It all came to a crashing halt because of one person.
I had Professor Latham in a writing class –I’m sorry, too many years have gone by and I forget the actual title of the class—and she metaphorically peed in my blissful writing punchbowl.
I turned my first class paper in to Professor Latham, confident in the praise she would lavish upon my writing. Everyone else was tense about receiving their papers back. Not me. I remained calm in the knowledge that she would be absolutely floored by my writing prowess.
We received the graded papers back and I heard a collective groan from the class. Smiling, I lifted the cover page of mine: C+.
I joined in with the collective groaning. In fact, I think I out-groaned some of the louder groaners.
I turned through the pages. Complete sentences (a few complete paragraphs) were now adorned with a red line through them and only two words written in the margin.
I scowled up from my paper at Professor Latham who didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the classroom moaning (which was reaching the level of an overcrowded cattle stockyard). I flipped through the pages again. Always the same two words.
I took it as a challenge. Okay, she didn’t want fluff, she wouldn’t get fluff –no matter how artsy-fartsy and poetic my fluff could be. No fluff for her. I would deprive her of my stylistic fluff.
I turned in my next paper after cutting it over and over. I cut so much I thought I might physically start to bleed. I turned in the paper with a self-satisfied “There ya go.” A few days later, the paper was returned with the same two words (along with the red lines) throughout the paper.
But there wasn’t quite as much red ink this time around.
I looked up from my paper, caught her eye and she smiled. Dammit. The challenge was on. Absolutely no fluff for her. She would live the remainder of her life deprived of my artistic fluff.
I began going through my papers over and over, checking for any extra “that” or an unneeded weak verb. I even imagined myself with a title: Mr. Flufflessness (which probably won’t make any superhero comics, but made me feel better).
Throughout that semester we did battle. I cut my writing unmercifully, the red marks became less and less. Finally, we reached the last paper for the semester. A paper that I used to easily write in two hours I spent a week and a half on. When I turned it in I was certain there would not, could not be a single red mark on it.
When it was returned to me I flipped through the pages. Each page was completely free of red ink. After I flipped a page I looked up and she stood there, indomitable, no sign of emotion on her face whatsoever, but she watched me. I finally made it to the last page without a speck of red.
And there it was in the very last paragraph, about an eighth of an inch long, diagonally through a single comma and off in the margin:
I looked up incredulously. She looked sternly back at me…and then began to laugh. At that point, I began to laugh as well. And I understood there’s no way any of us can escape a good editor’s pen. All we can strive for is…
*Thank you Eleanor for taking a somewhat cocky kid who had a little promise and showing him that he “wasn’t all that,” but that if he continued to work hard, he could be so much more.