The Capitol of Pablovia
MAY 21, 2009 2:57PM

Essays From Hell

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"How's this look," she asked, her face revealing an unintentionally obvious mix of hope and fear.

"Why is it printed on green paper?" 

"I thought it would make it stand out."

"Stand out from what?"  I was trying to sound professorial, but I feared I sounded paternal.

She shrugged and I could see the light (such as it was at 9 o'clock on a rainy Monday morning) draining from her face, taking whatever enthusiasm she had toward the assignment (and English 101 in general) with it. 

" capitalized the title correctly."  She perked up.  "But 'Wasn't' doesn't have an 'e' in it."

"It doesn't?"

I shook my head.  "Remember how we talked about spell-checking your papers before you hand them in?"

She smirked; a tight-lipped expression which I was grateful about if for no other reason than I didn't have to smell her breath, a seemingly perpetual combination of alcohol, cigarettes and a half-century of poor oral hygiene.

"Is the rest of it OK?"

"I'll have to read it first...but just scanning it..." I flipped the first page, then the second, "I'm wondering why you started this paragraph on the third line of page one...and ended it…at the bottom of page three."

"I had a lot to say there."  It was as much a question as it was an answer. 

My student had returned to college after a 30-year absence from the world of education.  Her knowledge of computers in general and word processing in particular rests somewhere between my two-year old son’s and my dog's.  She treats a computer keyboard as if it's slightly electrified and touches the mouse as if it was, well, a rodent.  Her apprehension toward the computer makes me wonder if she's had a bad experience, like maybe a previous computer she had used was haunted. 

Her lack of knowledge of paragraphing, sentence structure, grammar or punctuation aside, I admire her for her motivation to return to school, as I do all my students: the pair of 25 year-old mothers (both with three kids from a total of five different men), the former Black Gangster Disciple who writes so dramatically (and punctuates so poorly) about his former life, the 19 year-old fast food cashier who shows up to class in her uniform perpetually stinking of french fry oil, and even the severely cross-eyed Christian who finds a way to bring Jesus into every conversation (usually by blurting).  

Comma splices are the least of their worries.   But I do what I can.




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I might be wrong, but this feels like it might become a short story.
HB, I hadn't thought of that, but thanks for the idea.