Turns out I'm not actually much of a lost cause after all.
When I walked into the chilly little conference room where rectangular folding tables and chairs had been arranged three-deep, I decided I was going to stuff my natural inclination to hide somewhere in the back of the class and be passive in every possible way. I was going to participate. So, I didn't sit at the first table, but I didn't sit at the last either. I sat at the second table, at the end closest to the wall facing the door.
Giving the presentation was this sprightly older woman with grown children of her own. She dotted her "i"'s with little circles and said things like "a positive attitude is contagious." She introduced herself and explained that, with her husband working and kids gone, she took a job at the Workforce Center and gave these classes because she loves interacting with the public, it was one of her passions. Then we were encouraged to go around the room and introduce ourselves and name our passion. Luckily she started at the back table, which was the most full, so I had at least a little bit of time to not listen to other people's introductions and try to figure out what my "passion" is. I started kind of listening when she got to my table and was in fact rather interested when she got to the girl who was sitting next to me.
It didn't escape my attention that my very presence in this class, among the others who seemed to be in attendance, didn't paint me in an especially good light. The class started at 9:00 AM and most of the people there looked like they had just stayed up all night in order to get there at that hour rather than set an alarm. Although much time seemed to have been spent applying makeup and fixing bleached or colored or permed hair, not many of the women in attendance took similar care in selecting professional-looking clothes, opting instead for short shorts or ill-advised leggings and oversized shirts with graphics like "God, Guns, and Guts Made America." The girl sitting next to me had a really painful-looking black eye and had already been talking to me like we were old friends by the time she introduced herself.
I had been agonizing over what my passion was going to be, but she had to stop talking to me, mid-sentence, to make her introduction and declare her passion to the class and she stumbled upon the best "passion" one could have, given the type of job opportunities which seemed most readily available for this, my, demographic. She loved fast food: cooking it, serving it, especially the drive-thru. She wanted to go back to college and learn to "talk good" and get some kind of business degree so she could manage a fast food restaurant.
I was so busy thinking about her life when it was time to give my introduction that I kind of just blurted out my name and said I enjoyed writing. As soon as they moved on to the next person, this girl next to me started talking to me again.
"You like writing? I'm actually a published author," she announced.
Then I was really interested. "Really? That's really cool. What did you write?" I had to ask.
She said, "Remember back in grade school, they had that "young author" award?"
I did remember. She said she had won in fifth grade for a story about a lost horse. Then she proceeded to tell me about the last time she got out of prison.
By the end of the class I had learned that first impressions last a lifetime, that Spanky the drug-dealer gave this girl a ride home from prison, that we should all prepare a "master resume" and a "targeted resume," that this girl had a son named "Camo, after camouflage," and that the windshield of a car is so big and the rear view mirror is so small because we shouldn't focus too much on what is already behind us and look instead to our big and bright futures.
On our way out I stopped to thank the woman who had given the class and I shook her hand. That day I happened to have some blue string with some beads on it braided into my hair. I was instantly self-conscious about it when I had walked in, but this woman now said that she really liked my hair and asked how I had done it. For some reason, her saying that to me lent some dignity to the whole experience and I left feeling really good. Or maybe a positive attitude really is contagious.