Thursday, May 26, 2005

Why I love to write

Big sigh of relief.

Today was officially the very last, ultimate final day of my Comparative Religions class at Harvard Extension. Boy I loved that class, and boy did I beat my brains out with all that writing-of-last-minute-five-pagers and studying for vastly detailed tests. I took my final exam today (finished early, walked around in the clean-smelling air and the rain for a while until my mom picked me up) and my TA handed back my final essay (A!).

The class is taught by this brilliant professor, but our essays and exams are graded by TA’s—theology grad students at Harvard. Anyway, I’m intensely fond of my TA, Mark. He’s the geekiest, sweetest, smartest guy. No, it’s not a crush because there’s no funny feeling in my stomach. But is it weird to say I hope I run across him sometime in the future?

Here’s what he wrote on the back of my final essay, which I wrote about a past of harmful exclusivity in Judaism, and how the religion’s evolution counters that friction. And etc. Anyway, I’ll leave out his comments about my paper, because those will bore you, but here’s some advice he left at the end that any would-be writers like myself might be interested in:
You are an excellent writer and you will become even better. Writing is difficult to teach, but I will tell you what I know: you improve by reading more and writing more. Know your audience and be willing to adapt your style for different audiences and occasions. Always be clear and concise—volume is not a virtue. Opt for the right word over the “million-dollar word,” but, having said that, do not shy away from complex language when the need arises. Analyze the presuppositions and implications of arguments from multiple perspectives. Be creative and analytical, not merely descriptive. Make instructive connections in your writing and offer constructive ideas or look at old ideas from new angles—“there is nothing new under the sun” but you can always look at it from a new perspective. Do not be overly ambitious in forwarding a thesis. Rather, in every paper advance a clear, cogent argument based on textual evidence and solid analysis. Meet with your professors and ask for advice. I attribute a lot of my success to the direction of my professors. Be open to advice but follow your instincts. Tell yourself before every paper that this will be the best thing you have ever written and make it so. Lastly, never neglect the aesthetics of writing. Great writing is always beautiful, even if the subject matter is mundane or highly complex. This is what I know.

You have been my best student. I hope you continue to pursue studying religion in some capacity. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me at: (well I’m not printing that). All the best in your future endeavors. Peace.

In case you skipped that whole part, which I’m guessing a bunch of you did, the best line was this: “Tell yourself before every paper that this will be the best thing you have ever written and make it so.” I think that that’s maybe the best advice anyone has ever given me, about writing. And I love that he would say that. And I love writing. And I can’t wait till I’m in college and there are people like that around. I want to be friends with him! We’ve been emailing back and forth a bit; I’ve also been corresponding some with the professor. He (the professor, not the TA) invited me to go to lunch with him sometime but I’m afraid that would be a little weird. We’ll see, maybe this summer.

Speaking of this summer: I’m going to be involved with trying to start up an 826 Boston this summer! And beyond! More details to come.

…And, since I’m doing a good job with segues here today, I’ll mention that those same McSweeney’s folk behind the various 826 ventures are releasing Issue 16 of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern these next few days. A few of the McSweeney's people are going on a tour (right word?) promoting the new issue and they’re going to be at a Boston bookstore (doing god-knows-what) this Monday, so you know I’ll be there. Will report back.

For my third McSweeney’s-related topic of the day: I’ve got about 20 pages left in Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but I had to make my sister hide the book from me yesterday and today so that I’d study for my Religion final and not fall in love with San Francisco. I’ll probably be finishing that tonight though, that beautiful delicious rib-crackingly funny book.

- - - - -

I just watched Rushmore with my brother—I’d already seen it but he hadn’t. Man that’s a funny movie…I was going to do a little rhapsodizing but I’m tired so I guess I’ll just say, Watch it. There is much excellent music and snide remarks and Futura to be had.

And it’s been rain-rain-raining for the past week. Hard. And it’s not supposed to let up for another week. But…it makes the grass and all the trees such a bright green and the air smells like fresh dirt (a good smell, though hard to describe) and I like it when the rain makes my hair curl all around my face. So I’m a happy camper.

…A hard rain’s a-gonna fall…


Anonymous oki said...

good advice...
I'm terribly bad at taking good advice. Probably because if I took it all, I'd explode, and also, I think its time to make a few mistakes..

but yeah, it's really good.
I think I might so to school in San Francisco..
LA...done that
New York..too cold.

later love!

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