a really good title for an entry,
but i forgot what it was.

my third day this week grading cbests. topic number 2 was for people to respond to the quotation: "it is better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all." a lot of people wrote about thomas edison and how he found 9,999 ways how not to invent the light bulb. some people wrote about failed marriages. and at least two wrote about miscarriages. i really didn't get it. overall, though, people seemed to do a lot better with topic number 2. i read one paper about somebody who had a childhood friend who dared her to do a "mid-air high five" - that is, for both of them to jump out of their second story windows and give each other high fives. it was interesting enough, so i gave her a 4, the highest score possible.

one girl wrote about how her parents tried to discourage her from attending college. she wrote something like, "they told me i would fail, and that i would be broke." in retrospect, it's pretty sad, but when i first read it, i had to laugh out loud. i just imagined these two shitty parents sitting in front of the tv, or else playing nintendo, warning their daughter to not go to school. and here's this girl with her backpack, ready to head out the door, ready to leave for college, and her parents are just shaking their heads, saying, "you fool. don't do it. you'll fail." then i read some more, and it turned out her parents were almost right. her grades started to slip, and her parents encouraged her to drop out. i laughed again at what a pair of horrible parents they were. but eventually she got her shit together; she pulled through. her parents finally saw her potential, and eventually chose to support her financially, so she could focus on school full-time. then she graduated. i passed her with a 3.

for the first topic, the one about whether or not the u.s. deserves the label of a "disposable society," i read this one paper with a really wordy intro. it started off like, "well, if one were to take a free-market capitalist stance on the issue....and if one were to adopt a marxist perspective...and if one were to make a conservation approach, then..." it had obviously been written by someone who had never left her classroom, or ever looked up from her books. i knew a girl like this. a girl named julia. i worked with her once. she asked me to be her writing consultant for one, grueling, hour-long session, god knows why. she heard from a little bird that i was 'good' at what i do. if by 'good,' she thought i was someone who couldn't understand what the hell her paper was about, and that she needed to explain it to me as if i were a five year-old, then she'd be right. i really hated those types of sessions. ones where i obviously had no idea what philosophy, what political topic, what analysis of an essay one was trying to explain to me. the trick the motto: "if the writer can't explain it, can't articulate it, then the writer doesn't know what the hell he's talking about."

but, of course, someone like julia could explain it; she could articulate the main point of the essay. she could also pinpoint the main idea of each paragraph, and point out references, and fully flesh out each supporting detail. and, likewise, i could not, for the life of me, be patient enough to listen to anything about post-modernity, abstractionism, post-colonialism, magical realism, surrealism, etc. all of this, all of these ideas lost me every time. school never taught me any of that. the only thing school taught me can be summed up easily by one of flannery o'connor's neighbors:

i only learned "how some folks do."

this second round of grading has gotten me thinking (again) about what makes good writing. what constitutes a "4"? one editor for the literary magazine glimmer train once said about good writing: "it's difficult to articulate, but not to recognize." that's completely true. if asked to write a 4 essay, or even a 4 blog entry, i couldn't do it. i know that having a wide vocabulary helps a lot. being able to use words like: "exigent," "advent," "concupiscence," "lattice" and "intricacies" will get you up there, especially if you can spell them and use them correctly. and it's weird, too, how we graders know when someone has "control" over his essay, so that when the writer uses fragments like, "oh yeah," it doesn't count against him. on the contrary; suddenly, he has "style" and "voice." whereas another "weaker" writer, who might choose to use the exact same fragment, "oh yeah," will be penalized. he will get a 2.

how does one grade writing? how does one teach it? how does one fucking major in it?

based on eileen's recommendation, i'm reading francine prose's blue angel. the book was namedropped by laura linney's character in the savages, so i thought eileen might be on to something. anyway, the first chapter takes place in a writer's workshop. one of the boys in the class has written about a character that fucked a dead chicken. the scene rang true. it reminded me of when meagan showed me this short story called "tina and the king." in the story, this couple starts getting turned on after striking each other with taco bell burritos. why do college students feel the need to write such stupid stories? i can't say i didn't enjoy them, but they're obviously not doing anything other than trying to elicit some sort of shock, or disgust. any reaction will do.

i never really went for that. i wrote long, boring stories because that's what life is: long and boring.

when writing, i think i want(ed) to reflect people's dull realities back to them. the funniest and most outgoing people i knew (know) were (are) often the most tragic. but i tried to be funny, too, sometimes. you can't always be so serious, and you can't always take yourself so seriously.

yes, i'm ending on a goddamn cliche.

give me a break. i've been reading them all week.

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