Not Even Once…Upon a Time

Something occurred to me today, and I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience.  

Many years ago, I was writing a paper in college.  I don’t even recall what the paper was for, but I remember a bit of instruction that I received for it.  One of my older cousins wanted to look over my paper as I was writing it.  It was some sort of creative writing.  My cousin, Joel, was a pretty good writer, and I was glad to have his advice…until he started telling what he actually thought.

As he started reading, he said, “no.”  He continued reading and then said, “no” again.  Then he said “no” a few more times and put the paper down and looked at me.

I was a little shocked because I thought the paper could be whatever I wanted it to be.  It was my invention, and he was telling me no before he even asked me a question.  Then he just said to me, you are telling me all about what this paper isn’t.  Why don’t you just tell me what it is?

So, to explain that, I was doing exactly as he stated, but not entirely consciously.  I started the paper tearing down premises.  I don’t recall my words, but I hope you can understand what I am saying.  I was using language like, “I don’t know this”, and “this isn’t exactly that…”, etc.  And just as he said, I went through a few paragraphs of saying what it wasn’t…before I got around to saying what it was.  

That observation shocked me a little.  It has stuck with me for many years.  I have wondered, is there something wrong with the way I think about things, or was I just in some sort of a rut.  Did I do this while speaking?  I wondered.  Over the years I was careful not to do it…much.  I did feel the tug of starting out with what something wasn’t.  And I could not gauge how much other writers were doing it because I could not see their edited thoughts.  I never even raised the subject really, until now.

I raise the subject today because I saw a writer, and radio and television journalist that I have a great deal of respect for, and she does it.  Her name is Jemelle Hill, formerly of ESPN.  She was a sports columnist, I think their best by the time she left, who ventured into politics and life a little too often for ESPN’s conservative white male audience.  She is still a bit of a lightning rod, and she has leaned into it.  Her new blog is called “Stick to Sports”.  And there it is.  She doesn’t stick to sports.  She is saying what it isn’t, and highlighting something that should not be.  

I could question whether or not I was stupid, but I don’t question her.  She’s brilliant.  And that made me wonder.  Is this a minority perspective function?  Is this like syncopation in music?  Is this like names that begin with an unstressed syllable?  Is the ripping down of the unwanted premise to start a paper something from within my soul that seeks creative destruction?  I kinda think it is.  

I’m curious to know what you people think, not about me, but about it.  Do you do this?  Have you seen this?  I am asking you because I respect you.  If I didn’t, I would not be asking.

(By the way, “Stick to Sports” can be seen on @VICETV at 11:30 eastern).

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