Are you focused?

“You can’t just walk out of class when another student is talking,” I say.

He laughs and nods. “Okay.”

“And it would be better if you didn’t keep you head down on the desk during class,” I say.

“I’m sick,” he says.

“Then you should be at home.”

He laughs.

“Really. If you’re sick. Go home. But if you’re in class, you need to listen.”

“I am listening.”

“Well, okay. But you don’t look like you’re listening. You look like you’re bored.”

“It is not my fault if I’m sick.”

“Of course it isn’t your fault if you’re sick. I’m saying you need to listen in class.”

“I do.”

“But when you’re head is down, you can’t talk to your classmates.”

“What do you mean classmates?”

“The other students. We were having a conversation in class and you had your head down. I want you to talk to your classmates.”

“Why?” he asks.

“Because it is language class. You have to talk.”

He shakes his head. “No. I don’t want to.”

“What? You have to talk. You’re learning a language.”

“No. If I want to talk, I will talk to my roommate.”

“But I need you to talk to your classmates. You’re part of the class.”

“No. It is not necessary for me.”

“Yes, it is.”

He shakes his head. “It is not necessary.”

“I have 12 years of teaching experience, and I can tell you that if you want to get the most out of my class, you need to talk to other students.”


“Why? Do you not like them?”

“I don’t care about them. I don’t need to talk to them.”

“Then maybe you need a private tutor.”

“No. I can’t do this.”

“If you’re in my class, you have to participate.”

He shakes his head and laughs. ” I’m not talking to them.”

“We’re going to be in class together for 15 weeks. It would be nice if you would talk to your classmates.”


During our next class together, he sits in the back of the room, outside the conversation circle. I make no effort to include him.

Moments like this I think–I could be working on my screenplay. I could be making art. Why am I having this argument?

I come home and stare at the GRE study guide and think about this student. What should I have said? Why did he come thousands of miles to refuse to talk to other people? And why do I feel insulted? I should be writing!

Why can’t I just quit and work on my writing and art? (Oh, yeah. The money.)

Do you let your daily life get in the way of your creative efforts? Do petty arguments disrupt your motivation or trip up your muse? What do you do to put the noise away and let out the inspiration? We’ve all got to figure this out, because the mess isn’t ever going away on its own.

(I posted more pictures of the silver trees because they cheer me up after a rough day, and they remind me what is possible when you give your imagination more power than your distractions.)

14 thoughts on “Are you focused?

  1. What are the consequences of him not participating? Is he prepared for that? Is he willing to get an F? That might motivate him.

    Not being the recipient of creative gifts, I don’t have to deal with having them disrupted. I do believe that I can sympathize with the artist’s spirit though. I think artist types need to have a focus place, even if it’s just a picture on a wall, that helps them get back to that creative place. The creative mind needs a place to “be”, just as the accountant types need a place of order to “be.”

  2. I think this person needs to suffer the consequences of his decision. If he’s not able to pass the class, doesn’t meet the class requirements, he can’t be moved on. I don’t think you could’ve said anything more than just reminding him there are consequences to his decision. I think if he still thinks it’s funny, he’s on his own. You did what you could to help.

    And YES, I do let anything and everything distract me. I’m not sure why; and most times, I don’t even know HOW. But when I look up at the end of the day, I’ve seldom accomplished anything in regard to writing.

    1. I’d have to go on a lengthy diatribe about my school to explain why holding him back may not be an option–though I can try.

      Focus, Darc. Focus. You can do it. At least for a few minutes a day.

  3. andewallscametumblindown

    There are many people I have met (mostly online) who would react in the same way as your student. These people avoid others because they’re afraid of them, and of their own inability to socialise. I don’t know if your student has similar problems. If he does, I think he’s suffering enough. What he needs is help.

    Yes, things distract me. But these same things can be my inspiration.

    1. It is hard to know what is really going on in the head of anyone, but I don’t think this particular student is afraid. I’ve had plenty of students like that and generally recognize them quickly. His problem is more of the arrogant, privileged, entitled variety.

      Some distractions have been wonderful inspirations. Others are obstacles. If could only sort it all out sooner.

  4. What interesting trees…

    Yeah, I get distracted. But you know what? Back when I was trying to focus on one thing at a time for weeks on end, I got distracted to the point where I did nothing. Now that I have some flexibility in my work schedule, with the addition of editing others’ work and being home alone all day, switching gears helps keep me fresh and inspired. I’m not good at focusing on one project, yet it’s what I crave, so…I don’t know what to do with that.

    That dude sounds like he has some problems which have nothing to do with you or your class. Sorry you have to deal with it, though.

    1. Allowing myself time to be distracted helps a lot.

      And I hopeful that this student and I will work our differences out before too long–or the semester is going to rough.

  5. Yes my daily life interferes with my art. Yes it does. And I quit my interfering job teaching many years ago. My life still gets in the way. Fine, I have “interfering” kids who want my attention all the time, but even if I didn’t, I would find things to interfere in the art.
    There’s ALWAYS something to interfere, even if you are only doing the art. Maybe you have more time to deal with the interference, but you still have to struggle with the struggle.
    Does that make sense?

    And that guy sounds like he thinks he’s superior to the other students and to you. I had a teen who was a complete misogynist and he never thought he had to listen to me at all. You should tell him that class participation is part of the grade. 3 conversations a day, or some such, and a nice little graph to check off that people participated. I used to do that for my more resistant classes.15% or 50% or however much you think it should be.

    1. I might be able to “punish” the student with a particular grade, but not likely. I’ll just have to see how it goes. I had his cousin as a student over the summer. They complain a lot about Americans and white people. And they insult women regularly–though they of course don’t see it that way.

  6. Power struggles with students. I don’t miss that.

    If talking is part of the grade, and he knows this, then let him take the hit. Some kids need to actually fail rather than be cajoled.

    1. This student is about 25. My students are all grown-ups (in theory anyway) and at the school by choice. This sort of struggle is rare, and therefore I tend to get really sidetracked by it.

  7. You’re way more experienced with this sort of thing than I’ll ever be. But here’s an alternative take on what might have been going on: embarrassment and shame.

    Depending on his age and the culture of his “home language,” it’s possible that he’s mortified by his weak English skills. If he’s older, he may have a great deal of difficulty talking with women — especially younger women (including you). And in either or both of these cases, his apparent cockiness might just be a mask. (I see echoes in his behavior of things I’ve done in the past to cover up the fact that I simply wasn’t hearing well enough.) When he’s challenged or pushed, he digs in his heels, flashes that maddening smile, and will, not, bend.

    Of course, even if this scenario IS true, I still have no idea how to handle it. Some help, huh? 🙂

    I shut out the real world when writing by listening to music via headphones. If that’s still not working, I remove the headphones, remove the hearing aids, and work in something very close to silence. Not an option for everyone, I know — and not one, when it comes right down to it, that I’d wish for everyone. Heh.

    But the internal noise is much harder to shut out. So arguments, upsets about work, and so on — yeah. Difficult. No solutions, although going online or reading escape fiction or watching movies can shut off that sort of noise eventually. Unfortunately, they too make it impossible to write!

  8. This student is in his early 20s and from Cameroon. On the first day of class, we were talking about the word talent, and I asked the students what their talents were. After an older woman from Mexico talked, he looked at her and said, “You are a woman. Why you don’t say cooking?”

    And in his writing class he told his teacher her topic was boring and he wasn’t going to write about it.

    So whatever his problem, he is off to a rip roaring start!

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