Living with YSSF
I want to get serious for a moment in today’s post. A few days ago a friend confided something in me–something that she’s been living with now for almost twenty years and never told a soul. In her tenth grade humanities class, my friend received a paper back with the comment: “You’re a shining star in the Firmament.” This is from a licensed teaching professional; and not in some horrible public school system as described in a Republican debate, but right here in Brooklyn. Fellow Occupiers of Specialness, I have two thoughts on this.
One, never have I been more in awe of my friend. Knowing this about her, I’m astonished that she doesn’t just lie in bed, looking up at her ceiling and crying “Why me?” over and over again. The fact that she’s a strong, mostly well-adjusted person is a tribute to her strength. Looking at her, you would never in a million years guess that she’s been battling YSSF (You’re a Star in the Firmament) for all of these years. Simply put, she is so, so brave.
Secondly, any teacher visiting this upon a high schooler, a girl whose only crime was signing up for a vaguely pretentious sounding and overly broad class titled “Humanities,” (and how was she to know at 16!), that teacher should quit this instant or be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The clear singularity implied by the comment, the use of the Shakespearean “Firmament,” from Hamlet no less–Special Person #1–the connotations of other-worldly intelligence and future greatness. Oh YSSF, you are a cruel and cunning demon! Teachers for whom there’s still time, please take note: if you ever feel tempted to write such a thing on a student’s paper, vanquish the thought immediately. Instead, I provide five alternative comments to put on a well-written paper other than YSSF. Together, we can beat this thing. It won’t be easy, but with my friend as inspiration, we can make it so that one day, perhaps not too far off, our children will not even know what those four chilling letters once stood for. Today that seems unimaginable, but every journey starts with a list.
Here are Five Things to write on a Paper when you’re tempted to write YSSF:
1) You have done an adequate job on this particular paper. You are not special.
2) Congratulations. You picked some good quotes, fulfilled the length requirement, used some big words, and even thought of an awful title with a pun in it, like “Not Donne Yet: eternity and finality in Romantic Poetry, a new essay.”
3) You’re nothing. You’re pond scum. You are average, and even though you didn’t use Cliff’s Notes here, you might as well have, because your writing is generic and efficient. Yes, you fulfilled the assignment. Yes, I’m going to give you a decent grade. But don’t start contacting publishers just yet. You are going to have to do some serious soul searching if you even want to write the newsletter for the branding company you work for after college: Middling L.L.C.: fitting right in with everyone else since forever.
4) I got mild pleasure from where you wrote a, b, and c. I had to spit out from the distaste in my mouth, like eating the packet in the vitamin bottle that says “Do not Eat,” where you wrote x, y and z. Next time, do more of a, b and c. Do less of x, y and z. You are not special.
5) Anyone could have written this essay. No, I mean that literally. Anyone…could have written this essay. You used various combinations of letters from the English alphabet to make various words from the English language. You followed basic rules of grammar. You made up some ideas about the symbolism used in the work, and they may or may not be what the author intended. You had a thesis and followed it pedantically throughout your naive and oversimplified analysis. Anyone could have written this essay. You stink. But good effort.
Next Post: My “Shield of Achilles” essay from 11th grade, “Homer’s where the Art Is,” selected then as Essay of the Week, and my own struggles with EOTW.