Monday, April 26, 2010

Learning to write

I've been told that my writing is 'serviceable' by a sophomore (college) English teacher. He thought I should become an English major (not a chance) but I would need to write better. Prior to my junior year in high school, I usually received 'A's in English. Of course the bar was set low even though I was in the 'accelerated' track. In the 11th grade I had Ms. U for 12 th grade Expository English. She was very hard to please but she was good. The only person who managed to please her was my friend Jane. Her parents had experienced unbelievable hardships in China during WW2 and escaped to the Philippines. Although Jane did not learn English until 6 (she knew several dialects of Chinese, Spanish, and Tagalog by then), she could very eloquently recount her parents' experiences. I would say she was an Amy Tan junior but I suspect they are the same age. Of all the correspondence I had from my teenage years, I've kept only 2 people's: Jane's and that of the friend I grew up with for the latter's illustrations (very good drawer).
Anyway, Ms. U had strict rules for writing:
1. No colloquialisms whatsoever
2. No using of the word 'get' as there was only a few acceptable uses for it and most likely you would not understand them. So as not to violate Rule 1, do not use it.
3. Using the word 'pick' when you mean select or opt was forbidden. You could pick peas or your nose but not from intangible choices. I still shudder when I hear the word pick.
4. No using the expressions 'I think' or 'I feel'. You are doing the writing. Obviously it is what you feel or think.
5. All writings were to be typed and free from typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors. This was before we had computers and Word. We did have somethings known as corrasible bond and white-out. Ones grade was lowered one whole grade for every 3 mistakes and you don't start with an A.
There were many other rules I forgot. This was an expository English class, not a 'creative' writing class. We were to explore in writing various themes of the books we read. She favored Conrad (yuck!!), Hardy (much better) and Shaw plays. The absolute worst book we read was To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I still couldn't tell you what it meant.

I did take a few English classes in college even though I passed out of Freshman English on the AP exam. None of them was as difficult as Ms. U's class. She would reduce this blog to shreds but this is not an expository piece.

As a chemist I had to write often. Most of the time, it was detailing what I did in the lab in my notebook usually written in a shorthand that only a chemist could understand. No opinions were to be expressed (really should not have heated the reaction for so long) or unnecessary adjectives such as 'beautiful, white crystals were obtained'. We could not edit these notebooks. If we made a mistake, we were to cross out the offending part in a way that you could still read it and date and initial the correction.For a while, we had a Notebook Nazi who perused our notebooks to make sure we were conforming. Then we had 'e-notebook' that theoretically anyone within the company could read. Grammar was unimportant. During my early years, I was on a government contract and monthly reports had to be filed. Usually I was only responsible for my accounting (a pain in itself) and my boss wrote out the reports detailing what our group was doing. At one point, he became ill and I had to take over the report writing. We tended to work on the same projects for awhile so all I did was change the amounts of chemicals used and submitted it to the boss's boss before it was sent to a secretary pool. He came back furious telling me I was an illiterate idiot who didn't know the first thing about scientific writing. He threw an ACS ( C would be for Chemical)style guide for publications and told me to memorize it overnight. I meekly pointed out that I was merely reproducing what my boss had written for the last few months. Well he's an idiot too!
Among my crimes: Using the word 'reacted' as something that I did as in I reacted A with B to get C. Of course, I didn't 'react", I merely 'allowed' A to react with B. Now I could argue that A would never had gotten a chance to react with B unless I had put them together and heated them up in a solvent but there is no "I' in chemistry no matter how it is spelled. He wasn't fond of the word 'get' either. Obtained, provided, yielded..much better. Using 'reflux' as a verb was another of my crimes. Chemists in general tend to use nouns as verbs. We all know what they mean and it is faster to write. So instead of refluxing our reaction, we have to say 'heated under reflux'. Simple rules. I soon became adept at writing such reports, patent applications and various publications.
I have no trouble reporting herein my external struggles; internal ones are much more difficult. I will try to become more eloquent.

1 comment:

Teri Bernstein said...

Sue! I truly enjoy your writing! I will have to load your blogs into Word, however, and search for the capital M Mistakes you might have made...I find your writing to be vividly descriptive, with an appealing wry undertone.
Take that, ACS...


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