I would bet money that the “oldest (writing assignment) trick in the world” was invented by a high school boy. The kind that ends up a radio show morning dj who, along with one or two other sidekicks–including a woman who is usually the brunt of the sexual joking–fills the a.m. work traffic airwaves with inside jokes and guffaws. I avoid morning radio shows (Rick and Bubba in the Morning, a favorite of my 21 year-old son, which proves my point) at all costs. But in case your’re wondering, I am not a radical public radio snob either, like some of my egghead friends. I don’t need my head hurting from either end of the spectrum in the morning. I send them some money every now and then, though, just to annoy the Republicans. Anyway, you know the kid I’m talking about.
This kid would invariably appear in my Junior English class, where I taught from 1987-2001, and submit a major essay assignment with entitled, “Writing an Essay for Mrs. Hyde’s (that was me then) Formal Essay Assignment.” He then spent 5 paragraphs (intro, body, conclusion) writing about writing (or lack thereof). It was, at first, a cute trick. I always made sure to tweak directions for subsequent essays to include, “and please do not write an essay about how you stayed up all night attempting to compose an essay and here it is, etc., etc.” That usually worked. Actually, some of those compositions were not so bad, probably because the kid thought it was a good idea, got excited about it, and therefore, wrote it pretty well.
This is not exactly that kind of entry. Only half of writing a blog is to mine fresh ideas and strive to find my own relevance. The other half is to write–to keep a writing exercise journal. That means writing–even sometimes lacking a fresh idea. So, this one may not be too innovative, but I have a thought or two about it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about being relevant. I wrote a grant proposal a few weeks ago. Granted, I came up with a topic from scratch–it wasn’t my lifelong burning passion to be sure. Still, I spent weeks on it, and I know it was well written. I’ve never received external funding for my work (possibly because my work sounds a lot like this) and this was a test case at the very least. I was turned down–and I really thought it stood a chance of getting funding.
A big part of academic life (being a professor, for those who do not regularly refer reverently to “the academy”) is rejection. It’s something most of us at one time or another must deal with. I’ve been doing it for seven years and it isn’t getting easier. Although, I realize even when I didn’t do anything but eat Little Debbie cakes and watch tv at home (dreary, lost years indeed) rejection was still present in different ways and still was not any fun. Academics get rejected in all kinds of ways: by journals, conferences, universities where we apply for jobs, publishing companies. We get rejected by anybody who has the ability to reject us, it seems. Some of us more than others, which is an entry all to itself and is coming, believe me.
The grant proposal rejection sparked an ongoing thought for me lately: relevance. Nobody has actually used that word referring to my work; when people do actually read it, it is usually well-received. More to their surprise than mine. This comes under my being my own toughest critic. Here’s the thing. Writing is what I want to do; I am a professor, for crying out loud, which does more than just imply that I have something to profess. I don’t have any news, or celebrity gossip, and I don’t write about vampires. I don’t have any more of a clue than most other people why some children do better in school than others. For me, professing can be very humbling. Who the hell am I and what the hell do I have to profess? Are my thoughts, am I (for it really is the the same thing, see?) relevant? I think about this a lot, and I’m not finished thinking about it.
More on this later.