For the past month or so I have been consuming print as though my life depended on it. This happens at the end of a semester for all instructors, but particularly for those who teach English, and even more so for those who teach writing.
A couple weeks ago, I stood in the doorway of the office of a seasoned English professor with another colleague. All of us were bleary-eyed from days and days of reading stacks and stacks of papers. We were grumbling, of course, because our charges hadn’t heeded every single word that we had breathed over the course of the semester. The nerve! Hadn’t we told them how to frame a thesis? Hadn’t we told taught them about depth that goes beyond surface observations? Hadn’t we expected them to sustain an argument? And what had we received for all our labors — a few glimmers of brilliance in a sea of mediocrity.
And isn’t that our life, a few glimmers of brilliance in a sea of mediocrity.
After long days with students, I come home at night and read more. Recently, I’ve been reading Ann Voskamp and Shauna Niequist. They write in ways that I imagine I might one day write if I keep at it. They pour their truth onto the page as I do, but they make it so,…so beautiful. I often have to pause and take a photo of a line or a paragraph because I am so captured by the words themselves — how they are arranged on the page — and also by the image that they conjure in my mind — what they arrange in my head. For Mother’s Day, one of my children sent me a book of essays by David Sedaris — a pioneer in this way of writing that I find myself compelled to follow. His Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is, in the first few chapters I’ve read, like a home movie that has been painstakingly crafted into vignettes that illustrate the truths that his childhood taught him. And that’s really all I am trying to do here.
My writing is all about finding the glimmers.
I sit down in the morning and I take a look at the film I have captured since the last time I wrote — that image of me standing in the doorway with the two professors, a still of me bent over a stack of papers at my desk, a clip of me in the front of a small lecture hall demonstrating how to integrate a source into a line of text, and a close-up of me lying in bed at night using my phone to snap a photo of a paragraph. I move these images around on the desktop of my mind in an effort to find some little glimmer of meaning. Why, I ask myself, do I spend so much time with words?
Guys, I spend so. much. time. with words! I mean, it’s 9:30am and I have already read posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I’ve played several rounds of Words With Friends. I’ve given feedback on two essays. I’ve texted two daughters. And, now, I’m writing. In a couple of hours I will be in my car listening to a podcast or two, then later today, I will tutor a student in English grammar and writing to help her prepare for the ACT. After all that, I will curl up in bed and read some more.
Why? Why do I spend so much time with words? Well, of course I have more than one reason. I love the way words fit together like miniature puzzles; when each piece is put just where it belongs, an image appears out of nowhere!
eaigm becomes image!
I love that!
I love the way words can be arranged and rearranged in sentences to alter their meaning.
Kids love moms. Moms love kids. Kids moms love.
Isn’t that fun!?
But mostly, I love the way that words manipulate the brain. Even as I write this, the clips of film are rearranging on my desktop. I am seeing how the reading I do at night informs what I say to my students in the front of my class. What I say in the front of my class impacts (even if I don’t always see evidence of it) the writing of my students. The writing of my students inspires my conversations with my colleagues. The conversations with my colleagues motivate my desire to read and write more.
And the realization that each aspect of my life is somehow connected to every other aspect of my life reminds me to be present in each moment, to keep my camera rolling, to record what I see so that I can later review the tape and see the connections, to not wish any moment away, but to look for the glimmers of brilliance in every great sea of mediocrity.
And that, my friends, is why I spend so much time with words.
I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.