Friday, July 13, 2007

Thurber and Dillard

Apparently, I have read at least a portion of James Thurber’s autobiography. I don’t remember doing it, but apparently I did. A friend recently asked me to send her a couple of my graduate course essays as she is in the process of applying to an English program and wanted to review some example pieces of writing. But after scouring through old hard disk files, I have discovered two things: 1) my writing is atrocious and I should go back to school, and 2) I was a much better writer when I was in school. Yes, I realize these two things contradict one another.

My essays are riddled with citation errors, grammatical faux pas, and repetition. Lots and lots of repetition. I restate the same thing over and over again. Hitting on the same point way too many times. Like a hammer hitting a nail that is already sunk, I repeat the same ideas instead of actually clarifying subtleties (and use cliché analogies to do so). However, even in the essays most mired by mechanical and grammatical errors, I come across moments like this:

“Gone are the inflated egos and highlighted accomplishments; Thurber does not stand on a beautifully adorned pedestal. Instead, James Thurber has purposefully smashed the pedestal of the well-made man into a million difficult pieces. Unlike Benjamin Franklin's self-glorifying autobiography, Thurber creates himself, the narrator of "University Days," as a failure. Whereas Franklin and other ego gratifying autobiographers have attempted to sculpt a successful mask of themselves, Thurber's exploration of his shortcomings creates a type of unlikely hero, secure in his individuality.”

Okay, so there are problems with this too. Some punctuation errors and structural problems with the third sentence, but overall, not bad. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I called a memoirist an “ego gratifying autobiographer.” I don’t remember the last time I made a comparison using Thurber or Franklin, which tells me I am I better writer, a more critical thinker when I am engaged in a community of writers and thinkers. So – I need to be engaged in a community of writers and thinkers.

One of my very favorite quotes by writer Annie Dillard is “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” This quote is taped to my computer monitor. It has become my mantra, a daily reminder to spend my life engaged - engaged in my writing, engaged in my relationships, engaged in my thinking, engaged in the world around me. I do not want to be remembered as a great television watcher or an exemplary consumer. I want to be remembered as a writer, as a photographer, a thinker, a teacher, an activist, an idealist. If I want to be a better writer, I must write; it is how I must spend my days.
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