What We Talk About When We Talk About The Point

pencil point“What’s the point?” my student asked me the other day, at the end of a particularly difficult class period featuring technology issues, chatty, inattentive students, and blank stares.

“Of what?” I said. “This lesson, this shitty projector, the assignment, the reading, the essay? Or are you asking about the whole course, basically my entire career?” (I may have been feeling a little dramatic and a lot over caffeinated.

“Yes,” he said. “All of it.”

Well, Student in the Front Row, Asking Metaphysical Questions With Five Minutes Left in Class, While Simultaneously Streaming a Soccer Game (yes, I can tell)—here’s your answer, to all of it. Fair warning: it may be more than you bargained for.

What’s the point? The point is this:

–You have to complete this essay to pass this course, which is required of all freshmen at the university.

–You have to listen to my lectures and do the in-class exercises and complete the homework assignments on your own time, because that is how you will prepare to successfully write the essay, which you have to pass (see above point).

–Contrary to the prevailing belief of freshman classes across space and time and windowless basement classrooms, you will need to learn to write at some point.

–No really, you do.

–For example: you really, really like that girl who lives across the hall, and she’s agreed to go out with you, and after a few months of dating and awkward fumbling, you want to have sex with this beautiful, independent, fun love boat. One way you might woo her and get her into bed is to write her a sexy, steamy, passionate—but heartfelt—letter, enumerating all of the things you love about her: her delicious thighs, her cute dimples, the way she warms up spaghetti sauce in a pan before serving it over perfectly al dente pasta, not just slopped over the lip of a cold-from-the fridge jar, gross—in addition to all of the fun you might have together between the sheets (or in the backseat of your car, have you mentioned that you have one, and also how roomy it is?). A letter just might do the trick. Crazy and certainly old school, I know, but haven’t you seen The Notebook or You’ve Got Mail or really any other romantic movie set in or before the nineties? Writing will get you the girl, or the guy. Don’t underestimate the power of a funny Tinder bio that correctly uses your and you’re—it’ll get you far.

–In order to enter into an academic conversation in your writing, you must learn how to read critically and engage with your texts, cracking open their new, unbent spines and diving in, highlighter at the ready.

–See also: knowing what an academic conversation is. A hint: if you listen during the lectures, you’d know.

–See also: the importance of actually buying the textbook.

–Writing is something you will use every day for the rest of your life—when composing an interoffice memo, when updating a patient’s chart, when answering your boss’ email for the first time and trying very hard to sound like an important, confident CEO, not a scared assistant staring blankly at the blinking light on the copy machine. You will use it to write an email requesting customer service, to apply to said shitty office assistant job, to respond to a friend’s evasive “k” text message, to get out of a parking ticket. You will need it to flirt, argue, communicate, win.

–You still need to complete the essay to pass the class. Excuse me, all the essays.

–Yes, there are three. Yes, I know.

–Maybe the article I asked you to annotate about the rise in heroin use and overdose deaths in your county will wake you up, and maybe the shy boy in the back row who offers up in class discussion that his best friend died of a OD last year, and yeah, it really is a problem—maybe he’ll wake you up too, more so than I ever could.

–Your peers—that’s why. The people at the other Desk Islands, passing time. Some of them are excited to be here, some are scared out of their minds, some are working three jobs to pay to be here, and some are forever indebted to their parents or the US government in order to be here. There are a million reasons why each ass is in each seat, but the thing you’ve all got in common is you each belong here, and you each deserve a chance to learn something.

–What’s the point? The point is that’s my job, and I take it seriously. I’ve know how powerful writing can be because over and over, it’s changed my life. A heartfelt, well-crafted statement of purpose got me a teaching job in graduate school, even though I’d never stood in front of a class before. A funny email landed me a first date, and a sad but necessary one ended a shitty relationship. Writing has been my place to escape during difficult times, lonely times, anxious times. I wrote my way through homesickness while studying abroad in London, and in Riverfront Park in Spokane just after I’d moved, where I wondered what I was doing halfway across the country from everyone I loved. Other’s writing has saved me too—Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, Mary Karr’s Lit, everything by Lorrie Moore. Even small words, simple words, can be powerful—like my mom’s daily lunch box notes, one-sentence reminders stuck between PB&Js and cookies telling me to be brave, to smile, to have fun. The act of writing, the end product of writing—all of it is meaningful and useful and all of it is the point, Dear Student Who Can’t Wait For Thanksgiving Break. Writing has been a constant thread through my life, a place to rest or be challenged or to learn, and I would like to give some small piece of that solace and thrill to you.


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