My Little Grasshopper
Never assume that because a man has no eyes, he cannot see.
Master Po to Kaine, upon their first meeting.
Suddenly, I, Lisa Torcasso Downing, am Master Po. I’ve taken on a charge, a kid in the ward who wants to become a writer.
Yeah, I know. Teenagers who want to be writers are a dime a dozen and most of them fade away. But those of us who have stuck with it were once kids who wanted to be writers, so I have a tender spot.
Add to the mix that this kid is being ganged up on by the adults surrounding him, minus his mother, and I couldn’t turn my back. You see, the teen made the mistake of vocalizing his ambition to the practical-minded, also know as his Young Men’s President.
I became embroiled in the situation one Sunday while minding my own business, reshelving paperback Bibles in the church library. In walked the ward Young Men’s president and another man, also called to serve in the organization.
“Sister Downing,” the president said to me, “I hear you are a writer.” Instantly, I knew he’d been talking to his wife, who is my visiting teacher. She knows I write and publish, but has never asked to read any of my work.
You see, I may not be blind like the real Master Po, but I am invisible, which, I suppose, is the next “best” thing.
I considered replying that I’ve given writing up. After all, I’ve learned that church folks who say “I hear you are a writer” usually follow it up with some version of one of the following: Can you write the annual ward history? Can you write the Relief Society/Primary/YM or YW newsletter? Can you read through my How-To manuscript on genealogy and tell me if it’s any good?
Not stuff I want to do. But I gave it up, told the truth. I confessed, “I am a writer.” I figured it was safe because, over the years, I’ve learned to say no to ward histories, newsletters, and the random manuscripts of by amateurs.
But what these two men asked stunned me.
“Sister Downing,” the president began, “we’d like you to come in some Wednesday night and address the young men about your career.”
My husband, who happened to be wheeling a television cart into place, chuckled and teased, “You want her to tell them how much money she makes?”
They laughed a little too loudly and the YM president explained, “We have a young man who wants to be a writer.”
The picture was becoming clearer. I said, “And you want me to talk him out of it.”
“Precisely,” the second man said. More laughter.
Here my husband redeemed himself. “It’s hard work. The kid’ll need another job.”
I smile. “Or a husband.”
They don’t want that for the boy. No, they said, all they want is for me to provide the cold, hard facts.
Or, in other words, they want to hold me up as an example of why a person should not become a writer.
So naturally I said, “Sure, I’ll do Career Night.”
What I didn’t say is that there is no way in H-E-double toothpick I’d discourage this kid. In fact, I determined to do everything in my power to teach him what I know in the hopes that he could someday become visible as something other than a pain in the butt (which even he’ll admit he’s been good at).
Long story short: That Career Night never happened. I showed up, armed with stats on paying jobs for writers and editors, as well as information on my paying job as a professor, but the targeted priest had been injured that day and couldn’t attend. Realizing he was a no-show, I approached the YM president and suggested that we reschedule. I expected him to politely decline, to say something like, “No, you’ve prepared and we’ve got a roomful of other young men here you can talk to.”
But he agreed and sent me home. After all, we wouldn’t want to a) waste the time of the other boys when there was a basketball court in the building; or b) lose out on the chance to publicly shame the kid for being stupid enough to pick writing as a profession.
Oh, they asked me to come in and speak the next Wednesday, but my schedule didn’t permit it. And golly gee, four days later (that Sunday night) the official, annual Career Night Fireside for both the young men and young women occurred . . . without a word about it to me. The target was there, so he learned about unusual professions like doctor, lawyer, and engineer. I’m sure that solved the problem.
So I sent the kid’s mother an email, telling her I’d decided not to follow through with doing Career Night. I explained a wee bit about me and my work in writing and editing. I offered to take her son under my wing and teach him how to write, provided he meets my requirements, which I spelled out. Her response was positive.
On Sunday, the boy showed up at the church library grinning and wearing a yellow headband.
“Master Po,” he said, bowing his head, “I’m Grasshopper. Teach me.”
And so it begins.
I smiled and told him I’d pick him up for this week’s writer’s workshop.
I hope the kid is serious enough to work and rework and eat some humble pie. I hope he can punctuate and that his syntax doesn’t suck. I hope he makes Orson Scott Card look like a schmuck. I hope he wins a Pulitzer or a Nebula, or, for that matter, the school district writing contest.
Mostly, I hope someday he’s not invisible, that his talent develops, and that he reaches the point where it will be showcased publicly. I can’t predict his future, but the one thing I can guarantee is that he won’t be invisible to me.