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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I Can Be a Heartless Bastard




I’ve mentioned in this blog that I am currently enrolled at the local community college (Des Moines Area Community College).  I’m taking the last few general education classes I need to finally finish my bachelor’s degree (I know, I know… I’m on the twenty five year plan…) one of which is an English Composition class. It’s a required class; I have to take it in order to complete the degree requirements.

It’s a writing class – and a very basic one.  So far we’ve reviewed (in painstaking detail) how to use punctuation and quotation marks, and the difference between direct and indirect quotations, the difference between adverbs and adjectives, and so on.  Much of this (should I say all?) is remedial for me, though I’m still trying to make the class a learning experience; I haven’t written it off as beneath me or unnecessary.  I’m not so vain as to say that I’m such a great writer that I don’t need any instruction from anyone.  (I’m vain, but not that vain…)

Last week we were given the assignment to write in response to a remembered event.  Our papers were required to do the following:

* Describe the event in great detail.
* Incorporate a good hook.
* Use dialogue – in fact, the dialogue was to the defining part of the essay.
* Include an in depth reflection on the theme or meaning of the event, both on a personal and a universal level. 
* Be in first person.
* Be between 1000 – 1500 words.

You can (if you want) read my paper here. Tonight, during class, we were to share our papers with one of our peers and to edit each other’s work. 

You must stop here and have a silent moment of pity for the poor girl who got stuck with me as her partner for this peer editing, because I marked up every sentence of her paper.  Every. Single. Sentence.  I was merciless.

It was several hundred words short of the minimum word length, had no dialogue, and was not in first person.  There were sentences without subjects.  There were sentences without verbs.  There was at least one sentence with neither a subject nor a verb – if such aberrations can be described as sentences. She chose to write her paper about the effects of Hurricane Katrina – a powerful and memorable event, to be sure- but her paper had nothing of the personal or universal reflections that the assignment called for.  I crossed out words.  I added punctuation.  I moved paragraphs.  I crossed out an entire paragraph that was an accidental duplication of an earlier paragraph, so her paper was even further away from the minimum number of words.

I realized that I could not hand this paper back to her – after I had marked up Every. Single. Sentence. – without offering some helpful and constructive words, and kind words as well.  I didn’t want her to think that I was tearing up her work just because I’m a heartless bastard who delights in kicking puppies and crushing the hopes and dreams of young women. 

I told her what was good about her paper, and there was some good in it.  It was not completely devoid of merit.  I told her what was her paper was still lacking, and provided a few ways she could correct those deficiencies.   She’s 19, 20 years old, maybe.  And this is her first writing class; in fact, this is one of her first college level classes. I didn’t want to ruin her writing experience; I didn’t want to crush her ambitions so early on. That should come later when she receives rejection letter after rejection letter from cold heartless bastard magazine and book editors…


(EDIT and - just so you will know that I can be a bastard to myself as well, I've corrected this little post twice three times since I first published it 20 40 minutes ago...)

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