The Puddle of Nihilism

Every semester, for the first essay in Composition 1, following the design of the class, I ask each student to share an experience and analyze the impact the experience had on his or her life. And, of course, the experiences vary wildly from graduation or a senior trip to a grandmother dying to divorce and addictions to even child prostitution.

And, while I appreciate and respect every single student’s particular trust and courage in sharing his or her story with me, I admit that I am sometimes overwhelmed with serious, dark topics and the sometimes inevitable conclusion of “And I learned not to take life for granted.”

This semester, Younger is taking the same class in high school, receiving dual credit. He wrote, expressively in my opinion, of the experience that taught him intelligence actually requires work and study to be fully realized.

Apparently, his teacher offered the students in Younger’s class the opportunity to share their stories with the class in exchange for extra credit. And Younger thought he might like the extra credit.

“But then the first person read his essay, Mom,” Younger told me, his eyes wide.

“Did grandma die?” I asked.

“Every essay, Mom. Death, depression, and suicide. I couldn’t follow those essays with mine, Mom. I spent an entire paragraph on the weight of a duffel bag.”

“You might have — ”

“No, no,” he interrupted me. “The guy next to me wrote on a camp he went to. He had fun. When the other students started reading their essays, his face just –” Younger swiped a hand in front of his face, starting high at his forehead and ending below his chin, his facial muscles following the downward movement. “His face just fell. He didn’t read his essay, either, Mom.  I mean, some essays were good, but all of them were sad.  And,” he continued, “I started to feel sorry for my teacher.”

“You don’t feel sorry for me. I read those every semester, too. I have had to interrupt a student’s narrative describing grandma’s last days to explain the use of a comma splice. Which makes me feel like a genuine grammar Nazi — ‘so sorry grandma died, tough stuff, but you can’t use a comma this way.’ ”

“But, Mom, Mr. English was right there, right then. And I felt sorry for him.  And the other students were like, ‘Ooooh, that’s so deep.’ ” He dropped his voice a bit to quote one student, ” ‘And I was like a bird flying high above my problems.’ And then the others were like, ‘Ooooh, that’s so deep.’ And I’m like, no, no, you’re delusional and procrastinating.”

“Younger –”

“People mistake dark for deep, Mom. Nihilism can be a puddle.”


Perhaps I should consider using Younger’s words of wisdom next semester when I once again introduce this essay to a new gathering of students —

People mistake dark for deep. Nihilism can be a puddle.

Or maybe I’ll just try harder to get Younger to feel sorry for me.

That might have actual entertainment value.





Unreal Rectangles

Last night, as I reviewed Younger’s English homework, I pointed to one particular sentence in the assignment. “What is the subject of that sentence?”

“Moss,” he answered confidently.

“No, ‘moss’ is the object of the preposition ‘of,’ ” I responded keeping my finger on the sentence. “What is the subject? What is the sentence about?”

“Green,” he offered.

I frowned at him. “No, ‘green’ modifies ‘moss.’ The ‘of green moss’ is a prepositional phrase. What is the subject?”

“It can’t be ‘rectangles,’ ” he announced, challenging me to argue.

Undaunted, I stated, “Yes, it is ‘rectangles.’ The ‘rectangles of green grass covered . . .’ The rectangles covered.”

“No, no,” he assured me. “It can’t be ‘rectangles.’ Rectangles aren’t real.”

This young man just received his ACT score, and, somehow, he earned an impressively high score in the English section.

But he cannot identify the subject of a sentence because rectangles aren’t real.

I don’t even know any more.


A Different Language

My family has been disappointingly boring this week, so I thought I would share an old story from 2001 when Elder would have been five years old…

One of the morning educational shows feeds the kids a few Spanish words every day. So, Elder has struggled to understand exactly what is language in general and English and Spanish in particular.

In the midst of this battle, we had to visit the doctors’ office who has a plastic jungle gym in their waiting room. Another boy, waiting for his mother, joined my two boys as they scrambled through tunnels and down slides. And eventually the two older ones struck up a conversation.

“You speak English?” Elder asked at the end of another dialogue involving Pokemon.

The other boy swung by his arms from the gym. “No,” he told Elder, obviously uncertain as to the meaning of “English.” “I don’t speak English.”

“Oh,” Elder said, knowingly. “You speak Spanish then.”

And my husband and I must speak French.

At least that seems a decent explanation as to why Elder never quite seems to understand us.