Letters to the Editor, Big Mouths, and Getting Slapped Down

By definition, a blogger is a bigmouth. He or she wants to say things out loud, write them down, and have others read them. As I noted in my ‘Happy Birthday Blog’ post last year, I intended this blog to be a ‘letter-to-the-editor plus notebook and scrapbook space,’ one where I could sound off and be sure of my ‘complaints’ being published. Part of the reason for that desire was that my publication track record with letters to the editor was pretty dismal: 2-for-God knows how many. But one of those two got me into trouble.

In 1988, having finished my first year of graduate school and cohabitation with three other graduate students in a small tw0-bedroom apartment, I was ready for a change. My living quarters felt both cramped and expensive. An advertisement for a graduate resident assistant at my graduate school promised deliverance; I’d get room and board. And not just any old ‘room and board’, I’d have my own room. I promptly filled out an application, sent it in, and was called in for an interview.

The interview went well. I met the director of student affairs and a couple of the current resident assistants; I was quizzed about hypothetical disciplinary situations and my responses seemed to evoke favorable responses from my interlocutors. I emerged from the meeting feeling mildly optimistic about my chances. A day or so later, one of the resident assistants contacted me to tell me that he thought my chances were outstanding, that I had ‘impressed everyone.’ I was ecstatic. A better living and financial situation awaited.

Around the same time, an event described as ‘World Week’ was being staged in our graduate school. This was a pretty generic business, designed to cater, somehow, to the diverse international student body: there were posters, food stands, music performances. You get the picture. But on the very first day of this carnival of conviviality, I noticed something amiss: a poster, issued by the Chinese Ministry of Tourism, featuring a Tibetan landscape with the slogan: ‘Beautiful, Mysterious, Tibet’.

I was enraged. An occupied territory being advertised thus? Why had the organizers permitted this propaganda mongering? I walked over to the nearest computer lab, sat down and dashed off a letter to the student newspaper, one brimming with pique at this slight to the Tibetan people, finishing off with a flourish: ‘It is ironic that an event which purports to increase our knowledge of other cultures has served instead to showcase the organizers’ ignorance.’

A few days later, my letter ran in the student newspaper. I picked up a copy, saw my letter and my name in print, and feeling absurdly pleased, carried it home with me to show to my roommates. My elation didn’t last long. My friend, the incumbent resident assistant, accosted me in a hallway a day later: ‘Are you fucking nuts?! Do you know who organized World Week? R____, the director of student affairs, who interviewed you for the RA job. He’s mad as all hell. He can’t believe someone wrote such a nasty letter to the student paper.’ My response was equal parts incredulity and dismay: ‘Are you serious? He’s not going to hire me for the RA position because of this?’ Was the director of student affairs really so thin-skinned?

Two days later, I had my answer; I received a polite rejection letter in the mail. No rent-free room; no room of my own on campus. Back to the shared bedroom, the suburban commute. And whenever I ran into R___ again on campus, he walked past me with nary a trace of recognition on his face. I never applied for a RA position again.

But I’m not sorry I wrote that letter to the editor.

4 thoughts on “Letters to the Editor, Big Mouths, and Getting Slapped Down

  1. it doesn’t get better as one gets older. as it can be tough to survive off the nourishment of one’s integrity, the only hope is that somehow as one gets older, one develops enough financial insulation to sustain oneself against such petty acts of retaliation, or comes to terms with a life of unemployment and rejection…. horkheimer had it right on that count.

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