Thursday, June 2, 2016
“Alright, I have all of your papers here from last week,” said the media and communications professor. An older man with short-cropped white hair, a pair of fitted skinny jeans, pointed brown leather shoes and a large gold earring on the right, he hunches in his seat cross-legged, crumpled, as though hiding his true size. In twenty years they will call this man a hipster. His eyes are large and bulging, like his nose. His voice: tempered thunder.
“You covered an interesting range of social issues, which is good… Now, I’m not handing these back to you just yet. You’re each getting a random paper from someone else in the class.”
And with that, thirty students read a paper not of their own writing for all to hear. Political decentralisation. Secularism. War profiteering. Child slavery. Globalisation. Cultural imperialism. Female genital mutilation.
At the end of each paper, the professor invites everyone to critique the writing, with nothing held back. Too broad, too narrow, too short-sighted, too sexist, too elitist, too Anglo, too naïve, too poorly argued, too mundane, too idiotic…
And when, finally, nothing is left of the paper to savage, the author is named and asked to stand for all to see.
This scenario might come across as an HR Manager’s worst nightmare, but it’s how writers and journalists are trained. And for me, there are four important lessons to take from it:
1. You are not nearly as clever nor interesting as you think you are.
2. Try as you might, you will never be all things to all people.
3. Take ownership of what you write.
4. Grow a thicker skin.
These are not pleasant lessons to learn, but you’ll know when you encounter a piece of writing from someone who has.
About today’s photo: I heard that a café in Melbourne is serving a glass of water, a glass of milk and a glass of espresso and calling it a deconstructed coffee. So here is my impression of a deconstructed essay. I charge by the word, so I have no idea how this is going to work.