My students have completed their oral history assignments. They are long works. Transcribed voices stretching several pages.
At the beginning of the semester there were shorter assignments. 500 words. 750 words. 2 pages. 1 page… Full of mistakes. Words missing, tortured syntax, sentences that were, simply, not sentences. Typos.
This work. Oral history. Several pages. No errors. I asked the class, why is this so?
“There is a pressure to respect the words of the interviewee.” This echoes sentiment from the final rationales last year. “I value and respect that someone actually gave me her time and I want to honor that by creating a work that showcases the words of this person.”
“My worst nightmare,” noted one student, “is to misquote.”
Equally significant. —- “In my own writing I know what I’m trying to say, so my brain places it in.” This student can read past the missing word, filling in the gaps, as she knows her work.
Once, on a resume. The word “realty” is misspelled as “reality” and the interviewer asks, “so what do you know about reality.” Suspecting one of these “big picture” questions the candidate falters. “Reality is a complex situation. Does God exist? What are the layers of reality? Who is to know if what I see as the color of red, for instance, is what you see…”
“What the hell are you talking about?” asked the interviewer. “It says on your resume that you worked for a reality company.”
“Oh,” Red faced. “That’s a typo.”
I am fond of telling my students that I could misspell my name and not see it. (I do this to help them feel better, but really could just be undermining confidence in their professor). I encourage writing groups. I encourage peer tutors. I encourage a second set of eyes.
We do often “place in” the words that we think are there. We know our work. We are intimately familiar with the characters, and feel that we do not need to place them on the page. “Of course the main character is a salamander. How could the reader not see that?” We are left frustrated. No one “gets” my work. But I would suggest that it is not the reader’s responsibility to flesh out what is missing.
The challenge is when the reader places in different words than the ones the author intends.