An Open Letter to Any Students Taking College Composition, But Specifically My Own

Dear Writing Students,

Stop blaming your high school English teachers for your mistakes. Just because they didn't teach you how to diagram sentences doesn't mean you can fault them when you misuse a conjunction. And stop asking if you can start a sentence with "and" or "but." YES YOU CAN! (Notice I've done it once already and I haven't burst into flames.) To begin a sentence with "and" or "but" is a stylistic choice. We write sentences that begin with "and" and "but" for emphasis. Because of No Child Left Behind, your high school English teachers couldn't cover this complex nuance of the written word. But they understand it. And they've seen it in action in plenty of "books." (You know, "books"? Those funny-smelling rectangular things with words on the pages?) If sentences couldn't begin with "and," Joan Didion would be a Starving Unknown, living in the doldrums of Sacramento.
Holy-One-Sentence-Chapter, Batman!

Speaking of Didion, it's also perfectly fine to write a one or two sentence paragraph. Again, writers do this for emphasis of a point they're making.

Quit trying to fool me with your enlarged margins, extra spaces between paragraphs, and/or 14 point fonts. We've covered MLA style. Even if you missed it, you can Google it and figure it out. This isn't my first rodeo, cowboys. I can spot intentional MLA finagling from a screenshot away.

What the fuck do you mean you "don't know how to word process"? Computers have been around longer than you've been alive.  I used a typewriter in college. My life got totally complex when I got my first dot matrix printer. (I know you have no idea what I'm talking about, so Google these things.) I've figured out how to open, write, and save my documents. You should've been able to do it in utero.

Having a computer that has crashed, died, blown up and created a house fire, or otherwise failed you right as you finished your essay is no excuse for losing all of your work. Your generation invented USB drives. You're required to have one for the class. (See the syllabus.) Plug the damned thing in and save your blank document before you start to write. Then save it after you write every paragraph. BACK YOUR SHIT UP, people. Seriously, you're exhausting me.

Let me give you some sage advice: call your loved ones now. Especially your grandparents. Because I'm about to assign an essay and it's going to kill a lot of elderly people. In fact, it might also kill your pet turtle, your brother's best friend who-is-like-a-brother to you, and a member of "1 Direction." I'm not kidding. It happens all the time. I am a mass murderer. Sometimes I kill every member of my students' families, except parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins. But the rest die as soon as the essay writing begins. I'm trying to save you from the shame spiral into which my past students have fallen. The grief is going to consume you and you won't be able to write your essays if you don't call/visit/coddle your grandma/turtle/friend/boy band member. So go ahead and stop reading this letter and get in touch with these loved ones. Right now.

Also, I keep a stack of sympathy cards in my office for moments like those mentioned in the previous paragraph. I send them to the affected families, so when you come to my office with a program from the funeral, be prepared to leave me with an address where I can send my deepest regrets for your recent loss.

Okay, so you've got kids. Guess what? So do I. Three of them. Ohmygodwetotallyjustbonded. No.

Okay, so you've got kids who, for some reason, constantly keep you from getting your essays done. The last time you sat down to write, your toddler pushed the exact key on the keyboard that deleted all of your work. That is one fucking smart kid to have picked that one key from a whole host of keys. Call MENSA now. Let that kid pick your next Lotto numbers. And what key is it, exactly, that deletes everything? I don't seem to have it on my keyboard and I want to get one so I can use this excuse the next time my boss gives me a deadline.

Someone got paid to write this book?
Your car caught fire? Your meth-addicted significant other suddenly had to enter rehab? Your husband is having an affair with another married man who is also a transvestite? Wow. Sucks to be you. I don't think you'll recover. Honestly. Drop the class.

And. TMI. Boundaries, people.

When the internet at your house crashes (say huh?), don't just throw up your hands and say, "Well, I guess I can't research my essay/turn my essay in/email my essay." Get your ass to the nearest building with internet access and DO YOUR WORK. If your digital television provider suddenly stopped broadcasting right in the middle of a bowl game, your little behind would be huffing it to the nearest Buffalo Wild Wings. So I expect you to make the long journey to a place I like to call a "library"--that's where the "books" are free and so is the internet access. Take your USB drive and head out into the great unknown. Or you can just go to Starbucks.

What's that you say? You don't have the money to buy the "books" for this class and so you haven't done the reading? That's interesting. Most of what we're reading can be found by Googling. The rest can be found in the "library" on campus. And by the way, how much did those shoes/that grill/your highlights/cell phone cost? Uh huh. Drop the class.
I completely agree that Bill Gates is the devil. But even I
know this Wikipedia entry is bogus.

Wikipedia is not an acceptable source for research, nor will it ever be. If you don't quit asking, I'm going to make you go to the "library" and use an actual "book."

So you "just can't find the time" to get to my class. Perhaps what you really mean is you "just can't find the time" to be a college student. I've got a kooky idea--quit school and work full time at a minimum wage job. That way, you only have to show up, do something for about nine hours, and go home. You can totally afford an apartment and a decade-old car and gas and weed and beer on minimum wage. Be happy. Don't bother with college. Unless, of course, you eventually want healthcare. Or a marriage/family. You might be able to support one more person on minimum wage, if you cut out the weed and beer. But there is no way in hell you can support an entire brood. Do yourself a favor, sterilize yourself now. And stock up on hand sanitizer.

Accept the fact that nothing you write about will ever be profound. It won't be. Even if it is about your high school graduation.

Thanks for the poorly-written email which half-ass clarifies why you left in the middle of class. I thought I'd offended you by mentioning prepositional phrases. (As far as I know, these are not the same as what you refer to in your email as "propositional phrases.") Of course your mother's telephone call was much more important than my class. In fact, your parents are much more important than your entire college education because you will end up living with them, not me, when you violate the school's absence policy and are dropped from all of your classes. Take your parents' calls during my lectures. In fact, give them your schedule so they'll call you three times during one fifty minute class. I'm sure they don't give a rat's ass about your education.

I get these all of the time.
Sure I'm here to help you properly string words together, and maybe even inspire you to write something you'll be proud to show to someone other than your MENSA toddler. But really, essay writing is about demonstrating thought and meeting deadlines. If you spend a whopping three hours composing your essay on the eve the work is due--say between eleven and two in the morning--and then admit this to your instructor when you hand it in, not only will you forever be branded as a total fucking idiot, but you're basically saying you don't have time to think. Because you're too busy visiting with your soon-to-be-dead grandmother, probably.

Think of procrastinating this way: it's your birthday and your mom--whose calls you always take, even during my class--has forgotten to get you a gift. So she runs over to the corner convenience store and grabs a bag of pork rinds and a plastic rose that's been collecting dust since the Clinton administration (Google, cowboys). Then she hands these things to you, unwrapped, while you're sitting at the dinner table and says, "I completely forgot it was your birthday."
I'm going to post this message 
to my office door.

Let that feeling sink in. Then grade your mom on her work.

Uh huh: Mom Fail. Fail=F.

That's pretty much the exact way your writing instructor feels about your shitty, last-minute, my-life-is-so-complex-I-can't-write-in-my-own-language essay.

However, if you actually put in some effort, say six hours here or there, and really think hard about your topic, put those thoughts on paper in an attempt to communicate in the language you've been speaking incorrectly since birth, format the page using MLA style, and get it done on time, you'll learn that your efforts are not in vain. You'll earn that D in a blaze of glory.

And just because I look "young and hip" or seem "cool" don't think I won't totally nail your ass on all of the bullshit you spew my way. In fact, it's the "young and hip" and "cool" instructors you should be most afraid of because we're fresh out of graduate school and have delusions that our classrooms will be filled with intelligent people high expectations.You should also be afraid of the "older" and "cranky" instructors because they're close to retirement and have nothing to lose. They will totally flunk your ass for misspelling their names in the heading. In general, you should just be afraid. Never assume that, because you sit in a room for three hours a week, your instructor suddenly becomes your bff and actually gives a shit. We're just counting the days until you violate the attendance policy so we can drop your sorry ass and read one less shitty essay.


Your Instructor


I Need Heroin to Be More Funny...Or Just to Relax

...essayists and memoirists i greatly admire typically use humor to describe their otherwise shitty lives...my favorite humorist (is that a dig? i totally don't ever give anyone the moniker of "humorist"...especially a fucking genius...but that word worked here, so i'm going with it) is david sedaris...my love affair with him began not long after his first piece appeared on NPR...yes, i realize he's gay...and that he has a partner...and that i don't KNOW him...and so for all of these reasons i can't have an affair with him...and that i'd probably not be his type, even if i had a penis, because i'm totally boring and don't speak french...

...thanks for the reminders...

...i also greatly admire joan didion, who writes sentences that cut so close to the bone my joints ache after i finish an essay...some of her writing is so blatantly dry in its humor, i wonder sometimes if i'm the only one laughing...

...i probably am...since i'm crazy enough to think that i'm having an affair with david sedaris...

...i've often wondered if my writing is missing humor...so many of my unpublished essays are serious in tone...the ones that tend to "make it" are those where the audience is tempted to laugh at me and my own idiocy...

...i've been thinking about this A LOT...to the point where i haven't posted anything here in nearly two months...

...and i've made a decision...

...some things just aren't funny:
  • the fact that my father is in prison for rape = not funny...anyone who wants to make rape/rapists into a punchline should just be punched...
  • the fact that my maternal grandmother was xenophobic and probably bi-polar = not funny...mental illness should never be trivialized...sure, we can poke fun at our phobias, but at the end of the day serious mental conditions don't exist just so we can have a good laugh...
...other things are funny, but for some reason i'm struggling trying to compose coherent essays and/or blog posts about them:
  • the fact that i seem to be the only person in the world who mishears song lyrics = funny... seriously, i thought a line in Prince's "7" was "with your intellect and your side warfare"...you know, as in the wars we have on the side...
  • the fact that, until i was thirty five, i didn't know the location of the caribbean = funny...(my husband set me straight on this one, and couldn't fathom how i'd never just, i don't know, looked at a map...when i explained to him that i didn't need a map because my favorite ride at disneyland is "The Pirates of the Caribbean," he squinted at me as if he'd suddenly become superman and could see right into my skull with his x-ray eyes and was not surprised that i lacked a brain)...since my frame of reference for all things geographic is disney, i should defend myself...the ride begins with a short boat tour through a swamp-like area...for some reason, i always mistook that swamp for somewhere in louisiana...probably because i'd actually been to a louisiana swamp...and then there's a huge drop and the boat is delivered to a hot underground area where everyone's speaking with british accents, the soldiers are wearing british uniforms, the prostitues tempt us with their british sorcery...so we must be somewhere on the coast of britain or perhaps north africa, right?...it's not the case, actually...apparently, the british somehow managed to move their entire culture of waste and debauchery to a set of tiny islands a wee bit south of florida...who knew?
  • the fact that when i'm left alone for an extended period of time i begin to wonder if things i was told misunderstood in my childhood were actually true = funny...i have thoughts like do toilets flush in the opposite direction in australia? are all ice-cream trucks just enticing cover vehicles for child molesters? can you really choke on pixie-stick sugar? is the caribbean really just a wee bit south of florida? but i never actually google these things...i just wonder...
  • the fact that my twins and my oldest daughter tempt me on a daily basis to take up drinking, smoking (again) and/or heroin use...not that they're actually holding up the wine/packs of smokes/heroin needles, but that their general "kidness" sometimes requires me to react the way i do right before a tube of pillsbury  biscuits pops...i hold it at arm's length and try to cover my ears at the same time and eventually just drop dough everywhere and yell at my husband to handle it...i would think that shooting heroin might help calm my nerves...i could be wrong...