Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Curse of Plenty -- Writer's Poke #320



Sometimes I want to publicly apologize to my students. Forcing them to read essays and novels will never cause them to develop a true love for the written word. I wish that it would, but I have the sense that it has the same effect as demanding my daughter eat her broccoli. I want her to be happy, and so I usually cave in and offer her a piece of candy for eating a few bites of broccoli. In truth, I know how horrible this approach is, as it never instills within her the knowledge of broccoli’s intrinsic value.  She needs to eat her broccoli to be healthy, not just because I want her to be “well rounded,” and yet, she can live for years on candy, at least in theory, before she may even recognize that a little broccoli is good for the body. Hey, some people even admit that broccoli tastes good, but it’s difficult to make that argument to a three year old when she has cinnamon rolls on the brain, let alone sticking out of her mouth.

Having spent the better part of the last twenty years with my nose in books, I’d like to at least imagine that I haven’t wasted my life away. But I have friends that don’t read. I’m not such a book snob that I require a literacy test before I friend someone, nor do I persecute anyone simply because they don’t know who Ernest Hemingway or Kurt Vonnegut are. I wish that it were as simple as shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Different strokes for different folks.” Alas, I can’t do that. Frankly, Kurt Vonnegut is candy, but he is also broccoli. I taste both flavors each time I read him, and yet, if I assigned any of his novels in class, most students would only taste the broccoli, if they bothered to taste at all.

I can’t force my students to read, and I wouldn’t want to. A student posted to ratemyprofessor.com that he or she was able to earn an A in my class without cracking open a book. I think this student was bragging, but I read it as a confession of guilt. I’m sure there are some classes where students can earn a good grade without reading anything. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not learning anything, but what a handicap it is to try to learn without the book’s assistance. No book is sacred. I know that. But books are tools, and not using books is the equivalent of using primitive hand tools and then bragging that you never used a hammer. Maybe not even that. Maybe it’s the equivalent of showing off you’re bloody stump after forsaking even the primitive hand tools. 

Why do people enjoy making things harder on themselves? If only we could understand each day that the path of least resistance is sometimes the most difficult road we could ever travel.  And I’m not without guilt in this regard. Although I can’t recall ever bragging about not reading a book, I know there have been times when I’ve bragged about not eating properly, not exercising regularly, or not sleeping enough. 

As “difficult” as the times are in which Americans now live, let’s be honest for a minute. Most of us are pretty well off in this country, but having it as good as we do can in itself be a curse. When you have plenty, you don’t feel bad about throwing away the things you might actually need the most in the end.

How can you avoid the curse of plenty?

“I’ve had plenty of big hits and plenty of big misses.” – Bret Michaels