Like many an amateur’s foray into the Collective Discourse, this blog begins with some navel-gazing about writing.
My Virtuous Self (the one who eschews carbs and studies Mandarin in his spare time) has long argued that I’d be happier if I devoted more time to writing. Being a clever homonculus, he has anticipated a variety of my objections. If I publish in the blogo-forest and nobody reads it, I suppose I’m still enriched by the exercise. The entire Twitterverse (excepting the brilliant Andy Borowitz) consists of billions of characters unconstrained by the criterion of materiality to human progress. And, most damningly, if I can find the time to peruse a Gossip Girl recap, surely I can commit some thoughts to virtual paper on a semi-regular basis? So, the experiment begins.
Perhaps my greatest fear in beginning this exercise is that it will reveal an inconvenient truth that I’ve begun to suspect: namely, that my writing is a lot crappier than it was in college. Yes, eye of the beholder and all that; but should I not have at least some concern that years of exposure to dry business prose, on the one hand, and the (shallow?) concision encouraged by our text-message culture, on the other, have conspired to ruin my capacity for coherent and engaging exposition? (Perhaps this is the Y-chromosome talking: if I don’t go the doctor, I can’t be sick, right?)
Ah, but the beauty of submitting to diagnosis in the public sphere is that shame is a powerful prescription. One of my favorite courses was a writing tutorial called “Daily Themes,” which featured (wait for it…) daily prompts that pushed us to explore specific elements of style and technique. (One favorite: write the same paragraph twice, one version using Germanic words, the other Latinate.) The class was always over-subscribed and preference was given to those majoring in English or some other humanities discipline. (Imagine: an English professor implying my degree was useless!). The rest of us had to submit a writing sample to weed out the most hopeless cases (consolation prize: you could always join the school newspaper for the thrill of daily deadlines and withering criticism!). I obsessed about finding the right vignette to show my exceptional emotional range and (in terms I didn’t have at the time) deep grasp of sensory-affective detail, finally finding a sure-fire winner…
As we settled in for the lecture after which our fates would be announced, the professor used the exercise to share some general wisdom even for those of us who were about to be rejected. One of the few grave offenses in writing, she warned, was to be trite. “If you could only imagine how many privileged undergraduates write stories about experiencing a moment of shared humanity with a homeless person!”
I was wait-listed for the course, but apparently the prospect of, yes, daily homework that could not be procrastinated was too much to bear for some, and my persistence in attending class paid off. I look back with pride on what I went on to produce that semester and continue to challenge myself to be richer, finer, sharper.
I’m honored to have your company.