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!

i wonder if i can love enough

When I met and married Jill, I was in professional ministry: stuff we can now do for free.  As a seminary trained minister, I allowed me to think I was, what?  More spiritual?  A little better?  I am not sure.

It evidenced often.  Here’s a way.  Jill loved horses and Colorado.  Loves.  And I wondered subconsciously if maybe she loved them more than Jesus, or God.

When we married, I knew for a while that I loved Jill more than anything, but I “corrected” that by relearning to love Jesus first.  Again, I got paid to believe like that.

I spent another thirty years with Jill.  I resigned from church work, and I now play at being honest.  I say “play” because honesty without love or grace is an all-consuming monster.  Brave souls have faced it and been ground to dust.  Many write novels to journal it.

In my honesty I found nothing affects me like a horse or mountains move Jill.  Okay, I weep at some books or movies, but it’s different: not as structural, as fundamental as is Jill’s love for horses like Firefrost or Dartagnan; or the Princeton Valley, Chalk Cliffs, and skiing the Rockies.

I ride bikes.  Clear land.  Work in wood.  Ski.  Write.  Travel some, and nothing grabs me like being on a horse on a snowy day grabs, sustains, heightens, infuses Jill’s day with light and hope.

Which caused me to go back and hear John, whom I translated from Greek: [1 John 4:20] “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

Jill loves her brothers and sisters, and we see them more than mine.  Jill loves our grand-kids, and goes to lengths to babysit them more than me.  Jill also walks our land and draws strength up out of the ground through her boots — when I see all that needs to be done.  Jill also loves Lewis and MacDonald as if they were fiances she lost in the war.

And John shattered my thinking.  Jill has been passionately crazy about people and things God has crafted for her and handed her — far more than anyone I know.

So God, by way of John, is using Jill, not my measuring stick, to show me: Loving who and what has been evidenced to me by God, is the first step in really learning to love the One who created them as evidence of His love to — me.

This may be a great year to learn to love more.