A compliment

should be given

right away

to someone

who has been

vulnerable

for the sake of

artistic expression.

The compliment

should not

be delayed or

tempered

with criticism.

Once,

during my first year

as a teacher,

an awkward 7th grade boy

in my class,

with hair hanging

over his eyes,

and freckles,

murmured,

barely moving his mouth,

“Would you like to read my

writing?”

And his several loose,

scrawled pages

passed

from

his fist

to

my hands.

When I read them at home that night,

although his handwritten script

was barely legible,

I glimpsed his fluency,

how he evoked the hard-boiled voice

of the narrator —a detective—

and the image of rain

slanting

through the circle

of a streetlight.

The next morning

he looked up at me

as he waited,

holding his folders in his arms,

outside the classroom door.

I should have smiled and said,

“I’m so impressed!

You are a Writer.

I am honored

that you trusted me enough

to show me your work.

Will you please finish this story?

I’m dying

to see how it comes out.”

But for some misguided reason

having to do with not overpraising students’ writing

lest it make them dependent upon our praise,

I could not,

or did not,

find it in my heart

to pay him a compliment.

I did pay

for that mistake

for the rest of the year

through this boy’s

behavior issues, though.

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