1997. ENG 106. 80s.
Throwing a lot of numbers out there when I am not a big fan of math or stats. You’ll have to forgive my attempt at being cool and trying to speak infographic to you. Let me break it down:
It was 1997, and the college course was English 106 – Creative Writing. Though we were well into the 90s, three years shy of the digital (or even theological) apocalypse, an 80s song will worm itself into this post somehow.
And it’s not even the fun 80s—with the red leather jackets, cone bras, shoulder pads, or big hair. But we’ll get to that later.
I remember it being hot that afternoon. And excited. And before your brain falls into the gutter, let me tell you why. I was finally going to get to work on a subject that is directly relevant to my actual major. Now, one might argue that all subjects are necessary to one’s university degree, but I still maintain that math electives should not even be required for creative courses.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, in walked the instructor.
Well damn, there goes my hormones.
He was new. He was young…ish. Compared to the rest of the–ahem–esteemed faculty, he was practically a baby.
Needless to say, it was infatuation at first sight for everyone.
Before I go on extolling the virtues of his warm eyes and defeat the purpose of this blog already, I’ll try to get to the actual story.
Our midterm project was one on brevity. We were to write vignettes about any topic of our choosing as long as we keep it brief.
Of all the class work this was the most challenging yet. At least to me. I have a problem with words. But forget about having too much to say, I had other problems to think about. What to write? Where to start? Add an unhealthy dose of procrastination into the mix and I found myself scrambling the day before the deadline.
It was a song that saved me. Nothing as epic as a movie theme, though. Thinking back now, perhaps I should have used Eye of the Tiger or something as remarkable as that.
I made the deadline, turning in twelve one-sided pages of double-spaced lines in Arial pt. 12.
In class the following week, my instructor said that he wanted to speak to me about my midterm exercise after class. I watched him as he handed each of my classmates their graded assignments, pausing briefly at each of them, chatting about their work or wishing them a good weekend. When finally the last of the students filed out of the room. He turned to me and smiled.
My heart was pounding as I approached the desk. My mouth was dry. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know where to look. I found a spot past his shoulder and on the chalkboard. I avoided the familiar folder in his hand.
He reached out, handing the folder to me.
I don’t remember if I snatched it from him. I do remember looking at him without looking at the folder.
“Aren’t you going to see what you got on it?”
I mumbled. “Maybe later.”
“I think now’s a good time to take a look at it.”
Slowly, I brought the folder face up. The folder was clear and I could see the cover page–a full-color printout of a tree-lined path with the caption, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step.”
I cringed. My eyes squinting as one does when they’re trying not to see what’s in front of them. I could hear him clear his throat gently.
There was no grade.
There were comments. Yes, they were in red ink. But there was no grade.
I looked back at him. He was beaming.
“I’m really happy with what you’ve written. It was great! Very creative!”
It was a song. I had broken down the lyrics to Kenny Rankin’s “What Matters Most” and made vignettes based on favorite memories of my life from each phrase or chorus.
He proceeded to tell me about my progress… how I had potential, but need a little bit more discipline (being in class more should help–he gently suggested). That I tend to get a bit wordy. Almost all the time.
“Your performance on this assignment shows me that you are capable of brevity! Keep at it. Keep practicing. Your ideas are good, but you need to edit, edit, edit!”
The praise was great. But what about my grade?
“Thought you’d never ask,” he said. “I have an idea of what to give you but why don’t you tell me what grade you think you should get.”
“I already told you what I thought of your work, and whether I thought you’ve hit the mark. I trust that you’d be able to give yourself the right score.”
I was dumbfounded. Trying to buy time, I thumbed through my paper. I saw a couple of typos (spellcheck was not a thing yet.) and I gave him a number.
He nodded, took the paper from me, scribbled the numbers and encircled them with a flourish.
As he handed it back he said that I had potential. I just had to keep at it.
And that was it.
It was one of my proudest moments. But it wasn’t a turning point. I can’t say that after that I became a better student. I am sorry to say that I took the class and his generosity for granted. In the end, I got an okay grade. With all my angst and distractions in college, I know I could’ve done a better job in that class.
I’ve always identified as a writer. And I’ve always thought that I was a good one. But my arrogance, lack of discipline, and to quote Stephen King, “diarrhea of words” have always been my downfall.
Who knows if I could have benefited from my instructor’s lessons and encouragement two decades later in this age of social media and shrinking attention spans?
Which brings us here.
This is my attempt at learning how to write. To write well and to be concise. To express myself in as little words as possible. I’ve already gone over the limit I set for myself for this post twice over, but I’ll chalk it up to backstory or whatever.
Of course, this is not my first personal blog. I am truly hoping that this would be my last. If memory fails me, as it had with the countless of logins for the previous incarnations of this, I’ll leave my hands in the powers that be at WordPress.
In the meantime, you’re welcome to join me in my unending pursuit of brevity. We’ll talk about my crazy family life, makeup, Korean skincare, Korean dramas, and more.
Don’t worry, I promise to be better at the word count next time.