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?