Humor is also a way of saying something serious. - T. S. Eliot

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back to School Essay

I walked into my Saturday morning writing seminar, "The Sentence," with great hopes of learning some technical tricks for avoiding run-ons, passive voice, and an overall tightening of skills. I hoped I would gain some sort of technical knowledge that would give my writing the edge that a professional has. 

A law professor, an ex-smoker, and a woman with more facial hair than the neatly-groomed guy sitting across from her had already arrived.  Taking my seat in the back, close to the door,  my eyes were drawn to the neatly-groomed guy and his computer-generated name-tent letting us all know he was "Alex."  Alex began bouncing in his seat as another guy arrived, "Oh sit here!"  They began talking and I noticed they had matching lisps.  

Eventually, four women, newly suffering from empty-nest syndrome joined, and an "italian" play-ah swankered in. Our instructor started a stack of paper-clipped packets of information around the room. Passing the stack to the bearded woman beside me, I hear the sound of a stapler.


Alex handed his th-tapler to his friend as the two giggled over something. What I saw as I looked over at them struck me so funny, that I stopped breathing for a moment in order avoid laughing. Not only does the man named Alex, who groomed himself impeccably for an early Saturday morning writing class bring his own name-tent and th-tapler, but he had a whole pencil box full of rubberbands, paper-clips, extra staples, pens, pencils, white-out, and tape.  I love organization and preparation as much as the next obsessive-compulsive personality, but the well-divisioned supply box this man had, though impressive, seemed a little over the top for a three-hour class.  But, I was already loving his quirks.
Our instructor began the class. "Let's get to the deep subject of propositions (or was it prepositions) which is what we are all here for."  I hoped that whatever he had just said was going to meet my expectations for learning the mysterious knowledge and rules that MUST be out there when it comes to writing professionally.

Half-way through the class, as he discussed mixing conjunctives with subortinative modifications as his preferred style of writing, I began to despair. I could not keep up with the base clauses,  modifiers, bound modifiers, and paradygmatic decisions. I had managed not to wet my pants when the law professor told our instructor to seek psychoanalysis after drawing an oddly shaped ice-berg, but Alex and his friend couldn't stop giggling about the iceberg penis.

Once I decided to stop enjoying the comedy of Alex and resume paying attention, the instructor shared something profound.  "You don't need to know how the engine of a car works in order to drive it."  And I, with my mediocre level of intelligence and lack of a fancy vocabulary thought, "there's hope, yet," when the instructor told us "writing can even be majestic with an average vocabulary."

Avoid cliches, be careful with similies, and the writer's overuse of adverbs is "expensive and doesn't embellish writing," were the last few drips of useful information I gained. If I didn't have to learn to dissect a sentence, then, maybe I'm closer than I think I am to becoming a writer.

"A lot of this is opinion- how to make writing work. There is no golden road to the right answer for what good writing is. If your readers like it, then you've done it." 

Confidence beginning to gather, I decided to tune out rearranging base clauses and watch the "Alex and Friend Show," listening just long enough to hear the instructor tell us "readers love it when writers are confident, I know I do."

It turns out, I did get what I came for after all. 

Leaving the class, Alex meets me on the stairs. "Did you have fun?"  "Yes," I had told him.  "Good! See you around, Shannon!"  The nerd in me was delighted he had had caught my name and actually chosen to remember me. "Maybe," I thought, "I am finally finding a place where I fit in, and where people will remember me, and where I can be confident in my own voice, even if....

especially if...

it is my written voice."

Class Bibliography
6 Must Have Books of Every Writer: 
1. "Grammar Desk Reference"

2. "Practical English Usage"

3.  "The Elements of Style"

4.  A Thesaurus

5. OED Dictionary

6.  "Higher Lessons in English"

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