Writing Memoir

Make me a better __________.

I usually enjoy any opportunity to help me be a better _____. How to be more bedable Cosmo offers. Why not flip to page 56? (Just joking, I didn’t look at that article, but countless others.) Yeah, I’m not sure why or when I got on the self-improvement bandwagon, but I’ve been a flag waving fan ever since.

But I don’t like instructions. That’s different. Instructions are lame, for the follow-your-orders type, not someone like me! I’m above reading those folded pieces of paper (instructions) that come with the heavier-than-hate shelving, or a cheap-ass plastic car top carrier.

Some assembly may be required.
Some assembly may be required.

So I’ve learned the hard way – and somewhere between my moving trip from Durango Colorado to Eugene Oregon that cheap-ass plastic car top carrier lost its ability to stay closed. Incidentally, packing tape works in a bind, lots of packing tape, for that real classy look.

And you know it’s not just the idea of constantly improving, and getting better, it’s the actual process of that I’m doing something good for my body and mind. Now I can’t say I’m as enlightened as I’d like to be, but I feel closer to where I want to go. (Although if you had asked me last year, I would have told you differently.)

meditating hippies
Meditating hippies, I mean, enlightened folks – in a very public place – in Laos.

Therefore, because I like writing, I want to improve as a writer and I like to read about writing. However, I don’t like grammar because grammar is lame. Grammar is rules – instructions, if you will, folded neatly, to be discarded until I realize I need it for some sort of “credibility” or when I realize (too late) I need it.

Enter “Principals of Written English” a MOOC course provided by UC Berkley. I’ve only completed week one, but I already know this course will be good for me, not only as a writer, but as a teacher of English for Foreign Language learners. I get to see how one particular instructor goes about handling editing, vocabulary development and academic writing, and that’s exciting.

I was surprised by not only how many people around the world are taking this free online course (over 46,000), but by how many around the world are participating in order to strengthen their English understanding. I think I am also surprising myself by having a “beginner’s mind”.

In high school, I was a slacker mainly because of the high drama at home, and simply because I couldn’t wait to go to college, where I felt the real learning would take place. At the time, Hawaii’s educational system wasn’t exactly known for its seriousness. But I have no complaints. I was not mature, ditched school regularly, achieved very little, and even had to take a shameful summer class in English to make up for my lack of attention.

At community college I took a 101 English course which helped me learn what I failed to absorb in high school. And so it seems ironic that I loved writing, wrote every day, but was too lost in my own process to pay much attention to correct form. I think it seemed rebellious to not be grammatically tied up. And when I read Mark Twain’s quote, “Great books are weighed and measured by their style and matter, and not the trimmings and shadings of their grammar” I felt justified in knowing just enough to get by.

writing-shiftsThe great thing about teaching though, if you want to look at it this way, is that you are forced to look up things you don’t know. What? You mean you are not an expert? No, dear, I am not, and I don’t see it as a handicap.

The thing about learning something so you can teach it is you will most likely, and should, keep the lesson as simple as possible. I will struggle, be confused and find my way through the material, just like a student, and that’s an advantage.

When someone is an expert they have a tendency to “talk shop” or use lingo and jargon that the everyday person does not know. Instead of sounding intelligent, they sound pompous because it feels like a deliberate attempt to cut folks out of the conversation. If, however, a lot of questions are posed to this “expert” the expert then just has to spend a lot of time explaining herself.

So, a few things can happen to the expert: 1) They lose their audience, 2) They condescend, 3) They assume their audience knows the same things they do, 4) They don’t teach, so much as speak and speak, and lastly 5) They cannot understand the beginner’s mind.

If well-meaning folks tell me “who are you to teach” or “who are you to know” I am reminded of the strength of having a beginner’s mind. I insist on keeping my grammar lessons real simple because I don’t see the point in becoming an expert. I see it as a tool, but I don’t want grammar to prevent me from being creative or the kind of teacher I enjoy being.

For my purposes, it’s important to put myself in the shoes of others, my students or my readers. In order to communicate clearly and effectively, I have to happily marry “expert” and “educator”.  And anyone who knows a thing or two about academia knows those two branches are often not found in the same person.

Maybe I’m an expert, but I don’t consider myself to be. And it’s not about pretending to be lower than I am, or humbling myself, as much as it is about realizing in most relationships, situations, and interactions in the world, I am striving or I am stationary. I am helping or I’m not doing anything at all.

I’d rather not be stationary. I liken it to either waiting for the well to fill up, so to speak, or stagnant waters where breeding mosquitoes and other unsavoriness takes place. Actually, I have a hard time relating to people who are not interested in improving, as I see this as one of the main purposes of life.

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8 thoughts on “Make me a better __________.

  1. You and I think very much alike. I don’t love the type of self-improvement that implies that there is something wrong with you somehow, but I am all for strengthening and enhancing all the things that make a person interesting and special.I also believe that, for me at least, teaching and learning are the same thing. I learn from my students as much as I teach. That can’t happen when I’m wearing my expert cap. I think it helps to admit that you don’t know everything and that sometimes you make mistakes–even grammatical ones. 😉

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    1. Thank you Lisa. It’s nice to make these blogosphere connections! This post came out of a conversation w/ a friend and it got me thinking about different types of people – the ones who don’t want to be better, the ones who do, and honestly, me trying to understand why someone would not be interested. I think we need upgrades, and it makes life more interesting too.

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    1. Thank you for the nomination. I recently did the Liebster Award, so I’m going to have to pass. I do appreciate it though, very much.

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