After I left my English class on Wednesday, I found a letter in my mailbox for “Composition Professor” from the International Society of Bassists. That’s how it was labeled: “Composition Professor.” The address did not have a department affiliation—Music, English, Art, Chemistry, Culinary Arts—so it ended up with me. On the surface, it makes sense: I serve as director of our writing program, so anything related to Composition would be at home in my mailbox. However, the sender was clearly trying to reach a different audience!
Later, though, I thought a bit more about the word “composition” and how I tend to focus on just the one meaning and medium; that is, to me, composition is always about writing, about language, about alphabetic text. Even though I am aware of other uses of the term—a composition for flute, artwork as a composition of found objects and silly putty, for example, or the chemical composition of an alloy—these meanings never enter my mind first. For many, many other people, a composition might mean a musical score, a piece of art, a recipe, a combination of elements… they might not even think of writing at all!!
I mention this letter because it was one of the many moments when I am reminded that not everyone loves writing—or even thinks of it first. A lot of my life is tied up in writing—I’ve spent years and years in school to be where I am, so it’s no wonder that I get a little bit focused on teaching writing and doing writing and reading about writing and thinking about writing and…. Well, let’s just say this letter came at an important moment for me. It’s never a bad idea to stop and look around, to take note of what you understand as “reality” and compare it with other versions of “reality.” I try to be aware of the world around me, but like everyone else, I get a little myopic from time to time.
Which brings me to my last thought—this semester. I have been thinking back on my own first college writing class and realizing that I was, shall we say, decidedly less enthusiastic about writing then. In fact, I recall very little about the content of the class at all. A peer editing session here, a quiz there, one assignment about dialect… What I remember more clearly is that I had very long hair, that the football player in my class was HUGE, and that I had a half-hearted crush on a boy named Dan.
Anyway, this letter served as a small but timely corrective to the zeal I bring to each new year. Composition, rhetoric, and writing are meaningful and important subjects, but they’re not going to resonate with everyone. The letter/reminder won’t prevent me from bringing my love for writing to class with me each day, but I’m hoping it will serve as a buffer for heartbreak that comes when my students don’t bring theirs.