Thursday, November 10, 2005

Second admonishment: seven sins of topic selection

Unfortunately, as part of the contract securing my employment, I am forced to teach one section of "Rhetoric and Composition 101," the prerequisite writing course for all majors. Fortunately, the interest level of these students is even lower than my own, so my workload is rather lax. Still, I feel it necessary to offer some advice should any student in such a course wish to avoid having her instructor crumple and then urinate upon her assignment, as I did last night while grading essays after a few glasses of tawny port.

The simple avoidance of the following themes or vehicles in an essay or work of fiction can greatly increase your odds of success:

1) Grandma dies - Don't they all?

2) And then I wake up to find that it was only a dream - Bad enough in a freshman with third-grade vocabulary, but middle-age graduate students? How did you get in the program? Whom do you read? What fucking planet are you from?

3) The [accidental death/suicide] of my [friend/cousin/sibling] makes me aware, for the first time in my young life, of my own mortality - Less stimulating than the account of your first bowel movement on a big-person potty.

4) The church mission trip to Guatemala - Hmm, let me see, how will it end? Do you, perhaps, return to suburban Dallas after having faced this direst of poverty with a renewed appreciation of how blessed you are to be a citizen of the USA? And did the Mayan family--for whom you slapped together a few bricks and handed a sack of corn, a case of bottled water, plus a trunkload of Jerry Falwell pamphlets--mention that they used to subsist growing their own maize until NAFTA and other "free" trade policies disrupted six-thousand years of corn culture, driving them off their ancestral land and slamming them up against our newly militarized border, forcing them to take factory jobs for three bucks a day (jobs, that, incidentally, used to belong to the likes of Uncle Johnny [now alcoholic] in Des Moines)? Of course, they weren't able to tell you because you never bothered to learn any Tzeltal, let alone Spanish. But I'm sure they appreciated the literature, as anything bearing the bloated visage of Rev. Falwell makes wonderful toilet paper.

5) Grandpa dies.

6) First hunting trip with Dear Old Dad - Courtesy of my good friend, Mike Curtis, fiction editor of The Atlantic.

7) Spring Break in [Daytona/Puerto Vallarta/NameYourBeachHere] - A sand-crusted, drunken orgy is neither original nor particularly appealing, and what really astounds the Trout is not the two girls from Ohio who sneak you past their chaperone into their motel room where they simultaneously fiddle with your privates, rather the complete lack of imagination American Youth show in selecting travel destinations. It causes one to wonder which is the greater of our cultural afflictions: fast food or MTV? Both seem manifestations of the corporate institutionalization of there's a topic for an essay.

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