Thursday, February 26, 2009


Late winter, here in Pennsylvania (where I live) exudes lackluster. That should be a paradox. It should be impossible for lackluster to exude. Lackluster should just fade away. But I'm telling you it's taunting me, it's in my face.

I look out my window to see that the gray woods are conspicuously void of green. The snow that has not melted yet is gray. It sags on the ground, wanting to slip into mud, just not able to muster the energy. The clouds are drab. The air feels cold, but not so cold--teetering between spitting snow or dripping rain. Too void of energy to make up its mind.

Mid semester, my job seems lackluster, too. In the next forty-eight hours, I must slog through seventy-two papers filled with sludgy prose. Sometimes, the prose is worse than sludgy--it's an abomination. (It seems a sacrilege to call it prose. Can I make up a word and call it pranchy?) One student committed twenty-one style errors (grammar and spelling) in three pages. She's a senior in college. Her paper alone almost propelled me out of lackluster and into resigning my job and becoming a grocery store bagger.

I think I'd be a great bagger because I care a great deal about arranging items in bags. I like to group like items together and fit as many as possible into one bag. (No manager would have to stand over me, reminding me to conserve on bags.) I have great rules for bagging--like cereal boxes must be placed in paper bags.

Some days, convincing students to care about writing style rules seems about as possible as convincing the rest of the world that my bagging rules matter.

I'm always looking for ways to lure my students into caring about writing. Last week, in my search I ran across a writing question last week that made me think. It pinpoints a writing essential. Ask of your piece: what gives this piece energy? Is it the plot? The characters? The truths expressed?

A piece without energy is like late winter in Pennsylvania: lackluster.

Cheers to energized writing!