Tag Archives: school

Paying a debt not owed

I feel a lot of pressure to do certain things in life.  Let me clarify by saying that these “things” have no moral leaning, but are simply choices that I have.  One of those choices happens to be whether or not I continue my college education to get a degree beyond my current Associate’s degree.  At the moment, I have no such plans to do so, although I am not opposed to getting a higher level degree if I happen to find something that interests me enough to spend several thousand dollars and a few years of stress accomplishing it.

I was once taught that, because I am intelligent, I have an obligation both to God and the world around me to finish college and even graduate school.  I believed this for some time and it put me under an immense amount of stress because, truth be told, I don’t enjoy school and I was completely unsure of what I wanted as far as a career was concerned.  This led to years of entering college and dropping out.  Over and over again, I would go for a few months before dropping everything, assuring my parents that I was just taking a semester break to get things in order.  It wasn’t until about eighteen months ago that I realized how miserable I was going to school for a degree I didn’t want.  I dropped my schooling indefinitely and have yet to return.

This decision was one that still haunts me, but not because I think I made the wrong move; more because there’s still a part of me that believes that I owe it to someone, somewhere to finish a degree and get a job as an executive somewhere or something.  Despite the fact that this career path sounds dreadful to me, I feel obligated to follow it for my own success (whatever that means) and because they (whoever they are) expect it.

I was thinking about this today, and I suddenly realized: I don’t owe anything to anyone here on earth.  The only one I owe anything to is God, and I can’t even pay what I owe there.  Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace and providence have allowed payment to be made for my sinful, wretched self, but as far as paying what I owe…I can’t.

And, beyond that debt, I don’t owe anyone anything.  I want to make God-honoring decisions, and I will do my best to do so.  But, I don’t want to make decisions based on a feeling of obligation I have to the world.  That just seems backwards to me.

Do you ever feel like you have to do something that has no moral or ethical bearing simply because someone else wants you to? What are your thoughts on that sort of situation?

Dear Fellow Students

Dear Fellow Students,

I understand your confusion.  Truly, I do.  I, too, am also plagued by the misunderstandings that accompany the misuse or nonuse of hyphens.

As your apparent puzzlement indicates, you are well aware of the purpose of the hyphen.  You know that when two words which modify one another are used to modify a third word, the initial two words should be hyphenated.  For instance, let’s take the completely arbitrary words “Tobacco”, “Free” and “Campus” to make the phrase “Tobacco Free Campus”. Without a hyphen, this phrase is much like the Wonder Twins without their rings of power: kind of confusing, a little awkward, and possibly useless.  The phrase could be taken to mean that you are currently standing on a campus that is made entirely of tobacco and to which entrance is free of charge.  You could also interpret the phrase to mean that tobacco products are hurled at students on this campus with no expectation of compensation (albeit, that requires a slight stretch of the imagination).

However, insert the ring of power (the hyphen, in this case) into the equation, and, as surely as those Twins of Wonder will transform into a puddle of water and a walrus, the vague phrase is changed to one that makes perfect sense: a “Tobacco-Free Campus” is clearly a campus on which tobacco products are prohibited.

Now, the school which we attend does not appear to understand how confounding some phrases can be without hyphens.  They have placed signs throughout the buildings which could be interpreted in any of the ways listed above.  Yes, they should have had the signs checked by a copy editor.  Yes, you are evidently baffled by their meaning.  Never fear.  I am here to clear things up once and for all.

I feel confident in saying that, despite the lack of hyphens, the signs posted on every entrance and exit door on campus do have one correct interpretation, which is as follows:

Stop filling the balconies where I study with your disgusting cigarette smoke.

Glad I could help you out in your quest for truth.



Dear Users of Nouns, Pronouns and Verbs

Dear Users of Nouns, Pronouns and Verbs,

I would like to make the bold request that you be more precise when speaking/singing/writing.  Using ambiguous nouns and verbs makes it difficult for the reader to decipher what you intend to communicate.  Ambiguity can also result in entrapment or even death, as this letter will no doubt prove.

My first example is something that happened to me today.  I was exploring my school campus, looking for a place to read alone, when I found a really great balcony.  The door leading to the balcony had several signs on it, and I read each one.  Scrawled in some messy penmanship on one of the signs was the statement:

Door will lock after closing.

I thought about this for a moment.  Did the author intend to communicate that the door would lock after the building closed or after the door closed? I went with the former, assuming that, had the writer meant the latter, they would have written something like, “Door will lock when it closes,” or “This door locks from the outside,” or even “Prop the door open by any means if you don’t want to be stuck on a balcony for the rest of your life.”

I soon discovered my mistake and was forced to call a school admin to let me back in the building.  This incident could have been avoided if the wording on the sign had been more specific.

The next example is a very serious one indeed.  You may be familiar with the band The Postal Service.  The opening line of their song “Clark Gable” is:

I was waiting for a cross-town train in the London Underground
When it struck me

What struck you, Postal Service Lead Singer Guy? To what does this “it” refer? Because, to be honest, every time I hear this song, I imagine you standing on the rails, waiting and thinking deep thoughts.  And then I imagine an underground train rushing out of nowhere, hitting, and killing you. (As a side note, I do realize that that intention of the writer is clarified one line later.  However, as a result of the construction of the song, I still feel that the pronoun used here is ambiguous.)

These examples clearly illustrate just how important it is to use clear language.  If you don’t, you may end up in serious danger…or, at least, the subjects of whatever you’re writing, may end up in serious danger.  Either way, it’s something to pay close attention to.

I hope that this letter persuades you to be more careful and specific in your word usage.



Dear Oxford Comma

Dear Oxford Comma,

For much of my life, I have despised you.  In the past, I have felt that I was too good to use you in my writing.  In some ways, I still feel that way.  You look unnecessary and purposeless and I truly loathe you.  You also make sentences look like fragments written by an insane person.  These are the reasons I avoid using you at all costs.  In fact, until recently, I never used you.  I would venture to guess that placing you in my writing only began to occur in the last few months.

I would love to continue to shun you, but unfortunately when I write out a sentence such as “This piece of art is dedicated my brothers, Doritos Nacho Cheese tortilla chips and fluoridated toothpaste,” I am reminded that I must use you to make it clear that my brothers are not, in fact, an MSG-laden snack nor a chemically-infused dental hygiene product.  So I have to wedge you into my sentence to make my point, the result being, “This piece of art is dedicated to my brothers, Doritos Nacho Cheese tortilla chips, and fluoridated toothpaste.”

This is all fine and good. You are useful in instances such as this. However, I still find you cumbersome and downright unnecessary most of the time. But, consistency is important to me, so if I’m going to use you in the above sentence, I feel compelled to use you in less ambiguous sentences as well. This results in sentences such as,  “My favorite hobbies are reading, writing, and muskrat training,” in which your presence is less than welcome.

I honestly just wish you would die, Oxford Comma.  I think removing you from existence would encourage people to use their logical reasoning skills and study more.  I also think that I hate you.  A lot.  I’ve always hated you, and now I hate you even more for forcing me to use you in all listing situations to avoid the accusation of inconsistency.

Please leave, never come back and maybe cease to exist.

And, yes, I will be leaving that sentence as is.



Dear Mr. Clark

Dear Mr. Clark,

I am writing to inform you of an unfortunate event.  This event will not involve orphaned children, eye-shaped tattoos or carnivorous leeches.  It will not end in you being chased by a mob of people with pitchforks and torches.  It will most likely not cause you to fall while ice skating, step on a Lego, get a paper cut or contract malaria.  In fact, this event occurred about nine years ago, so it probably won’t affect your day-to-day life in the least.

It all started with Six Flags Over Texas.  Actually, that’s not true at all.  It all started with a boring assignment given to me in boring World History class in the boring tenth grade.  I had to read a boring book about boring Athens and write a boring one-paragraph book report in order to complete the assignment.  In reality, all you really cared about was the book report, so I suppose you won’t be very concerned about what I am about to tell you.

I procrastinated reading A Day in Old Athens.  In fact, I think I only got about thirty pages into the book, which contained at least one hundred more pages. And then I went to Six Flags Over Texas, reasoning that I could read it that night.  I’m pretty sure by the time I made this decision, the paper was due the next day, so I had already procrastinated substantially.  What I’m about to admit really shouldn’t be surprising, all things considered.

Regardless, I do have a confession to make: funnel cakes and Six Flags’ signature Pink Things are both supremely delicious.

Also, I didn’t actually read A Day in Old Athens.

Yes, I turned in the assignment.  Yes, it was written based entirely off of the titles of the chapters of the books and a small amount of text skimming.  Yes, you barely noticed the lack of quality in my work and you gave me a B.  But, I felt guilty for years.

At first, I reasoned that I would read the book sometime that week to make up for the fact that I didn’t read it before writing the assignment.  Then I didn’t do that, but I decided I would read the book at some point.

I’m writing to you today, nine years after the fact, to tell you that I still haven’t read the book.

I’m sorry if this letter disappoints you in any way.  If it helps, I never pretended to read an assigned book again.

Until I got to college and realized my teachers didn’t really care.

But that’s another story.

I hope this letter doesn’t come as too much of a shock.  I’m glad to finally get this off of my chest.

Thank you for your patience as a teacher with a class full of students who hated Greco-Roman history as much as you loved it.