Spare Write

I assign and grade a lot of writing for college students: diaries, papers, biographical analyses, idea pitches, investor papers and more.  So, I now understand a joke from seminary.

So, do you have professor ____?

Yes.  Is he interesting?

I think so, but he assigns lots of papers!

How does he grade?

By the pound.

I had the good professor, and he did assign papers and I know he did not read them (mine).  I put wild things about him in the papers, and they came back with a letter grade on the front page: all else undisturbed.  “A”s mostly.

He assigned a notebook.  I bought a ream of notebook paper with hole punches.  I divided the ream into two halves.  I inserted one half in the middle of the front half of my notes, and the other half towards the end of assigned papers.  I did not intersperse new pages among my notes, readings, and other printed materials.  They remained nice, white blocks of virgin paper in two slots.

I made an “A”.  It made me sad.

But my students write like that.  Many write to fill ten pages rather than to say something.  I enjoy the 15%  who do write, who do struggle to say something.  With some of them I edit everything as mercilessly as Pam Schlueder did for me as an aspiring writer in Journalism 2021 at UT.

My first goal with her was a Pulitzer Prize.  My second goal became to receive a paper with more black ink than red ink.  She taught me to write.

My fat baby ways, my porcine fillers were slashed.  They offended her.  “There are” and “There is” vanished on sight.  Passive verbs, axed.  “That” obliterated.  Intransitive verbs seemingly followed a red pen stroke to the edge of the paper before tumbling to the Abyss.  Multiple prepositional phrases, gerundizing, participial verbing — all vanquished.

So today, when a student shows promise I strive to show writing as a craft, a skill.  And like playing the piano; you practice hundreds of hours mechanically before genius flows over proficiencies mastered and draws in the listener.

They are shocked when I hand back 60% of their paper and it says what they attempted, only better.  More than that, they are shocked when I hand back the paper.

And some are learning to write and communicate.  Some even buy into the fact that writing better forces them to think better.  Maybe I should join them!

Old Chinese Proverb

I know.

You know.

But still, we think we might “get by” on this one.

You buy the used Subaru, love it, and walk out with only one key.  The second key is 175.00, and that is steep for you.

A year later, in the run up to Christmas the key vanishes.  It is what we now call “a crummy miracle”.  And they abound.  Dog leashes, baby’s anythings, the fifty you were holding for a rainy day…vanished.  Seriously passed into dark energy, awaiting physicists to find the other 93 % of the universe.  Think of it for a second.  Much, much more of the universe is missing than is found.

The replacement keys (it is time to purchase two, like we might have done in the first place) are 215.00 apiece.  After you have the car towed 50 miles to the dealership.

Old Chinese proverbs: replace the tire and spare now. Pay the insurance, electric, phone bills today, walk now, lose the weight last week. And buy the second key, while it is still cheap.  Saying what is wise takes no effort at all.

Doing what is wise is simple, but hard.   So hard.