So here’s the thing: I didn’t learn how to diagram a sentence until I was twenty-eight.
I had just enough experience working with teenagers to know they’re merciless bullshit detectors. I also remembered how my classmates and I had treated some of our teachers—teachers who would now be my colleagues.
I learned, in those years, how to write when I did not feel like writing. I learned how to write when inspiration did not come. How to write when every word felt wooden and false. And I learned, also, how to feel guilty on the days when I could not bear to write even a single, shitty sentence.
The cultural markers–or lack thereof–in a story are not what makes a piece of writing timeless. We do not transcend time by simply disregarding its march. Even as the diaphragm loses its prevalence and potency, the stories that incorporate it do not because literature was never intended to be generic, was never meant to either speak for one time solely or no time at all.
Today, when I read student work that relies on a clever conceit—such as a piece of fiction that is, ultimately, an elaborate joke; when I read stories that are technically functional but devoid of insights, I cringe. I prefer a piece that is overly sentimental but that is trying to get at something true to the undergraduate’s experience, such as love, longing, heartbreak.