Mid-May. Enthusiasm for all things school related at its nadir. Oh, sure. Everyone raves about the END of the school year, but no one really wants to FINISH it. A perfect time then, to require a crackerjack essay, don’t you think? Well, that’s what I thought too – an essay that would become part of the final exam, no less. I create these assignments, request that students to put forth effort, because really, if I’m going to read something, I want it to be good – worth my time – something that ‘makes a difference.’
I try to get my students to realize that ‘Reading’ and ‘Writing’ resemble inseparable best friends. In fact, one could make the case that they’re perfect marriage partners – they become ‘one’ through the reader-writer relationship created by words. Please note here, that words, shadows of The Word, form the reader-writer relationship just as surely as covenantal marriage reflects the relationship (wholly interdependent) between Christ, the Word, and His bride, the Church. This is fascinatingly complex – a ‘mystery,’ if you will, as Paul pointedly teaches in his letter to the Church at Ephesus. That’s quite a doctrinal digression, and not one I’m ready to explore presently (you’re welcome). The thing is, I am continually noticing (even in this writing) that as we work with words, we are continuously trying to make plain a truth, we are trying to unravel a mystery, we are trying to shed light in the darkness with the word stories we tell.
The stories we tell can provoke change. Sometimes, our written words work more on ourselves than they could ever work on anyone else who might read them. As such, cathartic writing can be good. Sometimes, we encounter words only as readers, and experience life change that no other words have ever made. Just like that, Writing and Reading are one. Separate, complementary roles intertwine, making a new entity – a wholeness that cannot be put asunder.
In that vein, then, I dedicated myself to spurring on my students to write something great — life changing words. ‘Swing for the fences’ and all that, right? Well. Imagine a classroom of sixteen-year-olds. Imagine the review of requisites of any meaningful essay – you know, a notable thesis, idea development, fluency, voice – the bits that make writing sing and writers’ eyes glaze over. Imagine the air getting sucked out of the room. It was May, after all…
I’ve had a few good moments as a teacher. I think. Maybe, as an old colleague once accused me, I merely get ‘high on my own fumes.’ As a writer, I manage to craft a beautiful sentence every great once in a while. I rarely wax poetic, and metaphoric language (you know, the kind that really can help us understand an abstract concept) hides itself when I am in the room. But then, because literature teachers inevitably allude to all manner of characters, events, titles, storylines, inspiration struck. This time, I have Hemingway to thank…
A finished essay is a feast for the reader. Teasing the appetite with a delectable nibble, an introduction invites guests to the table. After a taste, they discover that what follows will be good. Just a glimpse of that table – gleaming crystal, a breath-taking centerpiece, refined but useful cutlery – and a tantalizing aroma of the meal to come, promise fulfillment. With each course served, the essay offers up substance (something worth chewing) and delight (provocative bites), inviting guests to linger in conversation as they digest what they consume. The feast’s every moment is planned so that tastes and textures complement and enhance the dining experience. A final course, the essay’s conclusion leaves guests with a lingering sweetness. They rise and push themselves away from the table feeling full and deeply satisfied. And somehow, hungry for more. As Hemingway notes in A Moveable Feast, “hunger is good discipline and you learn from it.”
Writing too, is ‘good discipline.’ Preparing a feast of words and ideas that delight and instruct — that’s good writing. And that’s what I want. A special request indeed.