Catching Up: Portrait of the Activist as a Young Woman

Maybe you’ll like this. I did, when I dredged it up from a subterranean file of writing I’d forgotten about. I didn’t forget this girl, though.

A.T. was a favourite student of mine, and Number One Babysitter of Son the Fourth when he was “the world’s happiest child”. In a writing class I was taking, not teaching, I was assigned to interview somebody interesting, and I chose a chubby, bespectacled grade 11 with a great brain, lovely brown eyes and a lethal wit. She still writes, but the activist appears to have won out: she’s spent the past half-dozen years doing development work with an NGO in Africa. She’s come a long way from Caledonia.

I always wanted to be Jann Arden”, says A.T., a 16 year old high school student, “but I can’t sing.  I guess I’ll be a writer–what else can I do?” A. even looks a little like Arden, and has the same intelligence and self-deprecating wit, although her self-possession suggests she will not have to go through the same depressing chemical adventures in seedy bars. Here’s hoping, anyway.

An only child (a gentle iconoclast right from the womb), she nonetheless has loads of family history, blithely speaking and writing about her father’s recent marriage to “the fourth Mrs. J. T.”.

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Guest Post: A Chinese Student Speaks Up

Through a P2C2E — a “process too complicated to explain,” as Salman Rushdie called it in his wonderful youth novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories — I got to meet Ms. Z. Like many Chinese university students, perhaps most, she studies in a major chosen by her family, not by her. Unlike many, she is a writer, even in her second language. In a spasm of bravery, she wrote an English essay about something honest and true-hearted and even a bit angry, and it found its way to me. It is a declaration of independence. It is her youthful emancipation proclamation.

I was moved by her courage and her plain-spoken message, and asked her permission to share it with my readers. (I did a quick edit of some rough second-language edges, but this is all Ms. Z.) She is not a “typical” Chinese student, if you assume such a thing exists, but neither is she alone. Perhaps you will enjoy a small taste of life in a Chinese university — but this time, from an eagle-eyed student perspective. She calls her piece “Marionette Generation”.

The ties that bind.

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