I Shall Never Delete Again

8 Mar

Don't do it! You have so much to live for!

During my last semester at college, I took a Narrative Journalism class taught by a Real Journalist.  I heard that school officials considered it a real coup to get him to teach–and it was. He was a Pulitzer prize winner whose byline had appeared in the kind of publications that people read proudly in Starbucks, spread out on their coffee tables when company comes over, and cite in arguments they want to win. He was knowledgeable, intent on really teaching his students, and a damn good writer.

He scared the bejeezus out of me.

He looked like an older Mr. Clean or a younger Mr. Magoo, but he oozed toughness and had a zero-tolerance, no-nonsense attitude…when he was happy. On the first day of class, there were at least thirty students eagerly awaiting the prof’s arrival. When he did finally appear,  he froze in the doorway and raised his eyebrows. “There’s a lot of you this semester!” We all looked around and sort of chuckled, because that’s what you do when a teacher makes an unfunny comment. He put his briefcase on the podium and his hands on his hips. “Well, no matter. I expect at least half of you will be gone by next class. Nothing personal, you just won’t make it because either you or your writing won’t hold up.” Interestingly enough, he was right. By the second class, our numbers had significantly dwindled.

He was really into calling on people out of the blue. I thought of it like guerilla teaching because he would psych the class out, pretend he was focused on the board or a book or another topic, then suddenly bark “You! Michael! Your lede! Now!” Some students, I think, got a big kick out of the criticism. “Snore! Boring! You have to make sure the reader gets beyond the first sentence! Your third sentence is decent–why did you hide it? You’ve got to use your brain a little more–think about it!”

I had a merciless love-hate relationship with this course. I recognized the value of the learning experience, but when it was time for class I would cling to the ceiling like a terrified cat and my roommate would have to approach cautiously and coax me down in a gentle voice. “It’ll be okay…You can do this…Pretty girl…Good girl…” It was a three-hour class (7-10 p.m.) and sometimes during our mid-class break I would see other students grabbing a late-evening snack or hanging around the quad and I’d dream about making a break for it. I had a big soul-searching experience though, and decided that my fight or flight instincts were heavily skewed and mightily screwed up. (Fight or flight? Which way is the door?) So, even though the class and the teacher made me cower and sweat (on the inside and outside, respectively), I stayed. I stuck it out.

My final assignment of the semester was a profile on the author Michelle Huneven–whose work is fabulously haunting, by the way. When I got one of my many drafts back the professor’s comments were inserted directly into the piece and written in all caps. It gave the impression that he was interrupting my paper to yell his thoughts. 

Huneven is the author of three novels which GO ON A “WHICH” HUNT! KILL THE WHICH! IT DRAGS YOUR WRITING DOWN DOWN DOWN! have individually and collectively earned critical praise and success.

He definitely had some problems with my profile, but in between the critique, if you looked carefully, were little nuggets of praise. It’s not like he gushed or anything, but that was the point. He wasn’t a gusher; you earned his compliments or you didn’t. That’s why those nuggets–extra crispy, the way approval should be–meant the world to me. 

Recently, I deleted  these comments. It was an accident–a horrible, tragic accident. To make a long story short (and this has gotten to be a long story) I had a whole bunch of windows open on my computer screen and didn’t realize which one I was working in. Stupidly, I deleted his comments and when Word asked if I wanted to save all changes, I clicked yes.

At first I thought I could ask some techy person (gods, in my opinion) and they could magically find what I had foolishly lost. But what’s saved is saved. When I truly realized what I had done, I unraveled. I’ll admit, I even cried. I’d been storing those comments like nuts for the winter. I’d been treasuring them like a mystical golden ring. (“My precious!”) My mom happened to call during this little crisis and, after decoding the situation from my frustrated ranting, asked if I still had the article itself. Well, yes. I still had the profile I had written on Huneven, just not the critique by my professor. “But you have the article!” My mom said. As far as she was concerned, that was what was important.

I’ve tried to find comfort in the fact that my words weren’t lost. Shouldn’t I care more about my work than this response to it? Who cares if I can’t quote exactly what those comments said, as long as I remember how I felt reading them. That’s the theory, anyway. The reality is that I’m still mourning the loss of those comments. I think we all keep little reminders of success and struggle. It’s an ego thing. It’s a confidence thing. It’s a human thing.

Before you ask, my computer now automatically makes backups and saves originals, so hopefully that will counteract my technological foolishness. You know one of the most frustrating things about this experience? When I told people what happened, they would say things like “You didn’t back it up?” or “That’s why you should always have a copy elsewhere.” Let me tell you, as legitimate and natural as those reactions may be, they’re just not particularly helpful or comforting. I might have to teach an etiquette course so people know how to properly deal with computer document bereavement. For me, there was a lot of chocolate involved, which (WHICH!) I should probably devote a whole class to….

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30 Responses to “I Shall Never Delete Again”

  1. Deli Lanoux, Ed.D. March 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Oh… my… gosh!

    I feel your pain!

    It’s happened to me… the professor… and the deleted stuff.

    Boy, oh, boy. Can I ever ever ever relate!

  2. shreejacob March 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I knew a specialist that I worked for as an intern in a district hospital. He made every single intern cower and shake. I despised him and cursed at him (silently of course) at every opportunity I got!

    Needless to say if I could delete every comment he made, I’d gladly have done so!

    Sorry for your comment loss.

    • Oh My Words! March 8, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

      hmph he sounds like he earned every bit of your dislike….and that he deserved lots of silent curses

      hats off to you, though, for enduring! 🙂

  3. breakingfreefromme March 8, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    How horrible! I’ve had something very similar happen to me and I remember just how bad it hurt. I vividly remember having the urge to vomit. Hopefully the glow of memory will be enough to keep you smiling 🙂 I’m a new blogger and I just found you the other day on Freshly Pressed, so congrats on that and I look forward to keeping up with you.

    • Oh My Words! March 8, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

      I’m so glad you found me and my blog and I love the name of yours! I appreciate the empathy, too–like I said, some people I’ve talked to just didn’t get it…
      Happy blogging!

  4. pattyabr March 8, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    I also feel your pain. But, I am probably older and retrospective. This too shall pass. You are a wise blogger. You will have more experiences to draw on from your writing in your future. I am confident of this. Learn from your experiences and continue to grow.

    • Oh My Words! March 8, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

      YOU are a wise blogger! Yes, I’m sure this won’t be as big a deal as time goes by–just a little speedbump–and I certainly hope you’re right about my writing future 🙂

  5. Ash March 8, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    I absolutely hate it when professors cold call! I always look like such a blubbering idiot. Sometimes tough professors make you do awesome things though.

  6. Rue March 9, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    It’s not even my class and I feel bad for liberal abuse of the word ‘which’. Perhaps this is some sick way he is “paying it forward”?

    • Oh My Words! March 9, 2011 at 9:56 am #

      yes, actually, the “which” thing was a good lesson and I do try and watch myself now so I don’t use it so often. It occurs to me now that I’ve written and posted this that I probably should have mentioned how much I learned and how the prof wasn’t quite as scary by the end of the semester. Oh well, I was pretty focused on my personal loss, haha.

  7. idiosyncraticeye March 9, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    ‘Computer document bereavement’, love the phrase and have oh so have been there too! Of course I don’t have a backup because that’s why I’m so upset!!!!

    (Besides which in my experience the computer is kinda sneaky and likes to lose stuff just before you do the backing up bit.)

    • Oh My Words! March 9, 2011 at 10:03 am #

      “Of course I don’t have a backup because that’s why I’m so upset!!!!”
      EXACTLY!

      I think computers are sneaky too! And I’m sure mine knows it’s smarter than me…

  8. chickendinner March 9, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    When panning for gold you have to strain your back and sift through a lot of sand, but when you find the gold – oh, it’s so precious and you want to hang on to it. I completely understand why you would feel loss about this. I would be grieving too.

    • Oh My Words! March 9, 2011 at 10:05 am #

      awesome analogy! And thanks–I can tell you get it. 🙂

  9. 3Hudd's March 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    Ah bless, well done for sticking it out. I don’t know about anyone else but i find computers slightly smug, it’s like having someone hovering over ready to pounce if you make a mistake. Mine even makes a patronising Ta Dar when i turn it on, ggrrr! On the prof side of things, had a teacher ( be it all years ago) who would randomly wean out people for answers and if we got them wrong he made us to laps ( lucky for us the classroom over looked the track field, what joy)! Needless to say this started my long hatred for algebra and exercise, lol. xx

  10. Meilani March 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    I love you! WHICH is why I always read your blogs 🙂

    and I am not a lit major.

  11. Meilani March 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    …with a capital A. And yes, starting a sentence with “and”

    • Oh My Words! March 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      I love you too, Meilani!! WHICH you should already know… 🙂

  12. sloopie72 March 10, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    I’m envious, both that you had such a superb teacher, and that you were able to handle it. I probably would’ve ducked out.

    I had a history professor (not even my major) once who came on like a bitch on wheels in the first class – barking orders, how we’d have to write this and do that and never ever miss a class and answer everything correctly – pacing back and forth with her hands clasped behind her back, ranting. The second class was, as you’ve said, thinned out remarkably, and she said something like, “Well, it looks like we got rid of the tourists, now let’s get to work.” She turned out to be a fantastic teacher.

  13. broadsideblog March 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    I was well loathed by my undergrad journalism students, so this prof sounds familiar to me…In my first class (these were journalism school students who apparently wanted to become journos), I asked how many of them read a newspaper every day…Maybe 3 of 30. “We don’t have time,” someone said.

    Get real.

    However terrifying your prof was, I’ve been roughed up verbally many, many times over the decades by editors and agents; my second NF book is out in a month.

    You learn, absorb what’s useful and keep going. This is not a field for fragile flowers, no matter how much our sensitivity makes us better observers or listeners.

    • Oh My Words! March 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

      Congratulations on your second book! “Malled” sounds interesting and I will be looking for it in April!
      Yes, although my professor was NO nurturing Nellie, I really respected him and learned a lot. You actually sound a lot like him–I even had to pop over to your blog just to make sure! He asked the same question on the first day of class with similar results. I think he said something like “I weep for the future of your generation.”

      Like I said, I’ve had problems with my flight or flight instincts and being easily intimidated. It’s something I’m working on and that prof definitely helped the process… I’m sure your students got a lot out of your class because despite my terror, I got a lot out of mine!

  14. Musings of a Mad Molly June 3, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    I know the feeling. Except mine was my biology coursework, which made up 20% of my overall grade. And I thought that it was an old, draughty copy, and the lovelly shiny new one was saved elewhere, and I deleted it. I had spent litterally a week non-stop working on this, and my weekend had comprised of me, calling in sick to work, and drinking red bull, and working like the clackers. And suddenly it was all gone. I cried.

    Thankfully, about a week later, I found that I had emailed it to my self, in a lack of sleep incuced madness. It couldnt bring back the tears, but it meant that I didnt have to spend the next two weeks trying to work out what on earth I had put, and repeating all of my experiments. I think I cried again, but this time they were tears of joy.

    I was not particularly impressed when boyfriend of the time had suggested it was no big deal. He got the cold shoulder till everything was right in the world again. Looking back, I may have over-reacted slightly, but loosing so much does that.

    • Oh My Words! June 3, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

      No, in my opinion you didn’t overreact. I would not have been impressed with the then-boyfriend either. Accidental deletions are a big deal.

      That’s lucky that you had it in your email!

      • Musings of a Mad Molly June 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

        Ah good, Im glad that a (semi)impartial observer sides with me.

        It is very lucky, its like I had a premonition about needing it. Its pretty odd that I did really, as I never used to. Nowadays, I always email it to myself.

  15. Musings of a Mad Molly June 3, 2011 at 5:51 am #

    P.s. I feel that the ‘POST COMMENT’ button, should instead be called ‘POST ESSAY’ button for me. Some of my comments on these have been longer than some of my posts. No joke.

    • Oh My Words! June 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

      I like comments with substance! It’s nice when a commenter feels inspired by one of my stories to share one of his/her stories…

      • Musings of a Mad Molly June 10, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

        And that is what makes you a nice blogger. That and the fact that you bother to reply 🙂 .

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] so lame that all the cool computer nerds know to hate it. And remember my tragic mishap with the delete button? Technology is my frienemy. My usual fix for a stuck computer is to force-quit and turn it off, but […]

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