Today's Sunday Scribbling prompt is to write about writing. The following is a true confession...
About half of my “professional time” is devoted to arranging words into a coherent form. People who read articles I’ve written or hear speeches I’ve composed often ask how I do it, thinking there is some great secret. I honestly don’t know how I do it for I hated English in High School. The excuses I used to get out of class were the only bits of creativity I showed at the time. I didn’t do much better in college. It was a miracle that I got through English 101. Going into the end of my first semester, I’d assumed I was doomed and would be booted out of college and end up in the military or the French Foreign Legion. I skipped the class so many times that the professor hardly knew me. But for some crazy reason, after having resigned my fate to failing my first semester, I decided to take the comprehensive English exam that was given by the University to all 101 students. You had to pass an exam consisting of three parts to get through the class. I would have easily failed, if my scored depended only on the grammar part, but there were two required essays for which I received high marks. I could always tell a story and that’s what I did and to my surprise, those grading the papers were impressed. Since only about a third of the folks in my class had passed the comprehensive exams on the first go around (you got two chances before having to repeat the class), my professor passed me. She gave me a D, and it would be the last one I received in school. English 102 involved a research paper and I sailed through that class. By the time I had finished college, I was still struggling with grammar and the basics, but I always had a secretary or girlfriend to proof my text and to clean up my language (well, not cleaning it up in the way your probable thinking of, but to make sure verbs and subjects generally agreed with one another). Then I went back to grad school. I loved it, but I also realize right away that my language skills were a determent.
After two years of study in a three year program, I was making okay grades, but I felt I needed a break. I sought out an internship and moved to Nevada for a year. During this sabbatical from school, I decided to go back to the beginning and I enrolled once again in an English 101 class. By this point in my life, I knew the importance of language and immersed myself. After the first assignment, the professor asked me to stay after class. “What are you doing here?” she asked as she waved my paper in the air. “If can write like this, you shouldn’t be in this class.” I told her my goals for the class and she agreed to work with me, being tougher on grammar and the basics. For the next four months, I wrote weekly papers for the class. When she assigned a paper about Woodstock (this was in the 80s, so Woodstock was still in our psyche), I impressed her with my knowledge of history. My essay tied together the community’s past link to weapon manufactures (referring to the wood stocks used on rifles), with the anti-war movement of the 60s. My professor praised my paper to the whole class, saying that she learned new things about the event, only to be embarrassed when I confessed to making the whole thing up. She never said our assignment had to be factual. On another occasion, I found just how conservative the 80s had become when I interpreted the writings of Stephen King through a Marxist lens. It was satire and still think that was my best writing for the class, but my fellow students got so hung up on Marx that they failed to catch the humor. Perhaps I should have mentioned Gaucho.
After a year in Nevada, I headed back east to finish school. My last year was easier, and I found that without doing any extra work, I was easily earning 4.0s. Retaking freshman English had been a good investment. Still I occasionally struggle with details and am a terrible proof reader of my own work, but as this blog is testifies, I no longer hate writing.