Four score and seven years ago in 1998, I became a published author. It was an accident and I didn’t mean to.
The published book was filled with (mostly) blank pages. That’s the cover up above.
I found a copy yesterday because I have this banana box in my office that I’ve been trying to tidy. Like, for years.
Hashtag relatable, right?
It’s a tricky box full of stuff that I find difficult to throw away. It’s all actually crap. But I have a sentimental attachment to some of the crap. Actually, all of it.
But I’m determined to try and live a more minimalistic lifestyle. You know… have less stuff. Be more zen etc.
Aside from meditating and eating Lima beans, one strategy then, it would seem, is to get rid of all the stuff.
This is much harder than it sounds.
For example, at the moment, I can fit everything I need to run my business and do my work in a 35L backpack. And there’s still room for clothes for a couple of days away.
It’s a great bag. It’s a new one. I got it for my birthday.
I also have too many bags. I need a separate closet just for bags.
But what if I wanted to go away for a long time? That’s what I’ve been mulling over. What about all the other dross that has accumulated? What kinds of bags would I need?
More importantly, what about the box of crap that I can’t seem to unload?
A few years back I when I seemed to be moving house every 18 months I realised that I had more than 25 banana and apple boxes full of books on applied linguistics and language teaching and other stuff that I didn’t really care about anymore.
I don’t even know where I got most of the books from. Some of them I bought. But others just seemed to find me. Piles of them.
I think I read one or two. But mainly they made me feel good.
They looked great on the shelves. It’s another dirty little pleasure of mine. Interesting books on bookshelves.
You can tell a lot about someone by the books on their shelves. That’s what we book snobs tell ourselves.
But really, it’s about as accurate as trying to psychoanalyse your friends by reading meaning into the titles of the songs they listen to on Spotify (yes, I’m watching you).
I tried to sell the 25+ boxes of books to the second-hand university bookshop close to my old university. All I wanted was a hundred bucks.
They just laughed at me. And eventually, they had to ask me to leave the premises. The books had no value they said.
So I dried my tears and went back to the department where I used to work and offloaded all of the boxes of books to Carmen the secretary.
They were, of course, very grateful.
No one said anything, not even Carmen who was of course very happy to see me after so many years and who tried to re-recruit me to the academic staff.
It hadn’t been the same since I left, you see.
It’s also possible that many of the books were actually theirs to start with.
I was still a student at the same university in the same department when I accidentally became a published writer of the book with blank pages.
No, it wasn’t a diary.
But that must be a similar kind of thing. I mean, if you write diaries for a living and they’re published, then aren’t you a published writer as well?
Diary writer at a party: “Yeah, man… I usually put a book out every year… Last year, though… that was a toughy. Nearly missed the deadline… But you should see what I’m working on for next year…”
Diaries don’t usually have the author’s name on the front, however. So I’m a step above a writer of diaries.
The cause of my accidental publishing was my students. It was, at least, partially their fault.
As an ESOL teacher, I needed ways of filling in time. You know, in the classes.
Sometimes these fillers also had the added benefit of having pedagogical value. That means people learned as a result.
I had stumbled onto the idea of getting my students to do a journal writing exercise every class for 10 minutes.
Hardly original, but it was brilliant. I set the time and patrolled the class. They stopped talking and started writing.
We had some rules. Such as there were no rules. Apart from the rule that there were no rules.
And they could also ignore pesky things like spelling and grammar. Also a kind of non-rule, rule.
The idea was to focus on pure fluency.
If I still had the 25 banana and apple boxes full of second language acquisition theory and research I could probably justify it some way.
But on a purely pragmatic level, it worked beautifully. That’s all I really care about these days. If something works, do I need to know why?
Not only did the journal writing use up at least 20 minutes by the time they had come in, said hello, settled down, got started, written a bunch, done a word count and graphed their output… but it actually improved their writing.
I had the data to prove it.
And then when I was wracking my brains on what to submit for one of my assignments for the degree I was completing, I decided to write up my journal writing activity.
The lecturer liked it so much that she sent it to a national organisation that worked with refugees and migrants. And they liked it so much that they made a few suggestions and published it.
I was so happy. Especially when I received royalty cheques for years after too.
Once I got a cheque for $1.43.
That must have covered the envelope, paper AND the stamp costs.
If you’ve never received a royalty cheque you wouldn’t understand. Even though it cost me around $10 in fuel to get to the bank and back, I loved depositing those royalty cheques.
Happiness can’t last forever though. And a few years ago I asked them to keep the royalties and donate them to a good cause. Namely themselves.
And today I realised that if I scan and post the last remaining copy here, I can get rid of the last remaining paper copy from the banana box of crap on my floor.
There might be one more copy though, slipped deviously into one of those 25 boxes of books off-loaded to Carmen at the university.
Workbook for Learners of English and their Tutors by Graeme Smith