Writers and Teachers and How Soap Works

Donald Miller (a great writer that I very much enjoy) posted something interesting on Facebook today…

‘Great writers keep people from feeling alone. Their humanity comes across on the page and connects.’

I think this is pretty accurate.  I know that if a writer crafts something well, and portrays it in such a way that I can relate to it, that it doesn’t really matter what the topic is, I will keep reading.  On the other hand, a bad writer can kill my interest in an interesting topic pretty quickly.  I have read books like that.   The topic was one that interested me and I could identify with the material and the premise, but it was delivered in such a clinical, dry, research-like way that when I thought I had grasped the point, I put it down and wandered off.  Of course, this might speak to a short attention span.  Squirrel!  🙂  How many of us studied something in High School or University that was so dry that we struggled to not procrastinate every time we attempted to read it?   I think this obviously translates to teaching as well…but more on that in a bit.

I am sure we all have particular authors that we follow.  I have a few.   I will devour anything that they publish.  Once you get into a rhythm with a particular author, he/she becomes like an old friend.  If the way they express their ideas and characters and plot suits your thought pattern in one publication, it will likely do so in another.  Like Donald Miller says above, their ‘humanity’ shines through and you can relate to them.

Tolkien was like that for me growing up.  He could have written a cookbook and I would have read it voraciously…and not just because the act of reading it would probably have made me hungry.   It seems to me that some authors you read because you have come to appreciate a particular protagonist and their adventures/misadventure (James Lee Burke and Randy Wayne White in the mystery genre come to mind).  Others keep you guessing and amazed at some of the craziness and twisted stories that come from their minds (Irvine Welsh), they weave a story that goes nowhere we expect it to go.  Others portray interesting data and facts in such a way as to make it compelling, spurring all sorts of creativity in the reader along the way (Malcolm Gladwell).  And some (Donald Miller) just seem to take you with them into their humanity, their thought process and their own journey through life.  Once you can relate…the pages turn (or the Kindle or Nook or whatever device you have…scrolls) and before you know it, it is very late and you have read the entire book.  One day I would love to write like that….to take people on an effortless journey full of smiles and nods and ‘yes!’ and ‘exactly!’… Maybe one day.

So back to teaching… I recall having to take lots of crazy hard science courses as part of my major (Cognitive Science).  The upper division courses were fine because they dealt with Psychology or Artificial Intelligence…it was the General Ed requirements and the journey through Physics and Chemistry and Math that got a bit hairy.  These courses tended to be very long on theory and very short on practical application in the real world.  I remember that the most interesting Chemistry course I ever took was during my two years in Junior College.  It was called Chemistry for People and among many other things, the professor taught us about the chemistry of soap and how it worked.  I still remember that because his style was compelling and he delivered his material in such a way as to make it interesting to his students.

When I got to University of California at San Diego, I had a lot of very intelligent teachers.  But sadly, too many of them were more concerned with writing research papers in their fields than they were with teaching their material in a compelling manner.  They had never figured out how to tell the story…at least in a way that would keep us avidly turning pages.  They were obviously consumed by their life’s work…passionate…driven.  But they were unable to impart that love of topic to most of us.  Now granted, there were a select few who would hang on their every word.  These people usually sat in the very front of class and found it necessary to ask several questions each lecture, mostly to be noticed.  But most of the rest of us had shut down and were really only wanting to know what we needed to study for the test so that we could get done with the class.  Imagine if you went through school and every class and topic compelled you… Maybe it is just me, but it is hard for me to imagine.

Teachers, like Writers have the power to compel, to grab the consciousness of their audience and take us on a journey.  They grab our imaginations and creativity and we embrace their message and whether we will end up using said information in our future lives or not, we tend to remember it… Sadly, some are much better at it than others.  Much respect for the storytellers in both professions…you are a credit to your work…

But at least I still remember how soap works….So I’ve got that going for me…which is nice 🙂

Hope that resonates with some of you….



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