Words – so innocent and powerless as they are,
as standing in a dictionary,
how potent for good and evil they become
in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
It was the first honors class I took in college, a jewel I didn’t recognize as such because my priorities were socially, not academically, inclined. The name of my Honor’s English professor escapes me, but 30 years later his eccentricities and manner linger. Oh, how he loved his subject.
Dr. ??? sewed his own ties, flat ended because they were easier to cut and finish; horrible, garish ties, fashioned out of ridiculous florals and prints relegated to the discount remnant pile for good reason. They should have been illegal.
I remember little from his class–I made a B–but one assignment has informed my thinking and perspective on good writing for 30 years. It wasn’t my own paper, it was that of a nameless, faceless classmate who understood the difference between a hot and humid day and the sun drawing rain from my pores.
We were to write a “how-to” paper. His was titled “How to Make the Perfect Coke,” but no one remembers the title of mine, including me. For a reason.
For reward, Dr. ??? made example of your work, performance art, really. Eloquent and solemn or twinkles on his tongue, your words in his mouth were banquet for all.
By the time he finished reading “How to Make the Perfect Coke,” I had heard the top pop off and liquid gurgle, I smelled leaded glass and cubes of ice and even the cola drink, I saw the dime store white and red-striped bendy straw and waited for it to chill properly, I felt carbonated bubbles surfacing and popping and tickling my nose, and I was persuaded that yes, this was in fact, the perfect way to make a Coke.
I could taste it in his words.
Show, don’t tell.
The difference between forgettable and extraordinary.