Finals Week: The Lunch


Thanks to the stellar math-a-thon fundraising efforts of my firstborn’s class, they get a pizza and ice cream party tomorrow on the last day of school, which means today’s lunch was the last I had to pack for the school year. That’s a big deal for me. To celebrate, I went with one of my daughter’s favorite sandwiches from our family’s first-grade menu: salami (nitrate free—or is it nitrite free?) and basil. She’s told me repeatedly throughout the year how much she loves this sandwich.

This morning, she whined about having to eat it, complained about the basil, and tried to pick it apart before I put it into her lunchbox.

My wife also pointed out that lunch responsibilities are now falling more firmly on her shoulders for the summer.

I, however, am choosing to remain in my good mood.

(If you’re wondering—and why wouldn’t you be?—my firstborn got 98 out of 100 math problems completed in five minutes correct. I don’t usually brag on this blog, but like I said, I’m in a good mood.)

What are you having for lunch today?

Awkward Week: Five Senses

As a newspaper editor, I’m sometimes asked to visit classrooms from elementary school to college and talk about what I do, answer questions about my job and industry, and critique student newspapers.

On one community college visit, I had received a copy of the campus paper in advance and had gone over it with a red pen. One story in particular caught my eye: an opinion piece about eucalyptus trees. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but there wasn’t much of an opinion to it I could see, unless the opinion was, “I believe we shouldn’t forget that eucalyptus trees exist.” It would have made a better feature story, but that could have been the editor’s decision.

During my critique in front of the class, I touched on the cover stories, and the overall use of photography, and a little of this, a little of that. When I got to the tree story, I singled the student out and noted that if an opinion piece was going to set forth a vague opinion, it should at least have a great hook—something to draw readers in.

I’m a strong proponent of writing smell into a story (though I now realize I haven’t done that much here in the Shallows), so I emphasized the opportunity missed in not capitalizing on the pungent, medicinal, unmistakable eucalyptus scent.

“It’s so strong and instantly recognizable,” I said. “And when it rains, they smell like cat pee.”

For some reason, I spent several minutes on this, giving it more time than I did other articles. “It’s so important to write about smell,” I said. “It’s so visceral; it’s so universal.” When I finished my mini-lesson, the author said simply, “I have no sense of smell.”

I thought, for a brief moment, that she was messing with me, but the rest of the class nodded solemnly. I looked at the instructor—also nodding.

I had spent five or six minutes essentially haranguing this young writer for not doing something she couldn’t actually have done. I mean, I guess she could still have written about smell without herself being able to smell, but still …