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ABCs of Writing

Before we get to the sex part, let’s have some relief from paternal advice and go to a piece of professorial advice. There’s no specific skill more important in college — and, in the Communications Age, after-college than writing ability. The statute of limitations has expired on this misdeed, so let me confess that in my frivolous youth I wrote a paper for a stressed-out friend (not for money) with, on my part, no knowledge whatsoever of the subject. The paper received a B (as in b.s.?) The professor who read it was generous, probably, because he liked reading comprehensible (if vapid) sentences — simple and clear sentences. As a teacher, I found that few students wrote them.

So how do you learn to write simply and clearly? Research shows that even more important than practice at writing is practice at reading. And even if you’ve squandered your pre-college years glued to video and audio rather than to the printed word, it’s not too late to rewire the writing part of your brain by reading good writing. Ask your English prof for a list of authors to be stylistic models.

Bonus points Your feelings count only if they are the subject of your paper. Have lots of people read and criticize your work. Editing is 90 percent elimination. If your subject is abstract, use concrete examples. Grace in style has much to do with parallelism. Keep sentences short. Use active verbs.

Sex Practicum

As your body well knows, sex is fun. The problem: it’s often too much fun. As opposed to such advanced topics as Meaningful Relationships, the most important first-semester-kind-of-thing about sex is something you already know, too, from the many warnings you’ve been exposed to: Practice Totally Safe Sex. The problem is, as with alcohol and drugs, how to ensure that you’ll do what you know you should. I’m going to try to finesse (but, I swear, not evade) this crude and delicate topic by referring you to the next item.

Skepticism and Creativity 101

As you may learn in Sociology or Psychology, humans are very, very social creatures. That means you. At this very moment, tens of thousands of psychologists and professional advertising types are working overtime for colossal corporations and other well-financed entities to take advantage of your propensity to follow the crowd. They are trying to convince you to buy something, vote for somebody, or go to an event that they want you to believe is what people like you do and should do. And these evil geniuses have discovered that the key to persuasion is making people feel insecure about their status — especially, about their sexual status, either directly (behold clothing ads) or slightly less directly (say, auto ads).

If in the Communications Age you can save your brain from the thousands of messages a day it’s drowning in, you will have developed the skill known as skepticism. It’s actually a world view — one that that will give you a shot at developing another extremely important human quality: creativity. Creativity — the ability to see and act on things in ways most others don’t — is good for mundane success like the writing of great term papers or a promotion at work, but also for the more important success of making a contribution to the welfare of others during your lifetime.

How to develop your creative skepticism, your independence? College is supposed to do that, although college increasingly is vocationally oriented. Here’s just one practical step: practice doubting things out loud, including what your professors say. If they’re any good, they’ll love it, though they may become irritated at times!

And as for handling sexual pressure from others and yourself, the more you develop your independence in other matters — that is, the more regularly detached you are from the pressures weighing on you — the more likely you’ll be sensible about sex.
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