregate. Do you think Donald Trump might be able to explain it to me?

I’m an outsider.

There are times when I’m conscious of the way Janis Ian must have felt when she penned the tune “At Seventeen“… the heart-rending  anthem for those (young girls) who see themselves as outsiders in their own world, their own society.

Of course Janis Ian mournfully lamented the outsider’s life… in most ways, I happily cherish the outsider role I find myself in, it’s a part of my comfort zone.

The adult student(s) I’ll be working one-on-one with will be an outsider(s). I know this. They live their lives in morbid fear of being discovered for what they can’t do (read/write) that so many others can.

It’s a secret pact they work hard at keeping, like my Alzheimer’s afflicted brother who verbally stickhandles around his deteriorating memory with graceful aplomb.

It’s sad but hopeful too because outsiders are often the ones who become superheroes. Outsiders can see the things and people that need help, need change. They’ve lived their lives with their nose against the glass looking in, watching and listening to the insiders.

……….

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While I was gnawing my way through a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie at tutor-training the other day, Mary, the guest instructor, shared 3 rules for being a good writer. She said:

  1. Read lots.
  2. Write frequently and consistently.
  3. Carefully observe the subtle nuances of life surrounding you.

That third point is critically important in writing.

It’s as if we take a microscope to our world and drill in on the fine points, like a lab tech discerning one type of white blood cell from another in a blood smear. People rely on that lab person to know the details and fine points in order to diagnose and treat their disease.

Similarly, people reading stories rely on the writer to dig in deep and carefully paint a picture in the reader’s mind so it’s as if they were present themselves. It’s exhilarating to feel ourselves within the story.

Blue sky isn’t just blue sky, it’s indigo like blocks of igloo ice at dusk. A richly detailed picture painted in our mind.

It’s the writer that pays attention closely and observes as each day’s seconds press onward into minutes and hours, the world churning and mingling in a semi-organized tangle.

Closely observing and simultaneously participating actively in life don’t go together seamlessly. Knowing this, the writer more often sits in silence, absorbing the shading and subtlety of each moment… the egg yolk tinge of sunset, the subdued upward shift of the speaker’s eye as they concentrate on an important point.

Where was I again? Ah yes… Outsiders. Outsiders show up to life in a huge variety of Halloween costumes, often unrecognizable to the casual observer.

As a frequent outsider myself, I understand my role when I meet with my new student next week will be to look past the costume and find the real person, the real fears and worries behind his bluster and awkward humour.

I’ll need my writer’s superhero observational powers to uncover the true nature of his unease and motivations.

It will be challenging and hard work for us both.

It might be difficult, it might be inelegant, but I hope I’ll work past my own rookie fears to help make another outsider aware of his own superhero abilities.

And if it helps, I’ll even share my cookies.

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