By Man Martin
I am a school teacher, and one thing life has taught me is that you have to be very careful what you say around students. The same child who cannot master a simple lesson you have drilled into his head for three weeks will be able to recall verbatim a random wisecrack you made in passing and quote it back to you, often in the context of a parent-teacher conference.
I do not know if this is because I’m cocksure, stubborn, or just a slow learner. Certainly being a slow learner is part of it. Usually I appreciate the value of advice – “Check your tire pressure every week” – only when I’m already stranded on the side of a long, deserted stretch of black top with a broken jack and a spare that is – also – flat.
Or if not lighter, at least more productive.
But all of this wisdom, plus much more besides, wisdom that I heard and neglected until I’d pounded my own fool head against the concrete for myself, testing that, yes, pounding your head on concrete probably is a bad idea and something that should be desisted from in future – Tony also warned me against excessive cleverness or “cuteness” in my writing, a lesson I may never learn – the thing that sticks in my head is one phrase.
He said this in an off-hand way during a summer workshop. He had graciously opened his home to his class, and we met there weekly to exchange and critique stories. It was there I debuted the first chapter of Long Gone, my novel and Masters Thesis, the only copies of which sit on a shelf somewhere in the KSU Library. The thing was never published and never will be; it was what we euphemistically call a “learning novel.” Too much ambiguity and the characters didn’t care about anything, is my post-mortem diagnosis.
Anyway, one summer afternoon before or after workshop when I was enviously admiring the tomatoes he’d already gotten from his garden long before ours were ripe, he said apropos of nothing much, “If you wrote just two hundred words a day, at the end of a year, you’d have a seventy-thousand word novel.”