Monday, February 1, 2010

Don't Call Me Ma'am...

It's been one of those days. I knew they'd come. Those days when I feel my "age." Afterall, I'm a 40 something returning to college. Even if the university does have a higher percentage than some colleges of older students...still, I knew these days would come.

Today, a simple thing really got me thinking. The professor for World History II, was running late, and while waiting, I listened to the young kids (the traditional freshmen) in the row behind me. They were deep in conversation making fun of the professor. Her weight, her clothes, her demeanor...it was all fair game.

Part of me thought it was mean, but I could see where they were coming from. I'd had some of the same thoughts about this professor. I wasn't concerned about her appearance, but I did find her unsettling. She has a way of putting you on the spot that strikes terror in a student's heart - - it does in my heart! I'd talked on the phone with my sister that I thought she, with her erratic outbursts that seemed to shock the class into paying attention, "wasn't playing with a full deck."

Then, in the midst of these students behind me getting rowdy while one upping each other with clever derogatory comebacks, one of these students dropped his water bottle and, in the auditorium tiered classroom, it rolled down to my row. I picked it up and handed it to him and heard a very polite, "thank you, ma'am."

Ha! There it was. Ma'am. I'd already given myself a lecture not to take offense at this respectful title just because it made me feel old. Now, that's silly, I told myself. I tried to convince myself that maybe it's time I took it as a compliment. But coming on the heels of this overheard conversation, the generation gap hit me. Obviously, I wasn't part of their world. I might be a student, but I was ma'am. The goofing off behind me halted and I had a strange, strange feeling. Had I somehow busted it up? Did I, with my simple interruption done out of politeness, put a damper on their talk? For all I know, they were making gestures about the "old lady" behind my back. Who just might be me.

That makes me grumble to myself at the unfairness. Don't these cool, smart kids know I'm a cool mom who plays with her son in the sandbox and makes snow angels? No, they don't.

And I get a bit of empathy for "the crazy professor." Maybe she has her reasons to shock the living daylights out of her students!

In the next few moments, the professor came in and began taking attentance. "Is George here?" she demanded. George was one of the kids behind me. George, in fact, was the one who'd said...and I quote, "watch out, she'll go all samari warrior on you if you answered a question wrong." When George said, in a respectful tone, "here," she then paused. She looked at George and said, "You weren't in my world religions class this morning. Is it too early for you?"

Maybe she knew she had to crack the whip! *LOL* But in an odd way, I'm not so afraid she will put ME on the spot. Maybe she knows I don't need it. I'm a ma'am afterall. (shhh....she doesn't need to know I called her crazy to my sister!).

So what does any of this have to do with writing a romance novel? A lot actually. It's all made me think that, no matter what our age and position in life, there is probably something we can identify with in nearly any other group outside of our own. I can relate, in some small way, to both the students twenty years my junior and to the professor who strikes fear in my heart.

It's sometimes harder to see in the real world. Often, we feel like we have nothing in common. But it's there. On the outside, we might not see it. But in the written words of a novel we can get beneath the stereotypes and find the common insecurities. I can read a romance novel and identify with a young girl in a historical. I can read a contemporary novel about a professionally successful heroine, and if she has insecurities, I can relate. If there is humor, in anyone's age group, I can relate.

What role do you think age plays when it comes to identifying with characters? Either reading or writing them?

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