the best writing teacher i ever had was a man named andrew hess.
andrew was the grad student who taught my section of the expository writing class that all freshmen at NYU were required to take as a part of the general education sequence. most people hated this class, and, as with many classes that are taught by an assortment of grad students, a lot of them probably had pretty good reason. the odds of me ending up with andrew as an instructor were slim, and even slimmer because his section of the class met at 8:30 in the morning, which would never have been my first choice, but it so happened that it was the only section that fit into my schedule that was also a ‘computer section.’
the whole idea of this is actually kind of baffling now, but this was 1997, and most people didn’t have laptops, and some people didn’t even have a computer at all, so you didn’t always get to turn your papers in digitally. you actually had to, like, print things out, and find a stapler. but my freshman year at NYU they were trying out this new thing by having ‘computer sections’ of writing workshop. we met in a computer lab, and turned in our papers via email. we also did things like chat together in class about something we read.
it was all meant to be very cutting edge, and, in what i suppose was a foreshadowing of my future interest in hci, i thought it was exciting enough that i wanted to sign up for it, even though it meant going to class at 8:30 in the morning. i had just finished going to highschool for four years, after all, and i had to get there at 7:15, so 8:30 sounded quite reasonable. after a full year of staying up until 3 in the morning on a regular basis, and almost never getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night, i changed my tune, but in the narrow window between eras, i signed up for andrew hess’s section of writing workshop, and it changed me. for the first time in my life, i had a teacher who saw right through my bullshit, and tore my writing apart, and challenged me to really think about what i was saying instead of just babbling because it was easy for me to babble, like i’m doing in this blog post.
la la la la.
it was hard, and it scared me a little, and if i ever get my act together and actually write something that makes me proud, it will be partly because of andrew hess, and i will say so in the acknowledgements.
anyway, one of the things that andrew did was ask us to write something that he called a ‘metatext’ after each of our papers. the idea was to give us a place where we could express our thoughts on how the paper went – did we like it? did we leave something out? what hung us up? what did we know was confusing?
this practice raised the caliber of andrew’s editorial comments to a whole new level, because he knew what we already knew, and this experience felt to me like fresh air was finally being let into a room that had grown very stale and stifling, and it made me rather giddy.
one of the things that the metatext helped me with was being comfortable leaving things alone even when i didn’t feel like they were finished yet. i have a very hard time with drafts. i try to make things fit together from the beginning. and i fail. because that’s not how writing works, really. you need to test things. see how they feel. rework them and move them around. i resist this, because my thoughts? they are messy. and it’s hard for me to explain them. and no matter how many times i learn the lesson that it’s faster and more rewarding to just let myself say them a hundred different ways and then pick the ones that work best, i still feel bad about asking other people to sort through my muck, and nervous about going on the record with things that i don’t really mean.
i’m saying all this not because i’m feeling particularly narcissistic this evening, but because it’s a pretty good description of the core of my dilemma with blogging. i was thinking about it as i was writing the last post about kwerk because i kept getting stuck, and it made me nervous, and i remembered andrew hess, and writing workshop, and metatexts, and i thought: maybe i should start writing metaposts? separate places where i let myself ramble about what i think the post did pretty well, and how it compares to the form of the idea that i’m trying to find a way to express, and what i think i might do to make it better.
it seems worth a try, a least.
i can hide the metaposts after the jump, or something. maybe find a plugin that lets me attach notes. then people with interest in such things can read them, and the main posts might get leaner, as a result.
i’ll go write a metapost for the kwerk post now, and try it out.
i thought that this was going to be the metapost, but then i decided to tell stories instead. :)
so andrew, if you ever read this – thank you. i will have you know that you also made me very sensitive to the fact that czechoslovakia no longer exists, and i hope that the past ten years have treated you well. i am trying to focus on kwerk, and finding ways to make money in the meantime, but i am also starting to write a short story – pretty heady sci-fi – and when i finish, i will seek you out, and send you a copy, and if you have the time and interest to tear it apart, it would be a tremendous honor.