Good morning, homepeople. I hope you’re all doing just as well as before if not better. Can’t really ask for more than that, can I? Since we’re all grading on a curve here with how we’re doing, I think aiming for “not worse” is pretty a solid goal. Got a few random things to write about today, so let’s get right into them.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about writing and my own history of learning how to write like my old boss to reduce/eliminate the red-penned edits. I remembered another formative writing moment from my past and wanted to share. My senior year of high school, I dropped AP English Literature and added Play Production instead, which was a great call and didn’t stop me from still majoring in English in college. I still needed an English course though, so I took a non-honors one called Expository Composition with a teacher named Mr. Gilbert.

The class ended up being great because it was super laid back and it broke from the previous three years of drilling into us the need for a thesis, x number of support statements, etc. in a rigid format. I liked the looser writing style and found it pretty revolutionary that it was considered ok in some classes. I only remember a few things about Mr. Gilbert himself. First, he had a Native American friend who said, “Just call me ‘Indian’ man.” Second, he told us the when we were old enough to drink, we should check out sloe gin. I still haven’t, but I remember him saying it’s thicker and takes some getting used to. Strange thing to say to 17 year-olds, sure, but memorable. And the third thing I remember is about storytelling and an exercise we did in class.

Mr. Gilbert had us move the desks into two rows facing each other. The rows were long enough that they ended up forming a bit of a semicircle. Then he said to the students sitting in the inside row, “Tell the person across from you about the best meal you’ve ever had. You have 3 minutes. Go.” I was on the inside and had to think quickly, but something immediately came to mind. I told my partner about being on a long bus ride with fellow students and a group of French foreign exchange students as we took a trip to the Grand Canyon and a few other places. We’d gotten lost or something, and that particular leg of the trip took a couple of hours longer than it was supposed to and we were all starving. We finally got back to civilization and stopped at an In N Out, where I ordered two Double Doubles and absolutely devoured them. I talked about how amazing they tasted and how I could’ve eaten as many as had been put in front of me. (Just writing about it now made my stomach growl in fact.)

Time was up, and Mr. Gilbert said, “Outside row, everyone move over one seat to the right. Inside row, tell the same story to your new partner.” I told the story again. The outside row switched a third time, and I told the story once more to a new person. Mr. Gilbert called us to attention. “Inside row, how did your story change from the first telling to the third?” I thought about it, and though subtle, my story absolutely improved during the course of the exercise. I’d shortened the reason for the bus trip because I realized it wasn’t important to the story. If something got a laugh the first time, I hit it a little harder in the retellings. I added more details about biting into the burger and the emotions around it, but fewer details about the restaurant itself and its location. Looking back, my self-editing based on repetition and real-time feedback made my story significantly better.

Mr. Gilbert tied this to the importance of really working on one’s writing/storytelling and how repetition helps the process. It’s one of the most valuable lessons I took from four years of high school, and I’m reminded of it every time I retell a classic “look what an idiot I was” story from my past. The repetition and feedback from previous versions have transformed those stories from simply recounting something to more of a crafted monologue. It’s something I use in my work life too, practicing presentations as often as possible in front of people to see where the smiles or confused looks come in, and then making adjustments accordingly. That one exercise from one class 25 years ago had more of a lasting effect than anything I got from four years of history classes. I’m sure any stand-up comedian would read this and say, “Yeah, duh. We know this.”

Well look at the time. I had three things to talk about but one took over, so I’ll save the others for the next post. Take care, don’t be worse, and peace in the streets.