Friday, August 22, 2008

On Not Being a Writer

I've had two teachers, and only in my college career (and it has been a long one), who qualify for the "Best Teacher I've Ever Had" award. One taught my Econ I and II as well as my Business Law courses back in my Accounting Phase.

***Nothing to do with anything: Once, when my sister and I were en route in my car to somewhere, there was a woman in front of us who had a mini-abacus attached to her dashboard. We only noticed because, every time we hit a stop light, the woman would move the beads over in some sort of indeterminable, rhythmic fashion.***

The other has taught a couple of my Literature course since I switched to the Teacher Prep program. His passion for Literature astounds me and drives me to pull out all of the stops to impress the shit out of him. He's only 24 and his knowledge in the World of Literature leaves me speechless.

One time, I wrote a critical analysis for him. It was on Garrison Keillor's Zeus the Lutheran. The title of my paper was Keillor the Puritan. I know, I know. Genius.

The feedback I received on that paper almost brought tears to my eyes.

I'm not home right now, or I might be tempted to get it out of it's frame (Kidding. Maybe.) and quote the comments he made in big, beautiful red ink. I can still paraphrase, although I've read his high praise so often that my rewording is likely quite close to accurate: "Melissa, your writing is almost at a scholarly level. Should you decide to continue your education, you have a real shot at a career in critical writing."

God, that felt good.

I'm doing homework right now and, for extra points, I was looking up something I'd previously read by Matthew Arnold, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time." In it, he quotes an unnamed reporter who interviewed William Wordsworth. I had flagged the reporter's words because I agreed so very much with them (still do):

"...he said today that if the quantity of time consumed in writing critiques on the works of others were given to original composition, of whatever kind it might be, it would be much better employed; it would make a man find out sooner his own level, and it would do infinitely less mischief."

Aha! If I agree with Mr. Wordsworth, why was I so flattered and affected by my teacher's comments on my Keillor paper? Why did I think, "I would love to write critical analyses for a living!"

I made a comment on Mozart's blog today about the "ego-feed" that blogging provides. I basically said that my feeling on the subject is that I don't have the "it" that it takes to become a paid writer, but, since I love to write, it feels good that I have a handful of people that regularly read what I write. I'm not sure that it's and ego thing, and if it is, oh well. After all, having said handful of readers doesn't give me some exaggerated sense of my importance.

What is critical writing, then? How often do you read a review of any kind and find that you have the same impressions of the subject as the author did? I always get so excited, bated breath and all, when I recommend a book to someone. More often than not, the work falls short for them and I'm left with an emotion somewhere between "bad" and "worse." If I were doing it for a living I'd probably be fired before I found the like soul who thought I was brilliant.

So, what is it about critical writing? Is it that the analysis itself is so well versed that the reader feels idiotic if they don't agree?

P.S. If you are interested in reading the Keillor paper (and there is one sentence within said paper that I'm so proud of it's hard to believe I wrote it), it's on my other blog, which I haven't updated in a very long time.

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