Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Muncie Boyhood-Procrastination and the Term Paper

I’ve grown to the point in my life where I take the process of writing something sort of for granted.  Further, the actual act of typing is now second nature.  That wasn’t always the case…especially during my senior year at Muncie Southside High School.

As a senior in the graduating class of 1980 who was taking some college-prep classes, I signed up for a Term Paper Writing class.  Ruth Hillman’s class was designed to teach us how to properly research, prepare, and write a term paper once we were actually in college.  Instead, it just scared the living…uh…stuff out of me.

Overall, the process wasn’t all that bad except for two significant problems that became very apparent over the course of time.  The first is a problem I’ve struggled with all my life:  procrastination.  In high school, I would always put off homework assignments to the last possible moment, and then I’d cram it like crazy and get it done in time to turn it in.  Overall, it worked for me.  I was a solid “B” student.  But, sometimes it was a really tight situation and I barely got things done.  That was never more true than the deadline for the turning in of my final draft of my term paper.

It was only ten pages.  These days, I could knock out ten pages without too much sweat.  The problem back then was that those ten pages needed to be typed; a concept that I had not yet even remotely learned how to do.

My family didn’t even own a typewriter.  (Some of you are wondering what that even is…aren’t you?)

So, in light of the fact that I didn’t know how to type and we didn’t own a typewriter, I obviously planned way ahead, asked around for someone who could type, and gave them plenty of time to do the job for me…for pay. 



Instead, my two issues converged.  I couldn’t type…and I procrastinated.  So, the DAY BEFORE the paper was due, I went in search of a typewriter to borrow.  I figured I could “hunt and peck” my way through.  I had no idea how complicated it could be to add footnotes and bibliographies on top of the normal writing/typing process.  My ignorance was nearly my undoing, and I had to do well on that final draft to end up with a good grade.  A good grade in this class was pretty important.  Way too much was riding on this thing.  I had to find a way!

Enter the hero of my senior year term paper class project:  Delores Huffman.

She was the secretary at the Fairlawn Church of Christ, which at the time was located at the corner of 13th and Monroe streets in Muncie.  I was a member there and an active part of their youth group.  After school at about 3pm, I made my way to the church office.  My hope was that she would let me use the office typewriter to do my project.  Keep in mind, I had no idea how to use a typewriter or any of the tools (carbon paper, correction fluid, etc.) that went along with it.

She said, “No, but I’ll type it for you.”

“Are you sure,” I asked.  “Really?”

“Sure,” she answered.  “I’ll help you out.”

So, she typed…and typed…and typed...and typed.  I had to explain the detailed formatting along the way…and that was coming from someone who didn’t really understand formatting yet.  Spacing.  Footnotes. Indentations.  I think we got done (she was typing, I was keeping her company) sometime between 10pm and 11pm that night.  I could not believe what an ordeal it was, and I was soooooo happy she had agreed to help me out, because if it took her that long, and she knew how to type, then it would have taken me all night…literally...and I still would have failed.

The next day, I walked proudly into Mrs. Hillman’s Term Paper class and handed in my 10-page paper on “The Life of Jesus and the Way His Disciples Should Live.” -- an odd title and subject for an 18 year old boy in a public high school.  And, thanks to Delores' help, I got an "A."  At least that's how I remember it.  (I should dig that thing out again and read it.  I’m pretty sure I found it in some of my mom’s stuff and still have it around somewhere.)

The interesting thing that I missed at the time, and just in the writing of this story have realized was that I may have written a lame paper on how a disciple of Jesus should live, but Delores actually showed me.  I came to her with a desperate situation and no real hope of successfully completing that project, and she cheerfully sacrificed whatever else she was planning to do in order to stay in her office way past her time to go home so she could save my skin.  She could have just said no and went home.  Or, she could have given me the chair and left me to my own devices with that crazy contraption of mechanical letters.  But, she didn’t.  Instead, she stayed, and she typed.  That was a better testament to how a disciple of Jesus should live than any silly paper I could have written.

Anyway, you might think that after that experience I would have entered college confident of my ability to write a term paper, and committed to never procrastinate again.  You would be wrong.

In the fall of 1980, I entered Williamstown Bible College.  I spent two years there and exited with an Associate Degree.  And….I never wrote one single term paper.  Oh, they were assigned.  Nearly every class had one due.  I just never completed, nor attempted to complete one single paper.  That high school experience actually caused me to be so intimidated by the process that I skirted the whole issue.  Rather, I figured out that I could still pass all of those classes without writing the paper if I aced everything else.  So, that’s what I did.  I got top marks in every assignment leading up to the final paper, then skipped it.  I ended up a “C” student, but I passed every class without the paper.

Oh, and I promise you that I’m going to deal with that procrastination problem.  Tomorrow.

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