Questions I Get Asked a Lot (or Wish I Did):

Q: What advice would you have for someone who’s not a strong writer and who wants to do well in English class?

A: I would suggest a variety of exercises targeting both the upper body and lower body. If you can develop strength training regimens that fit into your schedule before and after you complete your writing assignments then you will probably become a very strong writer. Unfortunately, being strong is not a requirement for doing well in English class. It can be helpful in terms of getting girlfriends, however, and romance is a treacherous path filled with heartache. And heartache leads to beautiful poetry and also Taylor Swift songs. So I can see how becoming a strong writer might help you to do well in English class, although to be honest, I would think that becoming a good writer would help a lot more.

Q: What is plagiarism and why do all my teachers think it’s such a big deal?

A: Plagiarism is stealing and stealing, as God says in the Bible, is only wrong if you get caught. So what you want to do is avoid quisling classmates. As William Shakespeare once said, “Bitches be snitches.” Plagiarism has the added benefit of making you sound terribly clever. Imagine how idiotic this answer would be if I had not quoted from Shakespeare and the Holy Bible! [Also misattribution is a type of plagiarism.]

Q: One last quick question: what is grammar? On a related note, how do I do it?

A: “Grammar” is an ancient manuscript etched in the blood of a virgin pigeon. If “Grammar” be read aloud whilst black candles be burnt, a white penguin made of smoke with eyes like razor blades will rise from the chambers of the sea and the muskrat will not see its shadow again until the harvest moon. A secret cabal that eats Cheez-Its in the dank catacombs beneath an antique city in a desert land scribes the “Grammar” and each year they add one more arcane rule. Only the cabal knows its Secrets. And the cabal have sworn eternal silence, else they will be forced to watch a dial-up internet browser load with their eyelids taped open. Only the penitent man will pass a grammar test.

Q: I don’t mean to be rude, but that was not helpful at all. Also, I suspect you made some of that up. But let me try one more time. I am confused about a specific grammar question: When do I use an apostrophe?

A: Ah! Yes, this can be confusing. I will explain. An apostrophe (’) is used to indicate possession. It follows the noun doing the possessing.

Example: The demon’s human husk . . .

Apostrophes never indicate a plural. The confusion comes from “its” vs. “it’s.”

It’s is an abbreviation of it is or it has.

Its means it possesses something.

Example: It’s got claws growing out of its nostrils.

Apostrophes never, ever indicate plurals. I repeat that because perhaps you didn’t get it the first time.

Incorrect:  The demon has been wearing a mullet since the 1980’s.

This apostrophe is incorrect because the 1980s do not own mullets. Chuck Norris owns mullets.

Incorrect: I have many DVD’s.

This apostrophe is incorrect because you should be streaming your content. It is the 2010s, geez.

Q: Okay, that was slightly more helpful. How about the semi-colon? I’ve never figured out the correct usage of a semi-colon.

A: God and the pope do not believe that two independent clauses should lie together outside of the holy bounds of legal punctuation.

This is a clause: She was a succubus.

It kind of sucks, but whatever: it’s still a clause.

This is a list of clauses, separated with periods as God intended: She was a succubus. He was Jabba the Hut. It was a match made in an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

Sometimes, however, you want to say two independent clauses very close together, with just a teeny little breathy pause between them—like, say, you were reading aloud a sentence with a comma in it.

You want to say, “She was a succubus, he was Jabba the Hut.”

But you can’t because that is illegal in 49 states and West Virginia will make it illegal as soon as West Virginia figures out what reading is.

So you put a semi-colon between two independent clauses whose semantic content is closely related, like so:

She was a succubus; he was Jabba the Hut. It was a match made in an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

And that is perfectly grammatical, at least until you decide you want to start experimenting with colons.

Q: Thank you! That was helpful, although to be honest I am not very interested in grammar. What I really want to know is, how do I get As on English papers?

A: I’m so glad you asked! “A”s are the little key on the farthest left, middle row on your keyboard. If at any point in your life you find yourself asking a teacher this question, you should know that the only As you’re likely to get on your papers are the ones you make by finding that key on your keyboard.


An Ode to the Halcyon Days, Or, Farewell, Summer!: an Epistolery Novel by a Full Time Faculty Member

Dear members of the committee:

The days of summer dwindle and the dark hours of the fall semester encroach. I would therefore like to take this time to submit to you a full report of the work I accomplished this summer with the goal of obtaining your approval for research leave beginning on the first day of the fall semester—which is next week—and extending through the end of finals’ week. I am sure you will agree, after hearing evidence of my extraordinary work this summer, that I could certainly use a break this fall.

First, I would like to reference the conference I attended for the glory of my academic institution. It happened to be in Australia.


The location was incidental of course. I would have presented in the Hellmouth itself if necessary for the glory of the institution.

Second, I wrote very, very many words this summer. I was practically chained to my desk. In fact, do you remember the galley ship scene in Ben Hur? That would be a good image to have in your mind. It was just me, a chain, my laptop, and possibly a few lattes, just to keep my strength up. It requires a great deal of strength and possibly that almond mocha with shavings of bittersweet dark chocolate on top to write as much as I did this summer.

In addition to all of my writing and arduous travels, I endured trial by combat. I am sure you are wondering if such things still occur today. They do. A dragon came and I had to fight it. I fought with all the strength given me by my great love for my academic institution and, I am pleased to report, I triumphed over the dragon. Good bye, dragon.

ERRATA: On proofreading this letter I realize that I might have been misleading when I said that I “fought a dragon.” It appears after a quick Google search that “dragons” are not as real as the television programs I watched this summer would have me believe. Consequently, I beg the committee to permit me to submit a correction.

What I meant to convey was that the intensity of the work felt like fighting dragons so that it is nearly accurate to say that I fought them off.

I worked a lot, is what I am trying to say. And maybe there were some TV shows in the middle of the research, and possibly a few short (very short!) trips to locations where research was not as easy, like, say, a beach. It is very difficult to take archived manuscripts to beaches. Librarians can be shockingly inflexible on the matter! I doubt that the committee could possibly hold that against me. Nor is it unreasonable to assume that all of my labor could possibly be completed in the span of a few weeks (okay, fine) a few months.

It is therefore with some confidence that I request permission for another vacation research leave beginning next week. While this would mean that I would, sadly, miss the start of school and my obligations to work a full day without the six hour brief breaks to which I am now accustomed, I am willing to shoulder that burden for the sake of the institution.

Thank you for your consideration of my request. I will miss you all.


L——– C——–


It has recently come to my attention that I accidentally checked my bank account balance and so I am very much looking forward to returning to campus next week and to the paycheck fulfilling work of teaching that awaits me once I return. See you next week!

Yours, etc.