Words Are My Friends

In between grading papers this weekend, I was spring cleaning my hard drive and found some old papers I had written for my high school British Literature class in 1997.

Two quick thoughts:

  1. I was so much more prolific in my younger days. I wrote sooooooo much stuff–everything from short stories to poems to song lyrics.
  2. Boy, I liked words.

Anyway, this particular assignment required us to write a letter channeling Samuel Johnson. Of course, having honed my writing skills as a wee lad, I’d never settle for writing any old letter. So I wrote a response to an English teacher who had, um, not looked favorably on a previous assignment of mine.

Letter to Mr. Pumperdinkle

To the Honorable and Distinguished English instructor, Mr. Pumperdinkle

October 7, 1995

Sir: it was with great honor that I read the myriad comments you wrote on my essay assignment, which was so promptly returned to me.  Never before have I had the opportunity to have some of my work be extensively criticized by such a distinguished member of the society of English teachers.  To have what one deems his best be thrashed by you, most gracious sir, is the greatest honor that a person can earn.  As such, I know not how to thank you or acknowledge this wonderful blessing which has been bestowed upon me.

When, upon receiving the assignment, I began to ponder on my essay, on whether I possessed the intellectual ability to address a question so overpowering, so masterfully composed, I was elated to realize that your aptitude certainly surpassed my own.  Indeed, I could not even begin to consider myself “Le mâitre du roi des langues.” Understanding your superiority over my feeble mind encourages me so, for I can be certain that your instruction is flawless.  Furthermore, your example I can strive to follow, although I am aware that I can never achieve perfection as you so easily did.  When I had once mentioned your kind comments to my comrades, dear sir,  I exhausted all adjectives to describe your wisdom and the truth with which you corrected our essays.  Our refrain was in unison; indeed we have all been blessed to have memorialized your great intellect through the generous marks of red on our once-pristine pages.  Like everyone in our class, I had done my very best.  It was somewhat disheartening at first to have my best neglected, be it so inferior to your slightest effort.  In time, however, I saw the error of my ways, for I had no right to question your ability and your sagacity.

Seven hours, dear sir, did I spend preparing that essay, exhausting all effort to make it acceptable to your standards—standards which reflect the very basis of the English language.  Although I know I am nowhere near your intellectual capability, I am delighted to know that you are shaping me into your image; the question marks that followed each paragraph proved to be the most helpful hints of your generosity. Nearer, dear sir, to thee—such is my prayer.

Is not a teacher, dear sir, one who extends his knowledge to his pupils—pupils who are so blessed to experience both his intellect and graciousness?  The multitude of question marks was kind, dear sir, though they made me feel smaller than the single smallest bacterium.  Your great help, O most gracious instructor, had been appreciated, had it been more specific and to the point.  But it has remained a mystery to me till I am indifferent, and cannot properly learn from your teachings; till I am accepted into college, and cannot rely on the same generosity from other professors; till I am a well-known author, and have no need for it.

I shall carry on with my work and not be disappointed that I cannot achieve the greatness which you so worthily enjoy, for I have already accepted the fact that it is something I cannot boast of, for I do not want to present a threat to your rightful superiority.

I’m guessing some of my students feel exactly the same way about me right now. What goes around…


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