End comment

Jeremy —

In many respects, this is a strong essay. Not only is your writing here effectively organized and thoroughly edited, your ideas are also well developed and supported by a number of detailed descriptions and examples, leading up to some rather revealing and provocative insights. However, while this is certainly high-caliber writing, unfortunately I can’t give you an “A” on this assignment, since your essay reveals several serious flaws that I feel compelled to address in my suggestions here.

First of all, what kind of person are you? Why would you choose to write about painful, sensitive family information? Writing is a social act; it is meant to be shared. Therefore, I don’t understand why you would share these sordid details about your life, nor why you would besmirch your own name — your family name, which should stand for honesty, integrity, hard work, loyalty… What exactly does your name stand for?

And why would you want to tell others about your past — especially if your past is filled with such shameful details? Divorce? Dysfunctional families? Multiple stepmothers? Bedwetting? Most people don’t want to hear about such things. Besides, when you write about such topics, criticizing (implicitly or explicitly) the people who care about you, then you just come off as insufferable and arrogant — a critical snob who’s so obviously looking down his nose at everyone else while dragging his family name through the mud. And for what purpose? If you had half a brain, you would realize that your writing could hurt a lot of people — all in your family. At the very least, you would realize the pain you would cause your poor father. What if he ever read your essay? What if someone posted it online for everyone to read? Then, perhaps, he might have to disown you, the black-sheep son who soiled the family name, cutting you off from his side of the family entirely. How would you like that? (Maybe you would like that. After all, you are an insufferable snob who acknowledges, in your essay, feeling disconnected from your own family.)

Moreover, why do you dwell almost entirely on your negative experiences? You think you had it rough? You make me laugh. Your experiences sound like a trip to Club Med compared to many others’ experiences growing up. So when you revise this essay, I’d like to see you taking a sunnier, more positive approach. Your readers would rather read the good stuff — like when your dad pulled you out of class back in the 5th grade to see The Empire Strikes Back, or when your mom would take you to your favorite beach on weekends. And what about all of those birthday parties and Christmases? The weekend soccer games? The bike rides? Those trips to the YMCA and the Skate King? Aren’t those experiences part of your childhood, too? You have plenty of pleasant experiences to write about, don’t you? So, wipe off the black eye makeup and shelve the Smiths albums and that dog-eared copy of The Bell Jar. Sheesh. How old are you now, anyway? Like you said in your essay: “get over it.”

Your readers want to feel hopeful. They want to hear about how great your life was in the past, thereby convincing themselves that the future will be great as well. You can’t tell embarrassing stories about your family, even if they are true, because you’re supposed to love your family unconditionally. So, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. After all, it’s nice to be nice. And it’s mean to tell the truth.

These are some of the fundamental rules of writing. I hope you remember them when you write your next essay.

At any rate, your life sounds kind of depressing, and if you ask me, your writing makes you sound like a total mess. Perhaps you should get some therapy — you really need it. Or maybe you should just concentrate on the things that are really important — like getting married, settling down, having kids, getting divorced, and then repeating that process over (and over) again. You should also try to make a lot of money and perhaps buy yourself a nice car. No matter what the so-called “experts” say, you actually can buy happiness. For example, I make a heck of a lot more money than you and am a lot happier. I drive a Lexus, own two homes, and have an impressive collection of fine wines. You are just an unhappy English teacher at a junior college. Maybe if you could afford to buy more stuff, you’d be happier like me.

Finally, I suggest a major overhaul of your essay. With an attitude adjustment, some historical revisionism, and a lot of groveling, you just might be on track to becoming a better person — and, more important, to earning that pathetic approval (wrapped in an “A”) that you’re still so desperately and clearly seeking…

(However, I don’t know if your Dad’s ever going to come around.)

Grade: Incomplete

59 responses to “End comment”

  1. I dunno. I think Jeremy’s family’s had it easy compared to David Sedaris’s.

    This almost hurt to read. Hell — it did hurt.

  2. Rachel says:

    Yes, I’m sure that “an impressive collection of fine wines” really does bring true happiness, a satisfying barrier between one’s self and the existential void. Much more so than, say, being gifted in one’s chosen vocation.

  3. Scott Godfrey says:

    “an impressive collection of fine wines”…at first pass, I read this as “fine wives,” and almost spewed hot coffee all over my keyboard.

    LHD, you are one tough cookie.

  4. Marleyfan says:

    Ok, Literacy, you’ve got me going. You have no right to be insolent and scorning, the article tow which your refer, was brilliant. Jeremy has the right to feel the way he does (and did growing up), and instead of tearing him down, instead, you should be validating. Anyone in their right mind knows that it is cathartic to release one’s feelings. Do you really want to get into a dogfight, or are you too busy scratching fleas? Lay off, or you’ll have to deal with me!

  5. Marleyfan says:

    And my poor editing skills…

  6. bacon says:

    Overall, I’d say your essay is serviceable. It contains all the elements of fine writing—wit, irony, a judgmental attitude, a smug superiority, and a mean-spirited attempt to humiliate Jeromy. Good things all. My only serious criticism is that your point that money buys happiness is rather banal. Who on God’s earth really believes it doesn’t?

  7. Scott says:

    I guess those of us who don’t believe in “God’s earth.”

  8. Lisa Tremain says:

    Rhetorically, LHD, (or maybe J.’s dad?) you’ve contradicted yourself– how are we– as readers– to be hopeful when you ask us– as writers– to mask the truth?

    I vote we grant Jeremy emeritus status.

  9. Literacy H. Dogfight says:

    I can’t take credit for all of the writing contained in the “end comment” above. The following phrases are plagiarized:

    “sensitive family information”
    “honesty, integrity, hard work, loyalty”
    “what does your name stand for?”
    “insufferable… arrogant…snob”
    “your writing would hurt a lot of people–all in your family”
    “if you had half a brain”
    “how old are you?”
    “perhaps you should get some therapy–you really need it”
    “i make a heck of a lot more money than you and am a lot happier”
    “you are just an unhappy english teacher at a junior college”

  10. Tim Wager says:

    Dear LHD,

    Thank you for your insightful critique of this piece of student writing. It’s about time someone stood up for standards and stopped handing out A’s to everything that has no spelling errors or egregious grammar problems. Make the punk do it over. He should be happy you didn’t just fail him outright.

  11. Dubya says:

    It’s SO obvious J’s dad is SO much happier… right. Right. Right.

  12. bryan says:

    to be fair to jeremy’s dad (and others who potentially could have been offended) someone should note that it would be unpleasant to see yourself represented in that kind of narrative. at the same time, writers use family stories all the time, and family members (like american idol contestants) need to realize that what they’re encountering are representations being used for specific effects. it’s obviously a tricky line to walk.

    that said, in jeremy’s (and LHD’s) defense, i find it sad that jeremy’s heartfelt post about the effects of divorce on his young psyche wasn’t encountered, as it could have been, as an opportunity for j’s family members to get to know him better. instead of putting him down or questioning his motivations for writing, said pop (if indeed LHD’s representations of his actions are accurate) could have laughed off the caricatures and sought to recognize the complex and rewarding personality that has resulted in JZ.

    #10 was more painful than the post itself.

  13. bacon says:

    Scott, I’m here to assure you the myth that money doesn’t buy happiness died with flower power at Altamont. I don’t own a Lexus, nor do I have a collection of exquisite wines, but I would sure be happier if I did.

  14. Dave says:

    As Joan Didion says, a writer is always selling someone out.

  15. Dave says:

    So bacon, why haven’t you already bought the car and the wine?

  16. bacon says:

    The car? I prefer to walk, but it would be nice having a kick-ass Lexus parked in front of my house. And with parking at a premium, an idle kick-ass Lexus would be a sort of “fuck you” to the corporate sheep in my neighborhood. Totally punk rock.

    …and you’re saying that wouldn’t make me happy?

    I did buy the exquisite wine, but I already drank it.

  17. Stephanie Wells says:

    I hardly know what to say to this wrenching post, except that finally, perhaps for the first time ever, postmodernism and a deep emotional investment in the characters are married in the same text. I’ve been waiting a long time for a text like this. I only wish it didn’t come at such huge personal expense of its writer (and addressee). It’s completely audacious, and absolutely shocking. Truth is meaner than fiction.

  18. Scott says:

    Look inside yourself, my dear Bacon, and you will find a wellspring of potential happiness. You need only strip yourself of your materialist zeal and dive in.

    The possessions you seek will only prove to adorn your present dissatisfaction with a shallow mask. Ultimately, you will find that like covering up old paint with new, the cracks will rise to the surface. To find true joy in anything, you must strip, sand, and prime your soul.

    As for Altamont, it was the hiring of methed-up Angels that fucked that affair up.

  19. G-Lock says:

    I’m not exactly operating on all cylinders, apparently, because I didn’t really get this until I re-read th–… okay, Cedric explained it all. (“Cedric explained it all”, incidentally, will now be the name of my second memoir.)

    I am simply going to second Nate’s “wow” and add a sigh.

    Jeremy, huge hug from NYC.

  20. G-Lock says:

    And, to LDH, I am choosing to turn the other cheek. And not the good kind!

  21. farrell says:

    yes to #18. this reminds me of how a young philip roth might have written if he were part of a group blog. this acts on several narrative levels and, yes, manages to still pull at real emotions, not just dismiss them. nicely done.

  22. Lane says:

    wow . . . mom (?)

  23. xt439i says:

    eewow, tgw’ers, may i say, this is IS a stimulating conversation. to hell with all uv you. do you relize, do you, that your pretty fucking smug and arrogant? heavens, where’s a church. where can i find genuity? i thot this might be a place. . . . no. let’s just fuck the lurkers.

  24. Scott says:

    Bacon – I just want to let you know that our little dispute has been settled: this evening, Steph and I got Chinese takeout, and my fortune cookie reads, “Having more money does not insure happiness.”

    Sorry.

  25. Beth W says:

    Preface 1: I will freely admit that I am out of the loop, void of intimate knowledge on the workings of this unusual group.

    Preface 2:
    I appreciate a good critique. If I learned anything in design school it’s that a critique is best when it gently recognizes the flaws of a work (not a person) and encourages the artist that they are capable of great things.

    My Miss Marple style revelation:
    This was harsh. Too brutal for me not to believe that LHD and Jeremy are one and the same. (insert gasps and swiveling heads)

    post script: not trying to out anyone and spoil the fun
    post post script: if I am wrong, then LHD is mean, very very very mean

  26. Stephanie Wells says:

    bingo farrell, that’s just it–this post is as nathan zuckerman as anything can possibly get.

  27. bryan says:

    #24 scares me. is it mean robot spam?

  28. Scott says:

    Perhas #24 is a musical robot, not a robot spammer, and he has a song in his heart to share.

  29. Rachel says:

    Is #24’s comment in English? I can’t tell.

  30. Tim Wager says:

    xt439i, welcome back. glad to know you’re back okay from your tour. are you william and eric, too? or are they different guys? if so, i hope they’re okay too. sorry this post wasn’t to your liking. we’re all a little close here, and sometimes because they want to address a particular issue or event in their lives, authors assume prior knowledge that many readers don’t have. please be patient. we hope you’ll return, read, and comment more.

  31. bacon says:

    Scott,

    With your help, the fog surrounding me all my life has finally lifted. Our culture hints that the Chinese do indeed possess the ancient secrets of happiness. Most of us don’t listen, but all those people with yoga mats hanging out at the local tea shop seem kinda happy to me, and their tattoos clearly signal an indifference to material posessions and a commitment to the inner self.

    So after being moved by your comment this morning, I took your advice and shed all the ownables that were roadblocks in my quest for inner peace. And guess what…I am proud to declare myself a happy person. How could I have been so blind? If only I had eaten more Chinese take out and listened to the wisdom of those humble fortune cookies, I could have avoided some of those really whopping mistakes I made in this life.

    The only problem is now that the seed has been planted, I can’t get that goddam Lexus out of my head. A test drive seem so much more appealing than volunteering at some smelly, depressing soup kitchen.

  32. Scott says:

    Bacon – I love you more than you could ever know.

  33. Miller says:

    I have been lurking this blog for some time now, admiring from afar the delicious imaginations, scathingly critical minds, and diverse writing styles that compose this tight-knit community. Until this moment I have exercised lurker’s restraint (given the close friendships between most of you) for fear that if I did comment I would be taken as a creep – let’s say more of a xt439i personality than a Beth W. personality. [Sidenote: perhaps a post on Proper Lurker Etiquette (PLE) could be entertained?]
    Anyway, I must involve myself in this discussion because, well, it’s just so damn juicy and heartbreaking all at once. I think that Bryan’s #1 comment makes an interesting comparison. What makes Jeremy’s initial post so endearing is the fact that, unlike David Sedaris (who had and has a brother and sisters with whom to share the plethora of emotions involved in his family’s ups and downs), Jeremy was alone. Sedaris’s works (to me, anyway) are about inviting the reader into the intimate workings of a family, whereas Jeremy’s essay expresses to the reader that there never was a family, in the singular form, and that no one in his “family” can ever understand what his child/adulthood was/is like, because no one in his family had the same experiences he did. At least if siblings are shipped from household to household, they do so together; at least if siblings have emotionally needy family members, they can shoulder the responsibility together. Perhaps this is uncomfortable, as LHD’s post conveys, but if Jeremy’s family members were to get upset it would just confirm what his narrative implies from the start – parents, steps-siblings, aunts, uncles, the LHD’s of the world, etc. don’t get (only)children of divorce. If they did they would see that the essay is more self-expressive than self-indulgent, more humble than “arrogant,” more charming than “insufferable,” more affectionate than “snob”ish.
    Finally, being a current university student and former junior college student, I can say that had it not been for a few of my junior college professors (specifically my English professors) I would either be a housewife, crack whore, or secretary (all of which are equally appealing to me now), and wouldn’t have half of the passion or motivation that I do at this point in my life. Not to get all sappy on you all, but I hope that means more than a couple of mortgages or catastrophic car payments ever could.
    Phew. Sorry for the long-winded lecture, but once I get going it’s hard for me to shut the hell up.

  34. bacon says:

    Scott,

    I feel a strange, disturbing feeling in my loins.

  35. bryan says:

    miller: this is my favorite comment in a good long while. i especially love this part:

    if Jeremy’s family members were to get upset it would just confirm what his narrative implies from the start – parents, steps-siblings, aunts, uncles, the LHD’s of the world, etc. don’t get (only)children of divorce. If they did they would see that the essay is more self-expressive than self-indulgent, more humble than “arrogant,” more charming than “insufferable,” more affectionate than “snob”ish.

    amen. & thanks for playing. (please keep the comments coming.)

  36. bryan says:

    can i just add, though, that i hope xt439i doesn’t leave skulking and never return. there’s something about that drunken cockney accent that’s really intriguing.

  37. Literacy H. Dogfight says:

    yes, Miller, welcome to the group! such a thoughtful comment. (the only thing i can say about lurker etiquette is that i think all of us wished the lurkers were more vocal)… anyway, i’m certain jeremy is deeply appreciative and agrees with your sentiments/assessments wholeheartedly… and, Beth W., your “revelation” is spot on…

  38. Scott says:

    Bacon – Not to mention some hot cockles.

  39. bryan says:

    if i didn’t know them both, i would think that scott and bacon were *also* the same person running under two names. in fact, i kind of think that, and i *do* know them both. if i hadn’t seen them in the same room in philly over the holidays i might have thought my mind was playing tricks on me.

    scott has more tattoos. but bacon paid for one of my tattoos. i’m so confused!

  40. Sbacot says:

    Yes Bryan, we are one.

  41. bryan says:

    [paranoid look over shoulder]

    who said that?

  42. Sbacot says:

    (one voice in either ear) Bryan, be not afraid. Sbacot is your friend.

  43. Trixie Honeycups says:

    maybe bacon and scott should get a room.
    oh yeah, we have one available here in philly, and it’s already broken in!
    let the games begin!
    ps. welcome, miller. hats off to you for coming out of the shadows with such a thoughtful comment.

  44. Trixie Honeycups says:

    p.s. jeremy rules

  45. Rachel says:

    Scott’s new author photo looks like Kip from Napoleon Dynamite, even though his last one looked like George Clooney. What gives? And when do we get to see a photo of Sbacot? I would pin it up in my locker.

  46. Rachel says:

    p.s. jeremy rules

  47. xt439i says:

    Ah, Bryan, too kind. And yes I was drunk. Which is no excuse for abhorrently poor lurker etiquette. Apologies to all.

  48. Marleyfan says:

    GWI Parties must be something to behold…

  49. Lisa Tremain says:

    Sbacot sounds like something you might buy in the 99cents store and eat on toast.

  50. Lisa Tremain says:

    p.s. jeremy rules.

  51. Tim Wager says:

    I thought it was “Jeremy’s awesome?”.

  52. bacon says:

    Rebecca,

    I missed my chance in the Great Room at Philly. My wife-to-be is not into that. I am, though.

  53. bacon says:

    I meant “Trixie”. Sorry.

  54. autumn says:

    “what kind of person are you?”

    b e a u t i f u l

  55. bryan says:

    #48 — no worries, my new friend. i think your previous comment is in the running for comment of the year.

  56. Stephanie Wells says:

    bacon, he can be ours to share.

  57. brooke says:

    wow, indeed. what a bold post. jeremy rules, lhd drools.

  58. cynthia says:

    To Jeremy,

    I wanted to say how much I appreciated what you had to say about divorce. It takes a strong man to say what he is feeling no matter how much it hurts. I also was a child of divorce and although my experiences were very diffrent from yours, I can understand some of the pain you went through growing up. It is good to talk about thing and for lack of a better word healing. Good job, write what you want. Live your life as you want and not how somebody else tells you too. I would have given your paper an A