“Rhythms,” by Tyrone Malik Cato

I had known Tyrone for more than a year before he finally told me that he went by Malik. I was one of the few people who used his first name, and as we set about The Invictus Writers project, he corrected me.

In my time at Ball State, he was the second student who allowed me to call him by the wrong name instead of correcting me. I find that particular fact about Malik amusing, but it’s also a good indicator of our relationship (although I’ll get more into that in just a minute).

What I do know about Malik is this: He feels the world in very visceral ways. This young man’s emotions sit just below the surface, bubbling up every now and then. As a storytelling teacher, I was excited to see that because while I can teach structure, I can’t teach the emotions that ultimately drive the story.

With that said, I’m proud to present Tyrone Malik Cato’s essay, “Rhythms,” the sixth (and final) essay in this year’s The Invictus Writers’ collection, Gently Used. This story follows Malik’s journey of self-discover and ultimately self-acceptance, two journeys we must all attemp.

***

I don’t really understand Malik in any meaningful way beyond his writing. There are just some students who — for whatever reason — remain at a distance from you.

Malik, though, hasn’t stayed at a distance. He survived my Introduction to Magazine writing class. He would on ocassion stop by my office, and he asked to be part of The Invictus Project. He was, by all accounts, the type of student I normally expect to do well in this environment; however, I wasn’t even sure I was going to let him in the project.

Malik (or Tyrone as I knew him when he took my class) was clearly more talented than the other writers in my class. He’d obviously spent a great deal of time earlier in his life honing, crafting, and learning how the language worked.

He could mimic the form. His writing was smooth. His transitions solid. His narrative loosely held together.

What he couldn’t do was turn his work in on time. Nor, it seemed, would be proofread his work. He had developed such a proficiency with the language that I suspected he would write his assignments in huge bursts just before the due date. In other classes, I figured his work would trump most others and he’d slide by with an A.

In my classes, you are graded based upon your skill level (and not in comparison to others). As such, I spent a great deal of time giving Malik a hard time, and he responded by retreating.

***

I tell my students that grades don’t matter, but if I’m honest with myself I expect that none of them truly buy into my talk whiel they are in school. We spent years training them to memorize answers and regurgitate them on demand. The best memorizers are praised, and the worst are punished.

Failure, in my classes, is a teaching tool. You can consistently fail assignments and still come out with a good grade because you’re ultimately being graded upon the process you go through. In Malik’s case, he got an A (I assume) but he’d failed the process.

If I’m going to spend my time working with young writers, I would rather spend my time working with someone who has less talent but more drive. I will happily work with a student determined to learn instead of student who coasts.<

When Malik left my class, I decided he wouldn’t be part of The Invictus Project.

***

I don’t have a recollection of exactly how he ended up in the project. Once students are marked off my list, I don’t spend much time trying to reel them back in. I have a very simple life philosophy: Spend time on the positive.

Malik, however, wanted to be part of Invictus, and I agreed to hear his pitch to me. I did tell him that he would need to convince me that our past experience together wouldn’t be indicative of his work. I knew he would write one of the better essays, but Invictus is about so much more than just writing the best essay.

The project is about writing with other people. It’s about opening yourself up to writers, exposing your process to them. It’s about depending on each other, and helping each other.

To do that, you must be present and participate. The writers must write fearlessly and edit ferociously.

Malik came to my office, and made his case.

***

Without giving away too much of our process (I let the writers share what they want on the blog; the rest remains between us), Malik dove into the project.

He wasn’t always the most vocal, but when he shared his stories he captivated the room. When he received his edits, he dove into his rewrites (all the way up until the very end as he was still tweaking his story). He brought together his talent and his passion into this project.

Like several others in this group, I’m not sure what’s next for Malik. I think he’s got a passion for the writing, and I hope he chooses to pursue it (as futile as this profession can sometimes be). The world needs to read words with this type of passion.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.