Exactly 1000 words on 1000 words

I like pithy little maxims, particularly ones that have been around forever. I suppose there’s a school of thought that would say that all the good things to say, have probably already been said and so quoting a proverb or saying is really just an exercise in reuse. What I like about them, makes me sound literary and smart, a nice ruse. One of my prouder moments; when I was about 15 or 16 years old I had a crush on a girl who had just moved into the neighborhood, I think her name was Dana but I might be wrong. She had this gorgeous mane of long jet black soft curls, piercing blue eye and few other attributes which proper decorum prohibits my mentioning. Just say’n, I was 16 after all. Not that at 50 I would feel all that different but I probably wouldn’t mention it.. or wait I just did. Shameful.

Anyway.. I put a decent amount of time and effort into trying to foster a little relationship with Dana, to no avail. To put it bluntly she was not a fan. But, she was nice enough one fine afternoon to let me know all the reasons she was not a fan, something I would later learn is called feedback, and would learn even later than that,should be considered a gift. BTW, this feedback is a gift thing.. good gifts come with gift receipts and can be returned if you don’t like them. This has not proven to be true in the case of feedback.

ANYWAY- I hit on her for a couple months, until she sat down one day and said something to the effect of “I’d like to present you with a list of reasons that me, and every other girl in high school I’ve talked too, find you undesirable.”

Cool. Bring it.

“Reason number one- you use big words.”

I remember that comment like it was yesterday. And I seriously can’t remember another thing she said, despite her rambling on for another couple hundred reasons. I couldn’t get past the “use big words” comment because in my mind this little dish was now in the category of imbecile, which if you are also uncomfy with big words is a an archaic word which was used to describe people with IQ’s in the >;50 range. Amazingly enough she became considerably less attractive at that point, I moved on and started dating a girl in the school choir who was also attractive, but more importantly, brilliant.

Words matter. Numbers.. .

Numbers matter too, but I’ve never been comfortable in the world of numbers. To the contrary I’ve always relished in language, I love navigating complicated conversation, my head seems to have a handy thesaurus at the ready, not a dictionary mind you, spelling remains an issue. I’m almost always able to insert just the right word to evoke just the right nuance to a conversation. My children however are far more comfortable in the quantitative world, the exactness found in the realm of mathematics is their preferred space. For them, diving into a complicated formula and solving an equation brings a closure that they just can’t find in literary pursuits. When I see a perfectly good sentence corrupted with numbers and odd symbols I find myself beyond intimidated, and maybe even a little sick to my stomach. It’s like it’s a secret code and I have no decoder ring.

My kids… the only time I’ve ever heard any frustration about their college work came when papers were due. The oldest kid at Michigan Tech has even gone so far as to proclaim his humanities coursework, which frankly was about three classes, all which were for engineers and as such only required the bare minimum of any sort of writing, as “lame”. Why lame? Because he had to write not one, not two, but three, count’um three papers in these classes and these papers had the unreasonable requirement of having to be at least 1,000 words long.

A THOUSAND words.. “Do you know how long a THOUSAND WORDS is” my son would complain over Skype. From his expression and tone, this was insurmountable, it was an injustice, it was a distraction from real work, important work, work in laboratories and computers, it infringed on his analytics courses, which were much easier because at least in math, there’s a correct answer, you either have it or you don’t. This writing BS is all subjective and therefore a waste of time.

And therein is the paradigm between literary thinkers and the analytical thinkers. I look at mathematicians and scientists with sense of awe and wonderment. They’re doing magnificent work, complicated mind bending work in a space I can’t even imagine. I work with some PhD’s with degrees in quantitative analysis who can develop algorithms which will predict my behaviors on a given day better than I can. I’m in awe of the calculus which can put a plane in the air or calculate age of some Neolithic ancestors missing molar based on radio carbon decay. I have trouble balancing my checkbook, so much so that I haven’t done it since Quicken was installed on my homemade 286 computer in 1989.

The analytical folks, at least in my family, in contrast tend to look at us literary types as cloud chasing dreamers, quaint and fun to talk too, but not really adding a ton of value to the betterment of humanity. A generalization I realize, but one based on solid field research, I’m on to something. It’s hard to make the argument that literature can advance the human condition and help explain our world to a group of people who are quite proud to boast that they never cracked a book that wasn’t a technical manual.

Whiners. A thousand word essay. I apparently don’t appreciate how long 1000 words are. Really? I respond, it’s exactly the length of this post, or about 15 minutes or work. Get over it

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Exactly 1000 words on 1000 words

  1. Agreed. I used to average around 1000 words per post and, including research, they would take around 55 minutes to get done.

    I can bang out a 500 word post in less than 10 minutes. Believe me, plenty of mornings at 6:45 AM I roll out of bed and have a post in the queue by 7 AM and they’re around 500 words.

    Thanks Sank, you’re my hero.

  2. Mike Sankary

    Greatness! I’m impressed that you can crank out that much, so fast and that damn funny to boot!

  3. RAH

    Numbers person here, but oddly one that uses “big words”. I haven’t really experimented with writing. Although I am an admirer of good writing, I don’t think it’s something I could do.

    • Practice Practice Practice. One interesting side effect of writing this blog for the last 10 years, I seem to be exercising a writing muscle because I can just let it flow.

  4. Love the exact word count. Reminds of a song in the Peanuts musical when Lucy writes a 100 word essay on Peter Rabbit that says nothing at all in exactly 100 words.
    All my test scores said I was strongest in the math/science world and weakest in the word world. Went to college as a science person. Hated it. Dropped out for awhile. Went back and became an English teacher. I passed on the word thing to both kids and not the science thing. Too bad for them; the word world that pays less money.
    My son had an advanced vocabulary which set him apart on the playground and not in a good way. Now my second grade grandson is in the same fix.

  5. Tim

    Of course, once you get into the higher levels of academia, writing becomes extremely important no matter what discipline you’re in. An engineer or mathematician who can’t write certainly won’t get far in a Ph.D. program, or even an M.S. program.

    I can hack it with numbers when I need to, but I’ve always been more comfortable with writing, which has never really challenged me. But I still find science, technology, and even math very interesting, and think that I could have gone that route if I had more discipline when I was younger. I think I’d really enjoy technical writing, even though a lot of people would likely find it dull.

    • I was a form of technical writer for 17 years. It is fun except you have to be so careful of the details, which are often in a repetitive for to make it easier for the user. Also you are often saying about the same thing several times, so you have to decide if you want to keep it the same or vary it, which is often hard. The practicality of purpose I liked. Then it was fun after those years to start writing fiction.

  6. I am so with you on this post. My youngest is currently majoring in computer engineering; similar attitude to your eldest.

    Bring on the words; cast away the numbers, for me at least. I dread the impending tax season and FAFSA filing.

  7. I hear you. Math just never “clicked” in my head. Putting a bunch of characters on a page with an “=” sign somewhere in the middle and telling me you had just proved something … seriously? Now, geometry made great sense to me; that was, after all, just drawing logical pictures. I could relate to drawing and logic. But don’t try to tell me a conglomeration of numbers and symbols means something when you could be using perfectly good words.

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