Friday, September 19, 2014


Every year I manage to convince someone to let me inside a college classroom to talk about life at the Paragraph Factory. Why they let me do it is an enduring mystery.

For starters, I'm not a teacher. I taught one semester of journalism at the local community college and quickly came to appreciate the sensibilities I do not possess — things like nurturing, for starters. I'm not a warm-and-fuzzy boy; I sometimes bite. Teachers do not bite.

(I do remember a strategic planning meeting for the magazine, when SuperFrank, the publisher, said something about the importance of teaching our readers. "I'm not a teacher," I protested, and I still remember the bemused look on Frank's face. "You're a teacher," he declared.)

I'm also mercurial — or at least consistently capricious. "I never know what you will say and I have no idea what you think," someone wrote me the other day, before hastening to add: "It's a good quality! You can't be read like an open book."

That sort of unpredictability has served me well as a journalist; I went from being an investigative reporter to a features editor without blinking, and I've mastered the trade in radio, print and television. But it's not conducive to being a teacher, where consistency is king and deviation from the norm is something to be dissected and studied, like curious students huddled around a gigged frog.

But parachuting into a classroom for a performance? I can do that, no sweat. I've done it for so long that, as my friend MIT notes, I should have guest instructor tenure by now. Or at least a ribbon for meritorious cajoling. There is something very good that percolates in me when I'm in front of a group of mostly disinterested students; I rise to the challenge of making an interesting and lasting impression.

This time out it's a broadcast writing class. A greater challenge than your typical one-hour guest lecture — this is three hours on a Thursday night in October in front of people who want to work in the industry. No wearing the Monkey Boy suit; no goofballing around and cracking wise. We are going to talk about active voice and rat-a-tat sentences, about punchy prose, about typing with verve and evoking emotion.

The guy who teaches the course is someone I respect, so I won't go all ninja. I won't even don the mask. This is his home and I'll be his guest. Best behavior and all that. I might even wear a sports coat and tie my hair back. When it's over, maybe someone will leave the class and think about what just happened, the same way a good book lingers under your skin and leaves you wanting more.

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