“This short-term pleasure will only last so long.”

I am ashamed of myself for neglecting my blog for virtually the entire month of December. I have been grading and grading and grading as those student essays, projects, major papers, portfolios, and finals juggernaut in.

The bright side is More Grist for the Mill.

My student was writing about the role of pleasure in the formation of unhealthy eating habits. She meant to say that the pleasure of appetite gratification is temporary, while the bad effects accrue over time and produce lasting suffering. Very true. But instead of saying “That Big Mac with cheese is only a short-term pleasure,” she began with “This short-term pleasure …” and then sought a verb that would emphasize the point. The point, of course, was that the pleasure was only short-term, and so unless she was going contrast it with long-term something-or-other the sentence really had nowhere to go, other than to double back on itself. Rather than start the sentence over, or express the other half of the thought, back she doubled.

And so she didn’t really write what she meant, or at least she didn’t manage to write all of what she meant.

What she DID write was a poignant, if self-defining, reminder of the ephemeral nature of pleasure (in this life of pain and toil). So young and yet so wise, or so disillusioned….

On the other hand, we might view her statement as less a cri de coeur than a carpe diem, and in that sense it’s not a bad reminder for the approaching family gatherings; parties; exchanges of gifts; lightings of candles and fireworks; quaffings of nogs, punches, and champagnes; samplings of cookies and candies; singings of auld-lang-synes: this short-term pleasure will last only so long [note that I myself prefer to place the modifier as close as possible to the word modified], so enter into the joy of the season whole-heartedly, appreciate the pleasures to the full. There’s a lot of winter yet to come, and the warm, bright memories will flicker still even into the darks and damps of January and February.

Especially if you’ve turned in your grades.


“Less radical than duking people into talking to a false identity…”

I learned a new term while reading student papers this past weekend: “catfish.” I thought I was relatively cyberliterate, but this one I hadn’t seen or heard. My student defined it for his reader: “Not the gill-bearing creature, but the person who creates a false identity on a social networking site to bait people to talk to him or her, and sometimes develop deep relationships. The ‘catfish’ most likely experienced some overwhelming event and uses the alias to escape the unpleasantness of that reality.” Now, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the definition, but at any rate you can see that the writer is no slouch at putting words on paper.

But then, alas, his vocabulary lets him down:

“Less radical than duking people into talking to a false identity is luring them into accepting a reality show as ‘reality.’”

You and I know what he meant. He meant “duping.”

Was this a typo or a mistake? I just went to Word and typed in “duking,” confidently expecting the red underline that means “misspelling” to appear (I’m getting it reliably from WordPress). But evidently Bill Gates is okay with “duking,” because I got neither red underline nor notification when I ran spell-check. “P” and “K” are fairly close on the keyboard, although not close enough to be typed with the same finger…. So maybe it was just an unflagged typo.

Certainly, though, my friend Mr. Webster has no use for “duking.” As far as he’s concerned, “duke” is a noun. It might refer to a “sovereign ruler of a duchy” or other top-ranked hereditary nobleman; it might refer to a kind of hybrid cherry (no idea why); perhaps in relation to the power of the ruler, it might be slang for fist, “especially in the plural.” I could imagine a verbal form, but he doesn’t offer “to duke” as, perhaps, “to confer ducal rank on.”

Webster doesn’t allow a verb “to duke” meaning “to punch with one’s fists,” either, although of course that’s what leaped to my mind when I saw my student’s statement. “Duking people into talking to a false identity,” I imagined, was beating them into submission, into taking a lie for the truth, sort of like forcing them to bow down to a false idol. Or what Lucy said to Charlie Brown in one comic strip: “Admit I’m a lady or I’ll punch you again.”

I have to confess to falling a little in love with this new verb! It’s just one degree of force shy of “decking,” or “knocking down forcibly with the fists”: She duked him again and again, and finally decked him.

If my student had had violence in mind, his “duking” might have been a misspelling or mishearing of “decking,” for that matter. But most of his discussion has to do with deception, stealth, insinuation: not force. The (real) catfish is a bottom feeder and hangs out down there in the mud; I wonder if the cyberterm comes from the idea of lurking. Or maybe its barbels (nice word, that!) deceive observers into thinking it’s an actual cat (an underwater cat…?), and the cyberterm is meant to evoke this deceptive appearance. My student might be implying that the barbels look like worms and thereby attract other critters the catfish might prey on…. Or maybe those barbels, rather innocent-looking but in some species capable of stinging things that come too close, made the cybercoiner think merely of hidden or disguised danger. I have no idea, but I am willing to see in the term some association with false impressions. That’s how I know my student didn’t mean to write “decking.”

Yes, we can be sure he meant “duping.” All that’s unknown is whether he misspelled “duping” or actually thinks the word is “duking.” Until he tells me otherwise, I’m going to enjoy the possibility that it’s the latter.

A channel catfish. His barbels look like a false mustache! A disguise! What a duper. Image from http://www.usbr.gov/mp/ccao/newmelones/fish_species.html.

A channel catfish. His barbels look like a false mustache! A disguise! What a duper. Boxing nobleman, not so much. Image from http://www.usbr.gov/mp/ccao/newmelones/fish_species.html.


The soft bigotry of low expectations.

RAB:

The title is an important reminder of why we bother. The post is a warning about what we would see if the MOOC people succeed in creating a future without genuine professor-student interaction

Originally posted on More or Less Bunk:

“We’re moving into a world where knowledge, base content, is a commodity, which allows anyone who is smart and motivated and passionate to make something of themselves and open doors to opportunity. But at the same time, the much deeper cognitive skills that are taught in the face-to-face interaction—they’re still going to be a differentiator. The best place to acquire those is by coming and getting an education at the best universities.”

- Daphne Koller of Coursera, WSJ, November 24, 2013.

“Coursera founder speaks the truth,” is the way that Gianpiero Petriglieri described that quote on Twitter this morning, and of course that’s right. You can only get those deeper cognitive skills through face-to-face interaction, which means (by implication) you can’t get those skills through a MOOC. So why then is yet another MOOC maven acknowledging the inadequacy of their product?

To borrow a phrase from the Bush years…

View original 620 more words


“Beowulf, like Everyman, accepted death towards the end of his life.”

That’s a pretty good time to accept it.

Actually, both of them fully accept death AT life’s end, not TOWARDS it. Furthermore, Beowulf makes a beginning at acceptance quite early in life, whereas Everyman waits until the last minute.

We see Beowulf as heroic partly because he accepts even in youth the very real possibility that he will die in one of his exploits. Wrestling with the ferocious and powerful Grendel in the Danes’ mead hall is fraught with danger; but even though Beowulf acknowledges this, he insists on meeting Grendel in barehanded single combat; although a dozen hand-picked Geats stand ready to assist him, he sees the battle as HIS fight. Either he will prevail, thus saving the lives of countless Danes and relieving King Hrothgar of the burden of guilt AND at the same time enhancing his own reputation for strength and courage; or he will fail, and failure means death of a particularly gruesome kind. Similarly, when he takes a sword and pursues Grendel’s mother into her underwater cave to avenge her (revenge-) killing of Hrothgar’s best friend, he tells his Geats and the Dane warriors assembled at the brink of the mere that he goes into this alone, and their only task is to watch and, if necessary, report his death. Fifty years later, when he goes to fight the dragon who has been despoiling his kingdom after a drunken lout disturbed the treasure-hoard the dragon existed to guard, he acknowledges that he will probably die in the attempt but insists that he must fight alone. Young Wiglaf enters the fight after the dragon has wounded Beowulf, but although he manages to wound the dragon he leaves the last knife-thrust for Beowulf. Both hero and dragon die as a result of this battle; but before Beowulf dies he distributes some of the treasure from the hoard among his people and gives them some good advice (through Wiglaf)—in effect, he makes his will. His people mourn him greatly, a “good king” who has ruled wisely and fairly. Beowulf, though, accepts death with the same grace with which he has accepted success before: it is in his nature to accept death.

This is nothing like the way Everyman “accepts” death, especially towards (as distinct from at) the end of his life. When God sends Death to Everyman to set him on the road to his final accounting at the grave, Everyman tries to talk Death out of it, asking him to come back later, give him just a little more time…. Death being adamant, Everyman then bemoans the terrible state of his accounting book and tries to persuade a series of friends and relatives to go with him to buck him up on the journey. They all refuse (one pleads a sore toe!); he sets out, but continues to ask such friends as Beauty and Strength to come along. He manages to restore Good Deeds to health after much too much neglect, and he embraces the promise of salvation and confesses his sins; he can’t actually be accurately said to “accept” death until the very end, though—his attitude is closer to resignation than acceptance.

So my student is wrong two ways: both on the timing of the acceptance of death, and on the similarity of this acceptance. She should have known better than to try to equate a HERO with an EVERYMAN, or “typical person.”

What an interesting discussion could have developed from a comparison between the two characters. She might have speculated on the relative philosophical stances of a hero and an everyday kind of guy, or on the role of an afterlife on the way a Christian should live life as handled by a (probably) Christian monk writing about a pre-Christian hero, and another (probably) monk several centuries later writing about a not-very-diligent Christian. She could have discussed the value of remembering the inevitability of death (memento mori) even when life is at its richest, comparing Beowulf’s integrity even in his youthful adventures to Everyman’s moral and religious laxity until the last minute (“O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind”). What conclusions she might have reached I don’t know, since I admit I’ve only begun to think of these possibilities as a result of writing today’s post on today’s horror. But they seem to be worth exploring nevertheless.

Making a hasty generalization about a vaguely defined moment is not the way to find the road to revelation: I do know that.

Sometimes I look back on my college career and lament the opportunities I missed: courses I might have taken, papers I might have given more thought to, heights I might have reached…. I know we all have such regrets. It breaks my heart that my students seem to amass regrettable moments so quickly, and at such a trivial level, where they could instead have let themselves be tempted into taking more glorious risks.

Well, anyway, she sighed.

Let us accept the inevitable things while we can still throw joy at them.


“It’s agreeable that kids are always using their phones or electronics.”

Maybe you find it agreeable. I find it depressing, frustrating, irritating, frightening. Not “pleasing to the mind or senses,” as my old friend Webster assures me “agreeable” means.

I’m going to skip over the other problem in the sentence, the word “electronics”—a branch of physics, Mr. Webster says, that deals with “the emission, behavior, and effects of electrons and with electronic devices” or “of, relating to, or utilizing devices constructed or working by the methods or principles of electronics.” My student means neither of these things: he means electronic devices. And he doesn’t mean all of them; he means those that kids are always using—especially iPhones and iPads. I have other students who refer to such electronic devices merely as “devices,” and I wonder what they think when a professor tells students that for their final project they will be “left to their own devices.” Actually, a hallway sign at one of my schools admonishes students to “be considerate of others: use your devices in the stairways, not the hallways.” My imagination runs, predictably, wild at what must be going on out there, considering the hundreds of possible “devices” our society has to offer…

What I do want to talk about is that wonderful word “agreeable.” Of course I knew what he meant: He agrees, or is willing to agree, that kids are always using their phones etc. Is he trying to cope with the taboo-ification of using “I” in writing? That is not a taboo I impose, although I do say I don’t want to see them refer to themselves as the writer or opinor (sorry for the coinage) in an essay (“I think,” “I know,” “It is my opinion that,” “I feel,” “I truly agree that,” “I sincerely believe”…). Phrases like this are redundant with the unspoken premise of every argument: “I think that…” They also reinforce the writer’s feeling of authority and thereby seduce her to believe she has proved something rather than merely asserting it. So I would be one of the professors who did NOT want this student to write “I agree that kids are always etc.” But I have no problem with “I” when the writer is offering his own experience as evidence or example, and so I would have been perfectly happy with “I have seen hallways full of kids using their phones while walking to class,” for instance. Still, if he was trying to avoid writing “I,” I am willing to sympathize, albeit not to forgive.

Quite simply, he has forced a word to mean something most people would not expect or immediately grasp. “Agreeable”=”pleasant.” “Agreeable” might also = “ready or willing to assent or consent,” or even “in harmony.” Normal readers would try to understand the sentence in terms of one of these meanings. Normal readers would therefore be confused.

Or maybe by “normal” I mean “older than 20.” I’m afraid “agreeable” may be sneaking into the lexicon in the same way that “relatable” has. Now, Webster’s does include “relatable” as a form under the definition of “relate”; no such listing yet exists for “agreeable.” (Interestingly, WordPress’s spell-checker doesn’t recognize relatable as a word. Bravo!) But not that many of my students have as yet inflicted the new “agreeable” on me. Hundreds now have subjected me to “relatable.” I’ve written about that already, at length; here I mention only that it is close to meaningless in statements like “Hamlet is relatable” and “Gawain and the Green Knight is relatable.”

I use Webster’s as my base dictionary reference for this blog partly because it focuses on contemporary usage and partly because it is so widely and easily available to college students. I have the OED at home and use it for my own work, especially in my field of choice (Elizabethan and Jacobean drama); but its historic wonders and etymological subtleties aren’t generally to the point when dealing with student writing. Of course one of the most dramatic aspects of the OED is its revelation of shifts and changes in a living language. And I know contemporary usage continues that drama. But, like the plays of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, loving them as a group doesn’t mean I have to actually love, or advocate, any single one. The same is true for changes in the language. Some I find fascinating; some I lustily embrace; some, like “agreeable” and “relatable” in the hands or “devices” of my students, I loathe, and will fight against as long as there is ink in my pen.


“Right from the bat Shakespeare is using his words…”

It’s phrases-in-the-blender day, folks. “Off the bat” becomes “from the bat” for some reason. An image from cricket or baseball, “right off the bat” means “immediately, without delay,” and comes as a metaphor from such observations as “right off the bat the ball was headed out of the park.” My student was writing about one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Now, Shakespeare referred to just about every feature of life, large and small, grand and ordinary, formal and casual, clean and unclean, in his plays, and he wasn’t averse to experimentation with imagery in his sonnets (or to mocking other poets’ dependence on formulaic image traditions such as coral lips and sun-like eyes). I don’t recall any bat-and-ball metaphors, though; and when I think about Shakespeare as a writer I generally don’t do so in sports imagery. My student evidently does, although she doesn’t get the phrasing exactly right. Well, be that as it may: right off the bat, Shakespeare is getting busy with that poem. He doesn’t waste any time.

But the formulaic phrase that follows Shakespeare-as-Babe Ruth is from another sphere of life entirely: “Shakespeare is using his words.” I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard this phrase except in connection with admonitions to temperamental children: “Henry, stop hitting Kaitlin with that bat; use your words!” So now I recast Shakespeare the Slugger as Shakespeare the Well-behaved Child.

Why is Shakespeare using his words? To share, of course. Here’s the whole statement:

“Right from the bat Shakespeare is using his words to share how much love he has for the person he is talking about.”

The “share” keeps us in that mommy (or support-group?) vernacular. Probably after “using his words” the “share” just insisted on following. He’s going to share how much love he has. Now, this does NOT mean that he’s going to share his actual love here, no, not with the reader; “share” doesn’t mean “give part of , divide and distribute, experience or enjoy with others”; in this usage it means, as all us modern speakers know, “tell, express, confide.” For some reason we don’t say “tell,” “express,” or “confide” anymore, I guess: “share” is so much warmer and less precise.

We know Shakespeare isn’t going to share any love with us because the writer is clear that the love is for the person he is talking about, not for the reader. My relief at seeing the word “talking” is huge because it’s a word I pretty much know, used in a way it’s traditionally used. Or not, of course: Shakespeare is writing, not talking. But in this instance, close enough.

He’s not going to actually express his love, evidently; he’s going to “share how much love he has.” An overabundance of synapses that may have come with age takes me all over the literary landscape with this one, from Elizabeth Barrett Browning (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”) to that pop song Petula Clark sang:

My love is warmer than the warmest sunshine
Softer than a sigh
My love is deeper than the deepest ocean
Wider than the sky….

Neither of these associations takes me deeper into Shakespeare, though; and his sonnet is like neither of them.

My apologies if the rest of your day is going to be played out against the background of that perky Petula number… Do take comfort in the fact that mine will be too.

I am relieved at the realization that Shakespeare is going to talk about his love for the person he’s talking about, at least. A sonnet is too brief a poem to clutter up with expressing love for someone other than the person he’s talking about, although I suppose he could “share” that he doesn’t love the person he’s talking about as much as he loves someone else. He wrote a sonnet sequence, after all, so the someone else could be talked about further in the other sonnets. In fact three characters do inhabit the sequence Shakespeare wrote: the young man, the “dark lady,” and the speaker. Sorting them out has kept graduate students and other scholars busy for about four hundred years. But my student isn’t concerned with this at all; she’s just commenting on a single sonnet she read.

A sonnet is also too brief to waste time at the beginning; it really does have to start right off (okay, from) the bat. A Journal entry is also a brief form, as I have assigned it. My student does not start right off the bat, though: she noodles around with bats and shares and other vagueness and wordiness rather than coming out and saying something.

The thing that makes me feel like an ogre is that she really, really likes this sonnet, as the rest of her Journal comment made clear. She likes Shakespeare. And I am beyond delighted that she does—I do, too. Because I don’t want to dampen or trivialize her appreciation, my comment on her Journal entry (which isn’t, after all, a “writing” assignment) won’t even mention her diction level, although I will underline the formulaic phrases and hope she stops in during office hours to find out why. (She didn’t.) But how someone could read Shakespeare’s specific, witty, allusive, cadenced writing and then respond with this sentence is beyond me. I imagine it’s that people who aren’t habitual or observant (or, perhaps, trained) readers don’t make these linguistic distinctions, don’t look for precision of meaning in trendy or commercial speech, don’t hear the competing voices and attitudes in their own verbal Smoothies. Hence the frequency of references to “Grendel’s mom” and “Hamlet’s dad” in student papers. I suppose.

Perhaps I should just give in. A living language is a language that changes. Perhaps there were people in Shakespeare’s audience who shook their lordly heads at his use of street slang and his coinages: “What is the Queen’s English coming to?”

Just the same. English is a huge and vigorous language (thanks partly to Himself). I wouldn’t send a boxer into the ring with both hands tied behind his back, or a violinist into the orchestra pit without a bow, and I hate to send students into the world with only the sketchiest notion of how to wield the mighty instrument that is available to them.

 


“It is an indisputable fact that…”

First, as a back-to-blog special, I have to share this post (AND COMMENTS) from Humans of New York—a real Mondegreens festival!

And now, for something like what we’ve been doing for the past two years.

My first-year students wrote their first essays on a subject I thought they’d bring a lot of personal experience to: electronic communications. Instead, most of them tried to give me vast, sweeping surveys of the history and variety of electronic-communications media.

When a student starts off with the assured observation that something is an “indisputable fact” (as opposed, presumably, to those disputable facts*), the reader braces for something impressive, but usually impressive in a way not intended by the student. This student did not disappoint:

“It is an indisputable fact that technology has an extensive presence in technology and continues to evolve.”

I suppose this would be a lot like saying that I have an extensive presence in myself and continue to evolve. Well, perhaps that is an indisputable fact, but it strikes me as more of a sentence that got lost somewhere. Most likely my student began his sentence with the intention of saying that technology has an extensive presence in our culture and that presence continues to evolve. Perhaps that’s what he did write at some point, but then revised a couple of times and in the process lost some words. If so, didn’t he think about reading the final version?

And does technology itself evolve? I’ve always thought of evolution as a self-driven process, not the result of thousands of technicians/creators in labs experimenting with new ideas. Aren’t Creationists dead-set against the theory of evolution?

I ask students to begin their essays with a claim that they believe most readers would agree with, then move into a more specific claim that requires demonstration and defense. My student began his essay by daring his readers to disagree (“It is an indisputable fact”) and then making a claim that in its current form is either self-evident or ridiculous, depending on the degree to which it is analyzed.

Be careful what you ask for!

_______

* such as the sun revolving around the earth, etc. But I don’t think my student had such things in mind; certainly his essay didn’t, as we say, “go there.”


best-laid plans…

Well, I’ve been so busy trying to juggle the beginning of the semester and a show I was both producing and acting in— “Once the show is open I’ll get back to m BLOG.” I told myself. And then, at the final dress rehearsal, I fell down the stairs from the dressing room to the stage and broke my left wrist. Not my leg, blessedly, and not my eye socket (which happened the last time I took a header down some stairs…)

Anyway, typing is not easy, quick, or accurate. I will be, essentially, taking a hiatus here. I hope you’ll browse in the archives, where I believe many gems lurk. I will continue with my classes, so I expect to collect more Horrors for when I can write them up. Perhaps I’ll be able to post from time to time during recovery—I will if I can.

Meanwhile, please hang in and hang out with me.

Love to all those who follow this blog!


“She talked to her son about sex and the consequences it carried, such as…”

This is from an essay about a 14-year-old pregnant bride and her of-age but possibly socially challenged groom. They managed to marry legally by crossing state lines, but upon arriving home the groom was arrested for statutory rape, with the pregnancy as evidence.

You can follow the two links above if you want the rest of the story. Significant to today’s Horror is that before their marriage the happy couple were coupling in the young man’s parental cellar; his mother had tried to discourage such behavior by way of warnings, but obviously the warnings had no effect.

Knowing the context of my student’s statement, you will know what he meant by

“She talked to her son about sex and the consequences it carried, such as pregnancy and a prison sentence.”

You will also agree that my student didn’t quite say what he meant.

Pregnancy is sometimes a consequence of sex, or more precisely sexual intercourse, but it is not a consequence sex “carries” automatically. And, fortunately for billions of humans past and present, a prison sentence is not a consequence of the sexual act. Even in countries where many aspects of human behavior have been criminalized, sex per se has so far escaped the penal system. Going to prison is not, for example, the journey planned for the morning after the wedding night. As far as I know, prison sentences are imposed for behavior (rape? oath-breaking?) or circumstances (gender issues? species choice?) on which the sex act is contingent, but not for the act itself. Such criminalizing reflects social and moral judgments (enlightened or not), not biological events in and of themselves.

We give the word “sex” a whole range of meanings, from “gender identity” all the way to a sequence of dirty doings and their aftermath. Because of this, writers have to be careful to specify what they actually have in mind. My writer has not done that. In fact, he means “sexual intercourse” (having gone to college in Pennsylvania and admired souvenir hats brought back from the town of Intercourse by frat boys, I know the noun needs the adjective!) at the beginning of the sentence; in the middle he means “some instances of sexual intercourse,” and by the end he means only sexual intercourse between an adult male and a minor girl, or the two lovers in question. Because he doesn’t track the shifting definition, he gives us the amazing picture of prisons stuffed to the gills with a huge percentage of the earth’s adult population—who languish, arms stretched longingly through the bars, perhaps lamenting their one fine fling of passion, while smug puritanical critics and homeless children walk the loveless streets.…

Well, be careful out there.

 


“The question that is always wondered in everyone’s mind is…”

So the verb here is “to be wondered.” Do we have yet another inanimate agent? Not sure, because the question is wondered; that is, it is wondered by something, and that thing is the agent. The agent is certainly unclear, though: the wondering takes place in everyone’s mind, so the mind itself can’t be doing the wondering. Could the question be presenting itself to be wondered…by whatever else happens to be in the mind?

I suppose if my student had included a preposition—”the question that is always wondered about“—the phrase wouldn’t seem quite so bizarre, although the matter of agent would still be up for grabs, or for gropes in the dim recesses of the mind. Wondered about by whom or what?

Perhaps one of my readers more thoroughly informed in grammatical terminology can name this error. I throw up my hands, then put them down again and grab a pen so I can write “awkward and unclear” in the margin and move on.

And so, on to the question itself:

“The question that is always wondered in everyone’s mind is ‘Whose fault is obesity?’”

I had assigned five essays on the “American obesity epidemic” for the week’s reading. Apparently my student generalized from those examples and assumed that everyone was thinking about the issue, all the time. Now, as a perennially-dieting person from the age of eleven on, I probably think about obesity more than a lot of other people do—and I don’t think about it all that much, at least compared to the other things I think about. I especially don’t spend a lot of time wondering whose fault it is. Two or three of the assigned readings did place blame: one accused the weak-willed or perverse individual; one accused pleasure-pushing fast-food joints; a third accused a hurried and thoughtless society that offered few convenient alternatives to junk food. It’s tempting here to echo a wonderful song by Jo Carol Pierce (Bad Girls Upset with the Truth) and add “I blame GOD!” But none of the readings did that…

So my student wasn’t really far off the mark, and an effort at more precise diction would have produced a more effective opening to a (probably accurate-enough) essay of his own. The quarrel I have with him is that he spawned that horribly awkward and unclear noun clause and then went blithely on with his verb of being and ill-defined predicate-nominative question. And that’s the sentence he used to launch an essay that staggered its way through a similarly awkward and ill-defined discussion.

I really, really believe that taking more time on that first sentence would have given him some control as he went forward.

Did he read what he had written? In the small draft-reading circles, did any of his partners object to, or ask about, this sentence? Or, horrible to contemplate, was this phrasing the result of polishing something even rougher as he finalized his paper to turn in?

All these speculations are too depressing as the second week of the semester chugs along and my brand-new first-years toil over Essay Number One, Draft One.

Many years ago, a professor on whom I had a blinding, suffocating crush came into class the day after, we later learned, his wife had left him and commented à propos of nothing that “Hope was the last thing released from Pandora’s Box…the last evil, and the worst.” I tell myself this characterization was as wrong as it was unorthodox, as I gaze hopefully at my students.


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