Give Me a 'D' and
We'll Call It Even
This piece of writing was born as a journal entry for a Creative Writing class. In this final form, it may be more of an essay. Call it what you will. In truth, it is a written refusal to follow instructions.
At the outset of the semester, when we were told to keep a journal, the assignment seemed innocuous enough.
"Write anything that comes into your head," we were told.
Some suggestions were, "Describe the weather today; describe your clothes in detail; anything that comes to mind is good."
OK, fine. I have no problem describing a hawk I watched, or the neighbor's dog. But then the definition of a good journal entry insidiously began to change. By week four we were told, "Describe your emotions; turn over rocks in your mind and describe what you find. Dig deep into your thoughts and feelings and write them down."
Unh, unh. Thanks for the invitation, but we just parted ways. Some things live under rocks for a good reason. Some things have been buried for good reason. And some people don't go digging there. Again, for a good reason. My particular reason stems from the first writing class I took a couple years ago.
I came into the class unaware of the divine gifts of suppression, repression and denial. Instructed to dig, I dug.
It sounded like a scholastic thing to do. But I had scarcely turned the first shovelful when a whole semester's worth of material came scuttling out
of the dirt and crawled into my head. Buried for twenty-three years, these disinterred memories earned me “A”s for poems, essays and stories that
were heavy with nightmare visions of blood, smoke and the smell of fear.
It wasn't worth it. The instructor read it, graded it, scribbled some comments and went on to a poem about flowers or a story about someone's grandpa. But what I had dug up was now mine to keep. I didn't want it, but there's no getting rid of it.
And that was buried shallow, just under the surface. Now I'm asked to resume digging, and dig deeper.
"This is where good writing comes from," I'm told.
I suppose it is, and if you happen to be standing over buried treasure or a vein of gold when you start to dig, it might even be pleasurable. But what
do you suppose Edgar Allen Poe was digging up? It produced good writing, no question, but was it good for him? What did Hemingway find beneath that final rock he turned over? Whatever it was, it made the bore of a shotgun look inviting.
Some people aren’t standing over buried treasure. Some are just standing over old graves. I think I'm one of the latter. Like I said, I only dug down a little way. But something beneath the surface seems to be squirming in a most sinister way. Either something is only half-dead, or something else is feeding on it and growing steadily bigger and stronger. Either way, I'm not touching the shovel.
So, for the rest of this class I'll sift through the dirt I've already dug up. I'll write about the neighbor's dog. I'll take a "D" in journaling—hell, I'll take an "F" in journaling. But I've dug as deep as I'm digging.
* * *
The author: Harry Cockson served in the Corps from Sept. 1966–Sept. 1968, with Whiskey Battery 2nd Bn., 11th Marines in Vietnam 67–68; Hill 63, BLT 3/1—Cua Viet River, Camp Carroll, Ca Lu. After that BLT went to Phu Loc, then An Hoa. In February 2007, Harry retired after 32 years with the Nebraska Public Power District. Click to view then-and-now pix of author.