The Writer’s Mind
Writing a la King
Who Says I have to Write?
(College Injustice and Beyond)
College Composition I irritated me and College Composition II irritated me more. I can and will elaborate, but first, I have something else to get out of the way. High school writing was crap for me; most of my time was spent drafting five paragraph responses to questions that followed dissection of British literature—the kind you spend hours deciphering. The kind that makes me want to drink heavily. I did what was necessary to receive A’s, but after I received a graded paper, its content, purpose, and entire existence left my mind—permanently. I think this whole “purpose” thing was what eluded me for so long. I, personally, am not a medievalist so I did not and still do not have much of a perspective on the Protestant Reformation, the Ostrogoths or the god-damn Carolingian Renaissance. If I was writing to appease a teacher’s perspective that I thought belonged in the trash, I never put effort into it; I gave him a well-written formal, dull essay. And, teachers praised me, rewarded me with comments in blue ink, not the red “what were you thinking” ink—they told me I had fair comprehension, decent syntax, and a somewhat organized writing process. And so, I did this until I passed all the federal, state, alien-nation, and fascist requirements up to the twelfth grade; and, it was nauseating. This entire period was really an “I hate writing phase” for me; I refused to read Hamlet, couldn’t tolerate the movie any more and ultimately decided I had no need to write an analysis about it. Usually, I was drawing my English teachers in a fashion that left them resembling the Minotaur.
I hope I didn’t disgruntle you, my cherished reader, by using the word “crap” in what I hope comes across as a solid first installation of my writing experiences. Through my numerous “stages” of growing as a “writer,” (haha) I have valued one fundamental more than any other—I say what I mean and mean what I say. I am not practicing litigation here. Words, I think, are very aesthetic; “crap” is hardly pleasing, (it’s no “heretofore” or “recalcitrant” but it conveys a clarity I doubt a more polite synonym could instill. I love harsh words, I love verbalizing them and I love writing them onto paper (especially academic papers) because I love to be defiant. Toward the end of high school, but more so in my introductory composition classes in college, I began saying what I meant. When the professor asked me to map out a persuasive topic, I decided to write “Stop Infringing My Second Amendment.” The next day, I came in with a sub-par political rant and the professor (who smelled of pipe smoke, mahogany, and leather-bound books) asked me if I really wanted people running the streets with assault weapons. I looked at him and told him he was a bottom-feeder. No, I’m kidding, I only thought it. I’m not that defiant—after I receive my degree, I will be that defiant. He didn’t smell like mahogany either, he smelled like Newports. I just have this imagery of many of my former professors wearing tweed and wandering their libraries searching endlessly for literature on croquet.
I still managed to write within my own boundaries. I was able to articulate in a way that basically said what I wanted to say, but met guidelines and expectations and all that nonsense too.
So, that was College Composition I, College Composition II was more of an endurance test. I read short stories and poetry (poetry I simply cannot relate to, I’m sorry, it’s just not my thing) and constructed generic essays about underlying themes, character traits, and well, that “moral of the story” kind of thing. If I could recall the titles of half of those stories, I would gladly share, but I sold that textbook back to the bookstore as soon as I was home free from that class. I do think I enjoyed Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. I wrote a paper about Nora deceiving Torvald and ultimately walking out on the relationship (at least I think that’s what it was about) and I got an A. I ripped apart the entire Nora character and I think I made the professor laugh a little on the inside. So, I wrote an abundance of these “response” type essays and then the dreaded poetry section protruded its elitist self.
“Ugggh,” was really all I had to say. I just don’t get anything out of poetry; Frost I can at least respect. Kerouac, on the other hand I could not read. And, I despised the fact that I had to purchase an overpriced textbook that was seventy-percent Allen Ginsberg who was a vile commie. Cliff notes version—we were told to pick a poet, any poet, and analyze, line by line, a poem. I expressed little interest (why should I) and singled out one of the first selections Google so kindly presented to me. Again, I cannot recall her name or her poem or what I was thinking, but she was one of those feminist chicks.
“Triple ugggggh,” was once more all that came to mind. I dislike “she-power” or “feminazi” literature, but was far too lazy to try again. And, the poem was brief. So, I did what I was called upon to do—I analyzed, hypothesized about what her intentions were all about, and added my own judgment. Mind you, this particular professor was a hardcore jackass and it upset him to hand out A’s. Well, I enjoyed him, I suppose that doesn’t say much about myself, but he was mean and I admired it (he often exploited our own carefully crafted sentences on the board by scoffing and then going to town on our atrocities of the English language). He used red ink. Why would he use anything else? Nothing a student wrote was ever acceptable or matched his level of expertise. There was one occasion where he found fault with the frequent occurrences of em dashes in my essay, just so he could have something concrete in his own mind to bitch about. Only, the red ink on my essay didn’t suggest, “what were you thinking you imbecile?” Instead, he wrote: “well done and witty, much like the author herself.”
Post my unexpected poetry A grade, I became a little more confident and a little more willing to take time and put thought into my writing. I even proofread and did revisions for classmates. Nick, my first “college friend” constantly emailed me appalling first drafts of response/critical thinking/stupid task essays. Nick was a notorious D essay composer. His grammar usage sucked and he couldn’t construct complex sentences to save his life. Eager to help out a friend, rather than complete quadratic equations I would never solve anyway, I gave Nick suggestions and via Microsoft Word, inserted indentations, capitalizations, semi-colons, and endless commas. Commas tended to be problematic. And, the absence of one vital comma sent your grade cascading toward a big old C. So, Nick incorporated some of my suggestions into his work. And, you know what? His unavoidable D was now a B (personally, I stand by my belief that if the fool had implemented all of the changes, he would have gotten an A). That still resonates with me. So, maybe it’s unjust to say I hated or was irritated by the often tedious College Composition classes, I just found some of the material to be reminiscent of something a hippie smoked during an anti-war demonstration. Why was the other end of the political spectrum never once represented? But, that’s beyond the scope of what’s being explored in this writing—maybe next time? In the end, I profited by becoming a less afraid, more antagonistic writer. I like to antagonize, even when I’m not writing. I learned that maybe, quite possibly my talent was hidden in the ability to write intelligent opposition (whether it be regarding profound literature which I hated to read or popular belief from which I dissented). As I mentioned, I had an English professor who professed more on the evil of firearms than the importance of an introduction, body, and conclusion of an essay. I cannot express to my reader how agitating it is to be lectured on why the Constitution is out-dated and no longer applies to today’s societal atmosphere. Considering the circumstantial evidence, I am confident in saying he was a vile commie, as well.
I was thrilled with the idea of aggravating someone with beliefs I could express in written form. And, if I did it coherently and met expectations, how could they not give me a good grade? I have been proven wrong, however. I once wrote a ten page paper detailing the multiple mental illnesses affecting Joseph Stalin—yes, I used up ten pieces of tree to confirm to my audience of one that Stalin was bat-shit retarded. The conclusion—I was given a B because I took a “radical approach.” Oh well, he was not only a history professor, but an avid theatrical performer; that in itself is an argument of one’s sanity. Still, I persist, I write what I want. There are always restrictions: if I’m assigned to write an essay about my perspective on compulsory school uniforms, I cannot go ahead and turn it into a tale of my hatred of senior-citizen drivers. The worst guidelines are those requiring you to include three or more cheesy metaphorical usages or similes. I dislike adding “colorful” literary tools to my writing. Actually, I think it assigns a futile demise of sorts. Stuff like that detracts from a style like mine; it’s a fabrication and a lie, not something that would ever leave my mouth. Now, tell me to inject three or more expletives in a piece (totally more my forte) and I’ll have Tipper Gore attacking me like E. coli on room temperature cow parts. Did you like that? See, I know how to use colorful literary tools; I just choose not to. I never liked summarizing an essay with the pathetically overused “in conclusion.” It’s as if you’ve abruptly ended your address to the nation from your bed as you type on your laptop—all a result of your battery failing. I see nothing wrong with composing in bed; I do it all the time. But, I won’t say “in conclusion” out of desperation. I passed my high school assessments and you can’t make me write like that anymore! I’m saying “you” like I’m actually blaming you (the present reader) for my disliking of a common writing technique. If it makes you feel better, you are more of an amalgamation of caustic theories, professors, criticisms and whatever the hell I feel like including, that I have endured throughout my academic writing.
The moral of my story is (or, if you insist, IN CONCLUSION blah blah blah) that I was forced to write a lot of narratives, expositions, persuasive substance, and junk that I would never just sit down and decide to write on my own accord. I struggled, complained (am still complaining), wrote the stuff and realized what my strengths and weaknesses were. I believe my opinionated carry ons and enraged rants are where my honest creative wit makes a name for itself and my inability to relate to the classics, poetry, or tree-hugging conventions undoubtedly hurt me; oh, that kills me. Sometimes, I just can’t find purpose when the task at hand bores me—so, my purpose becomes examining what’s wrong with the task. Ask me my thoughts on contemporary poetry and I will take sudden interest in my shoes. I would rather give you five pages on the New York Giants offensive line. But, when I have the opportunity to combat all that is wrong with contemporary poetry, I think I can produce something worth reading.
Box o’ Tools
(Or Me Just Being Preachy)
I don’t have a tool box. I have a messy desk drawer filled with pens with no caps, crumpled up paper, and some intangible objects I feel writers should have. There are probably half-eaten bags of almond M&Ms in this drawer, as well, but that’s really none of your concern, is it? My primary necessity is having the capability to hear a topic and formulate some kind of perspective about it, even if I’d rather eat dirt than spend my nights writing about it. People often tell themselves:
“I know nothing about the ‘concept of global warming that has yet to be proven’ or ‘house-flipping,’ so there’s no way I can write five pages about the stuff.” I don’t think there is a single thing wrong with questioning the validity of an abstract or going so far as to disprove a widely accepted idea; you just have to do it with conviction. I can’t convince the reader of something if I don’t believe in what I’m saying. You may think you’re doing a swell job of bullshitting yourself and everyone else, but readers will know when what they’re reading is false. You should bring yourself to the point where you find it sickening to lie, in writing and in the rest of your life, too—people will respect you more.
This next one is the most challenging—if you refuse to dedicate time to your writing, you will ultimately fail. I hate wasting time during the day writing; I’d rather be tanning. So, I allot time for writing at night. I have time to toss around ideas and conceptualize while I’m baking muffins. At night, I am most at ease with my thoughts, so I can sit down and the writing simply flows. There are invariably bumps along the way; I can fix those later. Maybe, for you, the morning provides the clearest insight into whatever idea you’re writing about (I can barely move in the morning).
It’s also important to have someone else look over your work. Do they immediately see your intentions or do they struggle in establishing the theme? The problem here is that some people are handed a paper and can’t fight the need to correct flaws in grammar. I am one of these people. If I see a misuse of “that” and “who,” I probably will find it difficult to read about the big, blue dinosaur’s first day of school. So, don’t ask me to read your paper—ask someone who will read in order to uncover a story and to learn something. They will be able to tell you if what you’re saying actually makes any kind of literary sense. Revision can come later. You can have perfect sentence structure, but if your storytelling ability is crap, no one will want to read it in the first place. Now, I’m not advocating you publish 500 pages of Ebonics, I appreciate intelligent writing. I just think, initially, grammar should take a backseat.
One of my last suggestions is, in fact, quite tangible. I always rely on a thesaurus. Especially if you’re writing twenty pages, using “nice,” “wonderful,” and “bad” three-million times becomes awkward. Using a thesaurus in the right manner is crucial—don’t seek the longest, ugliest, syllable-laden word ever created. More so, become acquainted with words that you may not use a whole lot, but are great alternatives to the sometimes over-used ones. And, with time, these may become your weapons of choice (too frequently) and you will need to send them back to the desk drawer while you discover new words. An expansive vocabulary is a great one. But, the wordiest of words, like margaritas, must be consumed in moderation. You don’t want readers thinking you reside in the city of pretension. Use a thesaurus, and you may endearingly call your city “ostentation.” People have a tendency to write down words that don’t ordinarily come out of their mouths in casual conversation. Stick to writing what you know; your results will be more coherent and the way readers perceive your writing will be more congruent with what you want them to take away from the writing.
You can write a descriptive essay about your backyard or narrative of your last Bon Jovi concert. Or, you could even write a critical essay about why Rocky V should never have been made. What is the connector? Some may disagree, but I think everything you write should contain a piece of you. I want the reader to know instantly that I wrote Rocky V is Garbage. Define your own style and make it prevail.