Friday, December 5, 2008

Worlds! Colliding!

I had three English teachers in high school, but the toughest, by far, was my eleventh grade teacher, Miss A. Miss A's English class was notorious for her "pressure essays." Each quarter - or maybe each month because it definitely feels like I wrote more than four - we were assigned a book to read with the knowledge that we would have to spend one class period writing a five paragraph essay on it, complete with supporting quotations. Oh, those supporting quotations, so critical to a well-written thesis. Miss A taught us about supporting quotations while we were reading The Great Gatsby, and everyone said, "OK, yeah, great. I totally understand," but when the time came to write our essays (take home, not pressure) on the book, not one person used supporting quotes. (Well, except that one girl, but no one liked her anyway.) I SLAVED over that Great Gatsby essay, but somehow didn't get the message that supporting quotations were supposed to be used all the time and not for that one assignment, and I got a big fat D. A D! Me! It was shocking, believe you me. Fortunately, everyone else also got D's. (Everyone but that one girl, anyway.) And this was an Honors English class in Junior year, the critical year that determines whether you will get into a good college or be doomed to a career sanitizing pay phone coin slots. (This was back when there were pay phones.) So you can imagine the uproar when a bunch of neurotic anxiety-ridden overachievers got failing grades.

There is one pressure essay that I have never forgotten, my essay on Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle. I assume you have not read it, because no one but me and the rest of my 11th grade English class has ever read it, so let me outline it here: A bunch of migrant crop workers get together and form a union. Unfortunately, a few crazy extremists get everyone all riled up unnecessarily, and the union becomes more of a mob and it all goes to hell. One guy tries to get people to see reason, but he fails and is possibly killed. I can't really remember, but I'm pretty sure someone dies. The end.

As you have no doubt gathered from my brilliant synopsis, Steinbeck's point here was that mobs? Bad. Individual thinking? Good. Unfortunately, this was a message I picked up on only after writing two paragraphs supporting my claim that Steinbeck really just wanted us all to cooperate. Out of time, I was faced with two choices: I could finish the essay by supporting my claim with a quotation that, in fact, proved the opposite of my thesis, or I could write a note to Miss A saying that I realized too late I had completely misunderstood the book and here's what my thesis statement should have been. I chose the former, but I wish I had written the note. I bet she would have given me bonus points for sheer pluck.

Miss A was the hardest English teacher I have ever had, and I credit her with teaching me to write. She showed absolutely no mercy when doling out grades, and I still cherish an essay I wrote for her class which contained no red-penciled comment from her other than "Excellent!" I got an "Excellent!" from Miss A. It is one of my proudest academic achievements.

So imagine, if you will, how it was for me at the cookie exchange I attended last Sunday. The cookie exchange at which I discovered that one of my neighbors is best friends with none other than Miss A, whom I am now supposed to call by her first name, and that Miss A lives around the corner from me. Has lived there for the past fifteen or so years. Was living there, in fact, when I was her student. Imagine further my reaction when Miss A asked me if I had read any good books lately, not knowing that the most recent book I had read was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2: The second summer of the sisterhood. Imagine, finally, what I said in response.

Yes. I lied.

***

In other news, Jack picked out his own outfit yesterday. (I should mention that he's been picking out his own socks for weeks, and is always very specific and Dobby-like in his choice, so this sock pairing is not unusual. Today, for example, he's wearing one red and one gray one.)

Jack's outfit

I also thank you all for your well wishes on my news!

2 comments:

Swistle said...

I could NEVER call my best English teacher "Lynn." I think I'd have to say, bewildered, "Are you trying to tell me that 'Mrs' is not your first name?" And then we'd all have a little chuckle, and I'd go right on calling her Mrs. English.

One of the best teacher comments I ever got on a paper was where I did the other option you were considering: I petered out and realized I had supported the wrong argument, and said so in a paragraph that said WHY I'd changed my mind. The teacher just about had an aneurysm, reading the paper aloud to the class as an example of the kind of THINKING he wanted us to be doing with these papers.

Becca said...

Trippy coincidence!! How neat. Do you think you'll be friends?