Writing as Center by Lindsay Olson

posted Apr 19, 2018, 9:41 AM by Writing Center

Emine’s Third Language

When she leaves, I can’t help but feel like I’ve crossed over some strange psychic turf. I’m cycling back through our conversation, thinking it must’ve been her accent, the trigger—echoes of Buket at my dinner table, offering Turkish delights and late-night Arabic lessons. Somehow, I’ve managed to slip through the spaces, five years behind but in the same space now with Emine, anticipating her problems and helping with the naming of them.

The writing is here, I told her. Just not as clunky and “English” as we like to see in academic writing. She gets the joke—she has been writing like a careful invitation, implications that you would have to catch between the lines to find her, to tell her I see you. I’m a tripping demigod from the Academy on high, red-penning into place all the rules I’m bound to break. Teaching the things I’m trying to untie myself from, unravel, in my own language.

I imagine trying to tell her story another way. It’s Buket laughing at my fat, American tongue. I imagine telling this part in Farsi—ending the session all smiles and empathy. I think of Emine, prompted to stay her collarbone with her long fingertips when I said I understand, and how.

When she looked at me, it was with eyes wide and brown as a Saturn moon. You know, it’s funny you say this because before, in my language, I considered myself a very good writer.

I tell her in my language she is.

 

Without a Referent

I’m in the midst of typing his report when I notice the Works Cited page and its three immediate errors, the kind you wouldn’t miss with a ten-foot pen, even as a Chemistry Professor. Also, the paper is for Biology and should have a Reference page; I’m wrong on several fronts, and it’s only Wednesday.

Sometimes I draft several follow-up emails in my head, one from myself apologizing profusely to a consultee (whom I always imagine suffering in a corner somewhere, crouched over several pages of an essay bleeding red ink), one from said consultee, wherein they avenge my negligence with a string of well-placed and grammatically incorrect insults, in all caps. (Proof that capitalization has to be earned.) I also draft an email which reprimands me from on high, from the Writing Center Gods, whom I envision have nothing better to do than to make me wonder at the end of a consultation what I should have said, and in what order.

The thing about moving within the system is how to not be swallowed up by it—how to become systematic with my approach rather than symptomatic of several problems packaged in our language. I don’t want to make a right and wrong out of everyone’s approach; I don’t keep all those keys to the locks in my head. How do I at least try not to miss anything? I’m seldom prepared to answer on the spot, especially when it comes to mechanical and memorizable detail, so I’ve started to use handouts and physical reference books like appendages. Still, I miss things. Several things I should say.

 

I confessed this last week to a consultee, after guiding her through a personal statement brainstorm session she said she found particularly helpful. It was the sort of confession that I sometimes blurt out in the face of a compliment, an inherited response to reassure my feelings of inadequacy and stave off “false pride” (my grandma when complimented on a meal, announces the rolls are burned on the bottom.) Thank you, but really I still get so many things wrong!

The consultee, a Writing Center veteran and consultant herself, didn’t miss a beat and didn’t accept deflection. You know, that’s one of the things I actually like about writing: there’s not really a right way to do it, and it’s never really “finished.” There’s just other ways you find to make it better . . .

In the words of our fearless leader, We’re looking for progress, not perfection.

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