A Sheltered Life

It occurred to me, after my diatribe about teenage drinking, that I had come out pretty strongly against the sheltered life.  So I'd like to share a counter-anecdote:

Last year one of my Creative Writing students came to me with a proposal for a poetry slam.  I said it sounded like a good idea, but she would have to plan it.  She did, and it was fantastic.  The day of the slam, the vice principal called me into her office and said, "I assume you've been approving all the submissions for the poetry slam?  There will be parents there, and I want to make sure everything is school-appropriate."

Jeez.  No.  Hadn't thought of that.  I called a hurried conference just before the slam and leafed through the pages.  One poem had a line about making out with a boyfriend and smoking cigarettes, and while this is certainly tame by HBO standards, we're a very conservative school.  I asked the student if she would tame it down a little.  "But I don't want to," she said.  Ah, youth.

I tried again: "Angie, there are nuns here."  There were.  Immediately she asked if we could get them to approve it, and relieved to be free of the burden, I said, "Sure!"

She turned to one of the religion teachers, who was nearby.  "Mrs. Lowe said this poem wasn't appropriate to read around nuns."  Well, I guess I technically did.  The sister was very gracious and said that although she didn't necessarily agree with the actions in the poem, it was Angie's "reality" and therefore acceptable in a poetry reading.

I'd felt bad about the way things happened, so quickly and without forethought, so later I sought the sister out to apologize.  "Oh, I wasn't offended," she said.  "But I do think there's a problem with saying something's not appropriate just because of who's present.  Either it's appropriate, or it's not."

I've heard this argument before about movies: if you won't let your kids watch it, you shouldn't watch it either.  And I agree with it, to a point.  Yes, there's some stuff out there that's inappropriate to say, think, do or even watch in the presence of any human being.  But there's also room for maturity: I have been known to let fly a chosen swear word for purposes of humor and / or drama, but I would certainly never do so in church, or in front of my grandmother.  And in turn, I am honored when people refuse to repeat a dirty joke or show a graphic film in my presence. To me, it connotes respect: "You're too good for that."  There was a time when this applied to all women, not just nuns, and it's too bad that time has passed.