Oh, the Irony!

I stumbled on some old assignments I’d written for various English classes in college. Before I read them, I braced for cringe-worthy prose. Kinda cringy, but not entirely terrible.

I was struck by several things. I still do pretty good with titles…

Forty years on I continue to struggle with tense shifts …

And I’ve yet to learn the difference between satire and irony.

Some of the essays were handwritten! Can you imagine a college professor accepting handwritten essays today?? Do professors still scrawl feedback on papers?

Some of my fictional pieces used real names, not disguised in any way! They were all people from high school, mostly teachers, but a couple of older friends I admired, so I’m not sure if I was that unimaginative and lazy, or if it was an homage.

I was stunned to see we used our SSN as an identifier on our papers, but I’m not sure why. My professor scribbled my name next to it.

I found the final project from a “Detective Fiction” class I took. My professor was old—probably in his mid-40s—short, with a dirty blond Prince Valiant haircut. He had stubby fingers stained yellow from his constant grip on a cigarette but ironically (or satirically?), he rode his bike everywhere.

We studied the classics and the tropes. The final was writing our own mystery, which were gathered into an anthology. I got an A for “quantity” (??) and a B+ for “quality” which has turned out to set the stage for my entire writing life. (Give me a child, and I’ll give you the adult, amirite?)

The writing was perfectly adequate—I’ve always been able to string sentences together—but clues were dropped from the sky, deductions were made by magic, the detective “comes out of nowhere a la Mary Poppins,” there was no real evidence, and yet I still earned a B+ on the story.

I must have dazzled him with my opening. You can see how he gushed over it, calling it “good.”

In reading this assignment, I realized I would be the world’s worst professor because my story was so annoying I would have barely passed me. I wouldn’t have completely failed myself because my spelling has always been stellar. Plus, that quantity thing.

If I was a professor, every one of my students would fail. “How DARE you not to have learned how to write a mystery over the course of a semester while you’re juggling all those other classes and binge-drinking on the weekends! I TOLD you the tropes! You READ Dashiell Hammett and PD James! APPLY yourself, young lady!”

I wonder if he would have thought my becoming an author was ironic. Or satirical.

Do you have any old schoolwork? Did you keep up with any of your teachers after you graduated? What was that like? Do you know the difference between irony and satire?

23 thoughts on “Oh, the Irony!

  1. My proudest moment in college was when I got the highest grade in the class on a p-chem chemical kinetics exam (a 96!). I kept that sucker for years, but have no clue where it is now.

    I reckon that all of my teachers are dead. I’m sure that most of them would be appalled at the dark stuff I’m writing these days.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I do have some of my old college research papers. I never took a class on fiction – I don’t think one was offered. But I did get comments like “well reasoned,” or “good use of examples.” I remember writing papers on such things as use of foil imagery in Shakespeare. Ah. Good times.

    Yes. Handwritten. My children shake their heads.

    As an English lit major, I do know the difference between irony and satire. I had plenty of professors who would expect it! I did keep up with some of them, mostly because my younger siblings went to the same college and I’d see my old profs when I went to visit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My degree is in Criminal Justice, but I took English classes for fun. I ended up with so many of them that it turned into a double major! And yet I still don’t know the difference between irony and satire … shameful.

      Some of my college pals remained in SoCal and were able to go to events on campus so they did keep up with their profs, keeping us informed of interesting stuff. We went back for a couple of homecomings over the years, which was fun. I wish I would have gotten to know my profs more as people, rather than just instructors. One of my Criminal Justice profs was a retired parole officer whose roster included all kinds of famous mobsters. He had the most amazing war stories! I did keep up with him for awhile after graduation because he also was a therapist and hypnotized me to help get over my fear of dogs after I was attacked by one.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I wrote literary analysis. I’m shocked to see how much I’ve forgotten! I think it’s ironic, Becky, that as a witty writer you didn’t know the difference between two terms, and I could satirize that but it would be mean. (Or vice versa? I still look up literary terms all the time and I TAUGHT English.)

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Wow, Becky, that is one heckava setup: professor hypnotizing student to help them get over their fear of dogs after an attack, but unbeknownst to the kid, s/he hypnotized them for something else…(And they’re still terrified of dogs.)


  3. I remember a composition class I took as a high school junior or senior. One comment the teacher made on a short story I wrote was “good use of parallelism.”
    I had NO idea what she meant, but seemed to be good so I didn’t complain. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. That quantity thing cracks me up! Becky, I forgot – where did you go to college? As to finding work, I found a blue book from a final 49 years ago. Even better, I found. A blue book with a friend who broke up with me, which made me angry and sad. She got a B-. I actually found her online and mailed it back to her. I never heard back. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I went to Chapman in Orange back when it was a college instead of a university. I’m still not sure about the quantity thing … maybe there was a required word count? but that’s weird wording, if so. Blue books! I’d forgotten about those. Remember sitting at your desk with a pristine blue book in front of you waiting for someone to say, “You may now open your blue book”? Egads.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t keep my schoolwork, but my parents did! When I had to clean their house a few years back, I found all sorts of stuff. There were some elementary report cards in there as well! I haven’t kept up with many teachers, although for a while, I did stay in touch with my high school science teacher & undergrad bio professor.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh funny … my parents weren’t sentimental like that, and with eight kids would hardly have room to keep much of our schoolwork. But I keep coming across things like newspaper clippings I’ve saved about them!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. When I look back at my college papers (that faded, onion-skin typing paper!), I’m mostly struck with the formal, careful style. I’m like, Who wrote this? Where are those killer vocabulary words now? My college was the setting in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Also the college in the Bo Derek/Anthony Hopkins/Shirley MacClaine flick A Change in Seasons, ha. Lit meets Peyton Place. Luckily, my English 101.102 prof’s area of specialization was humor. I still remember his dramatic rendition of My Last Duchess.


  7. Ha! I love this!! I think my favorite part about old assignments are the professors’ (or teachers’) comments. They remind me of my dad’s effusive praise, like, “I read your story. I thought it was generally pretty good.”

    I recently-ish discovered an old story I wrote for high (or middle??) school. It was very creatively titled “A Story.” I don’t remember writing it at ALL, but I can hear whispers of my early voice!

    And I do still keep up with my teachers. I heart them. ❤


    1. That’s so cool you’re still in touch with your teachers! I bet they proud of you!

      I hear you about not remembering writing stuff. I come across things IN MY OWN HANDWRITING that I’m not convinced I wrote.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Love this so much! Brings back many memories of college-work comments from profs (and lol yes “good” felt like a gush). Clearly, you were a very talented student! And hooray for a “quantity” A.

    Some profs do still scrawl in longhand/annotate (I definitely do when not teaching online, where we have to type).

    Is it possible that the SSN was so that profs could post grades on the door without using names? I remember when that (or posting by your college ID number) was a thing. Also, in one of my fiction classes, the prof used to make us use thematic pseudonyms so that he didn’t know whose work he was grading until we identified ourselves later. He’d say: “For this assignment, it’s pancakes.” And we’d have to come up with a pseudonym that was related to that So I have stories where instead of my name on there it will say, like, Maple Syrup.


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