the stuck mentality.


back when i worked in the writing center, there was somewhat of an unspoken motto most consultants stuck to: "sometimes, you just have to let them fail." this typically applied to procrastinators, students who would show up with a sloppily written paper the night before it was due. often, i'd look it over, and i'd want to tell the student that he had a lot of work to do, but that's just not something a consultant is usually supposed to say. i mean, going by the book, i wasn't supposed to consider when the paper was due. my job was to help the student become a better writer, and not necessarily earn an a. so, when the procrastinator came in, expecting me to underline in red everything he should "revise," i would fulfill those expectations. i'd give him sentence-level revisions and send him on his way. chances were, based on the grade the student received, i wouldn't be seeing him again.

most people think of revision as this sort of after-the-fact kind of autopsy. most english majors know that it's a lot more complicated than that, though. it's more than just pulling out a red pen, doing a spellcheck, changing a word here and there to make something sound more sophisticated. real revision is a recursive process, something that's supposed to take place while writing. it has to do with recognizing and understanding the shape of the text the writer is creating. it has to do with "felt sense," or the ability to feel, to recognize when you're putting down gold, or putting down shit.

i've never been a good writing consultant to any of my friends or family. i sometimes ask them to send me their writing samples, but i always know it's a mistake whenever i do this. i don't know what it is, but every time they give me a piece of writing to look over, i have a hard time thinking about what i'm going to say to help them improve the piece. maybe it's because i know that no matter what i say, or how i say it, i'm going to offend her/him. so, i make a preemptive strike and end up sounding like an asshole anyway. they always send me personal statements for jobs or schools they're applying for, and there's a lot at stake. i feel the pressure, and i crack under pressure. worse than they do, probably.

the latest of these debacles has to do with my cousin sending me his personal statement for applying to some uc's. my cousin has been in community college for three years now, and i think that he could and should be doing a lot better. i've been on his case ever since he decided to go to community college. i'm not sure why his situation has gotten under my skin so much. i think it has to do with seeing my other cousins go to community college and never finishing. i didn't want the same thing to happen to him.

it's more than that, though. i think it's got something to do with this stuck mentality, something i understood all too well all of last year. it's this feeling that you can't do anything, that you'll never achieve any sort of acceptance anywhere. it's a feeling that just makes someone want to sleep and sleep during the day and play video games at night. some people, lucky ones, have never had to experience it, but i know some people, too, who have never gotten over it. maybe it's a mental state. maybe it's depression. whatever it is, it's this line of thinking that goes: there's nothing i can do to change my situation in life, so i might as well just forget about it.

because i don't want my cousin to fall into this line of thought, i've been on his case about applying for schools. as much as i complain about our overrated and overpriced, dumb-downed educational institutions, and how i screwed up by choosing a worthless major, i still believe that college at least showed me how things could be. it gave me a glimpse of the good fight, and though i'm not necessarily fighting the good fight right now, i want others, family especially, to glimpse it, too.

so, i screwed up. i got on the offense and told him that he shouldn't have waited until the last minute to work on things. i told him that thanksgiving and our other cousin having a baby are not excuses to not work on a small essay that could decide whether or not he gets into a good school. he listened. or maybe he didn't. in any case, like the consultant i once was, i was left at the desk, once again scribbling notes to myself.

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