Goodbye Mr. Clips: The Aggie Files, Part 5
I'm tired. I don't think I'd be more tired if I'd been digging ditches or laying asphalt.
This week spent as a journalist-in-residence at Texas A&M has worn me out. I don't know how college professors do it. The job is part researcher, part performer and part politician. It's the performer part that I find most exhausting. It's like being in vaudeville: Knock 'em dead, kid.
Except I'm not a kid. I suppose there are those who think being around college students keeps you young. It can also have the opposite effect. After spending the week around 18- to 22-year-olds, I now recoil when I catch sight of myself in a mirror or the reflective surface of a passing truck. Who is that hideous figure bespoiling this crowd of handsome young people?
I found my particular task especially hard: teaching column-writing. I find teaching almost any kind of writing difficult. Evenings spent with my daughters going over essays for school often end in tears. I know I shouldn't cry but I can't help myself.
How does a person transfer such a mysterious skill from one brain to another? I can talk about "voice" and "tone" and "nuance" but what do those things actually mean? It's not like I'm describing neutrons and electrons or mortises and tenons, things that can only fit together one way.
To their credit, the students have been enthusiastic. This is new to many of them, the tenets of news and feature writing being what they've focused on in their college careers. When you've been told not to use the first person, not to let your biases creep into your work, not to go overboard with your language, confronting a blank page with the instruction "Write a column" can be daunting.
I hope I've taught them something, if only that the world needs journalists. That can be hard to believe these days and I'm sympathetic to the rough road these kids have ahead of them, at least those who want to earn their living as ink-stained, er, pixel-stained wretches. Good people will always find work, I tell them, willing myself to believe it.
I want to thank Dr. Randall Sumpter for letting me spend a week with his Journalism 490 students and for my nifty plaque. And I want to thank the students for at least trying to do what I suggested.
Many of them are going straight to unpaid internships. Some are desperately searching for employment. Some are headed back to mom and dad's. A few have grad school in the future. It's not an easy time to be a graduating senior but I'm sure their Aggie spirit will stand them in good stead. Gig 'em, guys.
Come Chat, Y'all
I'll be chatting from College Station today at noon Washington time. You can post a comment or question now or join me then.
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