Thursday, February 2, 2012

From the Archives: "Read All about It"

I was working on a different blog post--I promise!--which necessitated linking to a blog post I had written on my Xanga site. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find this post from two years ago. I'll try not to do this often, but in lieu of something "brand-new" to read, I present to you, from my blogging archives, "Read All about It."

A confluence of events in the last few weeks reminded me of a story I don't think I've told here before. In fact, I think I've been careful to this point not to tell it to people I went to college with (though a few--notably Erin--know), for their sakes and for mine. Ignorance breeds candor, on the one hand; and I was too embarrassed to share it, on the other. Still, this has had a major impression on me because it showed me in one instant the depths to which I could plummet and the heights to which I could ascend.

In my sophomore year of college, there was an advertisement in the Bethel Beacon (my college's newspaper) for a humor columnist position. This position, like most positions at the newspaper, was unpaid and offered little reward (there wasn't much prestige since most people didn't read the monthly paper, except for the "Nutshell" answers--campus-wide responses to a single question). Still, my friend and I talked it over, and we decided to take it. (This is not arrogance--that's the way things worked at the Beacon. They were often understaffed; to respond at all to a job was to accept.) We drafted what was, we thought, a hilarious piece that introduced a new twist to the humor column. We had decided that we would become campus detectives and write about our crime-solving exploits (or make them up if no crime was to be found). But before we could do this, we had to write the introduction. The introduction became our first humor article.

And our last. It was rejected.

Rejected? From the Bethel Beacon? Those don't seem to go together. A warm body that can hold a pen was all it took to write for our subpar paper. And yet our article was rejected, in favor of what I (and I'm sure many others) can objectively call the worst article ever to appear in the Beacon. (And that's saying something. It was an article on "pregnant trees," the sentences of which I don't think a million monkeys on typewriters could ever reproduce.)

I asked the newspaper's editor why our article was rejected. "It was too British. I was looking more for Mark Twain." A matter of taste, and that was it. (Okay, that wasn't it. I'm pretty sure I ranted about genius not being appreciated, etc., to my shame.)

The newspaper continued to underachieve, but I had no hand in it, unless complaining counts. Then the idea that got me into more trouble than any other idea I had in college struck me: "Don't complain about anything you're not willing to try to fix." (This, among other factors, also got me on student council and got me to take my studies seriously. It reminds me of Paul's persecution and subsequent Damascus Road experience, especially where the Lord, speaking of Paul, says, "And I will show him how much he must suffer...") Instead of not complaining (which would have been wiser), my roommate and I decided to take jobs at the Beacon. In the informal interview, we were asked why we wanted to work at the Beacon.

I have a tendency to tell the truth, but to tell it behind so many pillows that it often doesn't have the punch it requires. I hedge it and hedge it and hedge it until the thought has been so guarded and protected that, by the time it gets out from behind the hedges, it's too out of breath to do much good. I probably would have spent hours getting to the point my much more direct roommate made in a few words: "The paper sucks. We think we can make it better."

We were hired.

Well, a frequent problem at the newspaper was having no one to write articles. English majors at Bethel liked to think about literary pursuits more than partaking in them, so writers were normally scarce. Or they waited until the last minute and produced articles on par with the Pregnant Trees Monstrosity. At any rate, it was the night before the newspaper was to be published, and my roommate, the Entertainment section editor, was short one article.

And I saw my chance.

He remembered the gross slight I received when my other article was rejected. He was on my side. And now he was in desperate need of another article. We talked about it, laughed again at the great humor article I had cowritten, and decided it was time to publish it.

At this time I was in an editing class (a class I would later drop, though unrelated to these events), and one of our tasks was to read through the whole newspaper and comment on it in class. I knew about the inner workings of the paper, and most of the criticisms were fair. And my classmates were especially nice about the section I edited, News and Features, probably because I was in the room. They all agreed that the quality of the paper was improving--for the most part.

Katie raised her hand and made a comment about the humor article, something to the effect of, "What was up with that article?" The professor agreed. "Yeah, I didn't get it. It seemed like they thought they were funny, but I sure didn't think so." More remarks of this kind. I, who was normally a fairly active participant in class, was mum on the subject.

The humor article roasting continued for a few minutes. When I thought my classmates would be out of things to say about it, they'd find another point to make, denigrating the character of the author, etc.

Then Katie said, "But I do have to say, I think Jon had the best article in this issue. His review of Switchfoot's album was great."

The professor: "Hear, hear!"

More flattering remarks. I did not remain silent about this article, but tried to project an image of humility that I'm sure was disgusting to all parties involved.

Still, this memory has stuck with me for almost five years now in vivid detail. Whenever I get proud of something I've written, I remember "Dial 'F' for 'Funh,' or, The Tail of the Missing Cat." And whenever I'm discouraged, I remember that review of Switchfoot I wrote, which other people seemed to like so much. And you just can't buy irony like the back-to-back criticism and praise I received in my editing class.

Oh, and a brief note: As I mentioned, I ran across the humor article last week while looking through my portfolio (yes, my portfolio! I actually wanted to show this article off to potential employers!). I found it just as pompous and unfunny as my classmates did. So, I came to see your point of view in the end, friends. Unfortunately I didn't see it before it reached the three people outside of the editing class who read the Beacon.