Freshman English Papers

Looking back on my freshman college year, you know what’s better about today? I don’t have to turn these posts in for a grade! No grim faced professor is allowed to scratch pencil marks around the edges of each little essay. Just think – I can write a whole blog full of fragmentary sentences and there’s not one thing they can do about it!

And I do write them. Hither and thither. Sometimes you just have to go with the way the words sound. That’s how I felt then and that’s how I feel now.

On my desktop I keep a list of Jack Kerouac’s thirty axioms for modern prose. They’re pretty good and I recommend you immediately go over here and study them. You’ll notice Number 13 suggests “Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition.” He doesn’t say we don’t need to understand grammar or syntax – but don’t let them get in your way. Try to get the picture clear in your mind and go straight for it. I keep Jack’s list at hand for inspiration and to remind myself that anytime I put words to paper (so to speak), I’m part of a long line of guys who struggled their whole lives to learn how to write out of the box, how to keep their idea line as free of crap as if Keith Jarrett (a piano player I like) was writing it.

The only difference is I’m a pig. It’s hard for me to tell where my inspiration leaves off and the crap begins. Jack’s axiom #1 is the whole key, for me anyway: “Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy.” And if I make myself laugh as I type, then I figure I’m heading in the right direction.

Those professors at San Jose State in 1959 wanted me to write clean, clear prose. Like this: A plus B = C. Start with your introductory paragraph (which itself has to start with a grabber sentence), add body, then concluding paragraph. All nice and neat and when you’re done your reader thinks, “Aha – I see. Cats eat rats! Very interesting.”

Sorry, Dr. Smith. I already heard all this already in high school. Next you’ll want me to turn in my outline.

The more they tried to whip me into shape (of a square) the more I wriggled and jiggled and wandered off in four directions. It became a game. I was sublimely confident in my ability. I was convinced my English Comp professor wouldn’t know good writing if Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti broke into the classroom with their guns leveled straight at him.

I knew exactly what I was doing. I just wasn’t very good at it. Needed more practice. Still do.

I always felt when they wrote ‘spelling’ in the margin they really meant “Why can’t you be more like a girl? They check their spelling! They’re nice! They smell good! No – you’re sloppy and improvisational and you should shave off that scruffy beard if you think you’re going to get a decent grade in here.

“And what’s this? Horrors! Slang! You’ve used slang in a college-level essay! And just look at this illogical and non-parallel series of clauses and phrases. How can anyone possibly understand this beatnik prose? Why don’t you write like Ernest Hemingway? Mr. Pig, you are MUCH TOO SELF-INDULGENT! You must write to communicate, not for your own private pleasure…Tsk tsk tsk..”

And on and on. Next I was accused of ‘rambling’. What’s wrong with ‘rambling’ anyway? I’ve spent my life rambling round this country, and I’ve met a lot of funny men. Some robbed me with a six gun, others with a fountain pen. Woody Guthrie said that. There! I used an eminent authority to emphasize my point. Are you happy now?

Whatever I was doing in college, I was not here to learn how to write a simple, clear, direct essay. That was for sissies. Sissies, drones, English professors, and other bores. Funny, in later life I have come to admire that approach. I usually write to capture a feeling or a moment of time, or possibly make you laugh if I can, but if someone is writing to communicate an idea, and I can actually understand what they are trying to say – I love it! That’s the whole idea.

Don’t know quite why I rambled down this path this morning. I really meant to tell you about my beatnik-lefty-socialist seventeen year old pal Bob Gill. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t write out your outline ahead of time. By now, you’d be up to the demonstration and kids getting washed down the stairs with fire hoses and it would be really exciting. Instead I’m still sitting up in my attic room in the boarding house writing a paper I have to turn in in the morning. Wonder what he’ll say this time! I know. “You use too many exclamation marks! This reads like a comic book!”

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5 thoughts on “Freshman English Papers

  1. Stream of consciousness rules the day. Improvise your words like Monk would bop a tune. Then, like monk, get up and dance for no apparent reason other than the spirit moving your old bones to a-shakin’. When you’re done, it either works or it doesn’t. At least you can always say it was fun.”We intend to destroy all dogmatic verbal systems” William S. Burroughs

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  2. Hello Ponderer,Those video clips of a few articles back have indirectly caused the Pondering Pig Blog to be barred from my computer screen. Here is what happened. Ever since the time those articles appeared with the video clips embedded my computer has nixed my reading the Blog. My IE6 Operating System must think the clips are some sort of security risk to my computer. Even today with new articles on the Blog that do not include video clips the screen freezes after about 3-10 seconds, then a sign pops up reading, “Microsoft Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” Then I am given the options to either notify Microsoft of this problem, or to not notify them – and have the window closed immediately. Since Microsoft has discontinued support for its older Windows 98, which I use, I click “Don’t Notify” and let the screen close. But it is not goodbye forever Pondering Pig, not yet anyway.While searching around the Internet for a solution to my problem I discovered I could bring up the PP articles via “del.icio.us”. I recall you once mentioned on your Blog you were using this site too. And, once there I can read all your articles, along with all the comments included. So far, so good. But the two articles with the video clips: they still get shut down whenever I try to view them using my home computer. Oh well, a successful end run even if it takes a little longer, is as good as going straight forward, if the desired goal is reached. So I have put this new site for the Pondering Pig (for me) onto my list of Favorites.Last Thursday I went to the public library and brought up the PP Blog using one of their computers. Theirs are speedy fast compared to my dial-up connection’s speed. Using the library computer I found I could bring up and read the PP Blog with no problem. It was at this time while using the library computer I first observed that there were video clips embedded in the articles that caused my problem. I said to myself, “Oh, this must be my computer’s dilemma.” But I was not allowed to open the video clips at the library. The public library for security reasons does not allow attachments to be opened. This is just speculation on my part that the presence of video clips on a website are my computer’s problem, but it does seem logical to me, since my computer problem started at the same time that the video clips were introduced to the scene. But I’m not complaining given that I’ve found another way to read what’s being discussed of interest on the PP Blog. I thought some of your other readers – the ones who don’t leave comments – might possibly have run into this situation too, especially if they are using an older model computer – and would find my solution of significance if they too wanted to keep reading your PP Blog.. It was yesterday I discovered I could even include a comment on the PP Blog through the del.icio.us link. If I can bring up the main PP Site long enough to read the title of the day’s article, then with this information I can go to the “del.icio.us” site and find the article listed. For older articles I have to sort through the index of subjects, and, guessing which one is appropriate, probably find the article I’m looking for. Here is the link for the “del.icio.us” site, if any of your readers are interested in taking a look: http://del.icio.us/OldWalrus .Forgive me for being long winded today, and getting off the subject of Freshman English Papers. Gary

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  3. Hey Leo, Thanks for the good advice. Your suggestion seems to have solved my PP shutdown difficulty. However my ever-alert Spybot program seems a little confused about something at this time. So far all is well. Gary

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