Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Subject to interpretation

"There are three things you never ask a lady," I once told a class when they started asking personal questions. "Her age, her weight, and the entire contents of her purse."

That got a few laughs, and then they asked for each item of information. Fresh kids...

Tonight, I broke my own admonition. I don't advertise my age, and while I don't have a problem with my weight, it simply isn't relevant information. No, I displayed the contents of my purse.

The first assignment for my remedial class is one I borrowed from a colleague: they are to study the door of some figure on campus, trying to discern what the person is like based simply on what they can observe. It's a scaffold for a profile piece, where they actually interview the person to find out how on-target they are in their inferences. I had intended to bring pictures I had taken of my old cubicle, but in my rush to get out the door, I forgot to print them out.

So I improvised, giving them the same directive as the essay: they wouldn't actually be talking to the owner of the door (or purse), simply making inferences based on what they could see. I was thankful I'd taken the time to clear out some of the extra crap I'd been lugging around during my summer travel. There was still enough junk, though. Movie ticket stubs, car repair business cards, a Circuit City receipt, a couple crochet patterns, a Target receipt, punch cards for different places, my jump drive, a wallet, the checkbook, a Borders giftcard, a battered notebook with any number of things jotted down in it, my cellphone, a Walgreens giftcard I'd completely forgotten about. As I pulled things out to display, I started giggling before they did.

Finally, one person started laughing. "What?" I asked, thinking the randomness was starting to accumulate.

"You like coffee," she said.

"Oh? How do you know that?" She needed to support her illustration, dagnabit.

"You have three punch cards for different coffee places."

I hadn't even registered that fact. Of course, one was for my old campus and I no longer go there, but without that background info, it looks like... an addiction. Ahem.

"Good inference and use of supporting evidence," I said, laughing.

Shortly thereafter, I pulled out a drink card for a gas station. "This is not just for coffee, for the record," I explained, pointing out it was also for cold drinks.

"Like Mountain Dew?" she asked, gesturing to the 20 oz. bottle I'd nearly polished off. Student: 1, Twit: 0.

They made some good observations, over all, pegging me pretty quickly as a caffeine junkie. They guessed I'd had some car trouble by the number of business cards for repair places. Based on my movie stubs, crochet patterns, book-related items (lists and gift cards), and written directions to different places, they guessed I was a social person who wasn't too big a TV watcher (half right there... I don't watch much TV). I had a few coupons stashed away, too, which they read in context with the business cards, guessing I was one to shop around for a bargain.

If they can apply the same level of analysis in their paragraphs, I'm looking forward to reading them.

I think I may have been more amused by the whole thing than they were, though. I've joked about my purse being a microcosm of my life, but I guess it's true. I'm tickled by the coffee bit in particular. I know it's a vice; I didn't realize it was obvious.

Still, it's the worst vice I have. And really, it may be beneficial in the long run. Yep, I'm going to be a spry old bird. I'll probably still be crocheting, too. And enjoying books in some form. And to think, you can learn all that from my purse.

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