Your Writing Sucks!

It glared at me, scrawled in blood-red pencil, across the title page of my Master’s Thesis proposal.

My first impulse was to tear the damn thing up and stuff it in the nearest dumpster.  My writing sucked!  My thesis advisor, who was also the department chair, had written it large and red!

But then, it made no sense.  None of my previous writings in the six years I’d already been his graduate advisee had sucked.  Or if they had, he hadn’t said as much….

So I hightailed it, still bawling, to my favorite committee member’s office.  Thank goodness, she was in!  I dropped the hated document on her desk, hid my face in my hands, and bawled some more.

She flipped through the pages of my manuscript, exclamations of disbelief alternating with heavy sighs as she read the many other profanity-laden comments that I thankfully had not taken the time to read.

“This is serious.  Really serious.  Do you mind if I call on your other committee member?  Right now?  We need to have an emergency meeting.  This could ruin your career.”

I nodded dumbly.  Black spots danced before my eyes.  My head sank down on the professor’s desk.

A glass of water appeared in my hand, and I forced myself to drink it.  The spots cleared, and I heard the anxious voices of the two professors out in the hall, discussing the case and what to do about it.

They entered the room, tight-lipped and furious.

J. lead off.

“Laura, this is inexcusable.  In fact, it’s criminal.  But before we go off half-cocked, I need to fill you in on some background that the department has kept under very close wraps until now.  Promise me that not one word of what I am about to tell you will go beyond the walls of this room.”

I promised.

J. drew a deep breath and began.

“C., the chairman, is a very ill alcoholic.  He’s handled it well until recently.  For some reason, lately it seems it’s taken him over.  Now his wife’s left him.  And the department has given him notice.  He’ll be out at the end of this semester.  They’ve done him the kindness of offering him early retirement.

“This,” she said ruefully, picking up my defaced paper and passing it to A., who had not yet seen the thing, “is the product of his illness.  He was no doubt roaring drunk when he did it, and if you showed it to him now he’d be mortified…or not,” she mused, as an afterthought.

An hour later I left her office burning with rage, fantasizing about what I could do to C. if I were to take the matter to the Administration.  But I knew I wouldn’t.  He was sick, he was injured, he was to be gone and out of my life not at the end of the semester, but NOW.

In J’s office I learned that she herself was to replace C as department chair, and she offered to be my committee chair as well.  I jumped at the opportunity.  J was a brilliant scholar, an exacting mentor, but fair and kind.  She would see to it that C and I would not cross paths again.  I wept again–this time, for gratitude.

My thesis made its way through many a revision, guided by my new committee.  A new third member was added, in the person of someone whose work I idolized.  I could not have been happier, except that when copies of my final draft arrived back in my inbox, my writing idol had written, in blood-red pencil, in neat letters across the top of the title page:

I want to write like you write.

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  1. Geez, Laura. what a terrible start to this post, but what a glorious ending. And a shocking middle! Can’t even imagine how horrible this was to live it. Christine

  2. I love this Laura. It’s almost a Hollywood ending. Thanks. Anne

  3. wonderful!

  4. Hi Laura,
    Glad it ended so well and better that you compassionately understood what he was going through and did not choose to retaliate.

    Love and light

  5. Wonderful! I adore that last sentence: “I want to write like you write.” So do I!


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