This morning I left my Music Appreciation class 10 minutes early so I could be on time for a short meeting with my English teacher across campus. Dear Ms. Skaar gave me an absence for those ten minutes I wasn’t present. Bless her. 5 minutes later I flopped my 10 page rough draft down on the professor’s desk and asked for help. The assignment stated:
You will complete a cultural analysis of the source text. You must make some claim about the accuracy of the depiction of the culture in your source text, and support that claim with ample evidence from the source text as well as research from 6-8 appropriate academic sources.
Your multicultural essay must have a thesis statement that makes a comparison between the culture in the novel of your choice and the contemporary culture in the country in which the novel takes place, and you must analyze and support that claim with well-chosen evidence from 6-8 peer-reviewed academic sources. Essay must be 2300-2800 words.
I told her, “This is about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write – I wrote all I wanted to say, and I still came up three hundred words short…I can’t find enough here to write about.”
*She tells me to close her office door and lowers her voice a bit*
“This essay is a complete pain in the butt. It’s necessary coursework, and I have to assign it. But it’s dumb, and it just shows whether or not you’re able to properly integrate sources. I put it at the beginning, that way we can do the fun stuff later.”
Not exactly comforting – but at least sympathetic. I can hardly think of anything more boring than writing pages and pages about whether or not Khaled Hosseini accurately depicted the culture of Afghanistan from 1960 – 2000 according to peer reviewed sources. Of course it’s accurate: the man grew up there, and the book is on the reading list. Even still, “It’s necessary”.
Later, as I was editing my rough draft during a free period, it occurred to me that maybe this is how most people feel about writing in general. If that’s the case, I can see why they hate it so much. This is no fun – it’s tedious, humorless, and totally required. I really don’t care about the things I’m writing. At all.
Sometimes I much prefer that which is unnecessary. So I bought a hat.
For the last several weeks I’ve been burning discs, cutting out inserts, and mailing off envelopes to anyone who had five bucks and wanted a CD. It’s been really fun. I’m so enthralled with the idea that I sat on my bed with a guitar for hours and hours and filled up notebooks with lyrics, and now I have a little something to show for it.
The song “Don’t Give Up on Me” is an example in particular. I remember sitting downstairs with my guitar one night after cell group and writing that song. No one told me to exactly, and no one was going to meet me in office hours to talk about it or give me a letter grade on the finished product. It was completely unnecessary, and yet I got the joy of giving it to the ones it was written for and then $52 when my friends decided to put it on their album.
Jon Foreman often describes music as totally unnecessary. He’ll play a sweaty rock and roll show and then after it’s done, take a guitar out behind the venue and sing songs with anyone who wants to sing along. There’s no money changing hands, no lights or confetti (or bubbles), and no incentive other than singing songs with other people. Songs for the sake of singing.
So after distributing my songs to those who wanted to hear them, and probably some who just felt bad for me, I wound up with something like $120 worth of profit. Pretty great. Profit is kind of a foggy word when you consider that I easily spent that much money on guitar stings alone to write those songs…but that’s not important.
So I gathered a goodly portion of my bounty and bought this lovely hat. When it came, my dad asked,
“When are you ever going to wear that?”
“That’s the thing” I quipped, “it’s versatile. Fishing on the river or banquet parties. It’s appropriate for all kinds of occasions.”
I guess that’s true. But more than anything it’s a symbol, a $60 piece of felt that says, “I stayed up into the lonely hours of the night scribbling stuff into a notebook, and now, by George, I have a this hat to show for it.”
So then, my friends, thank you for listening to my songs, reading my stuff, and putting a hat upon my head. It wasn’t necessary of you. But I do appreciate it.
*the cover photo of this post is a wonderful painting of one of my heroes, Jon Foreman, which Ashley Dienner did for me.
*photos taken by my brother, Luke.