The thing with writing is, you never really know the final form until you set your work down in actual words. For myself, the process begins long before I lay my hands on the keyboard, imagining in my mind what it is I am going to write. Often this leads to moments when I stare vacantly into space, my fingers twitching against invisible keys. My wife, who notices these things, at least knows that I am writing in my head. And yet, for all this extended preparation, the outcome can be vastly different from what I originally envisioned. Such is the way of art.
This comes to mind because this was the pattern I found myself following — yet again — when I wrote last week’s piece. I was all set to write a bombastic piece, holding nothing back in my expose of the ingrained corruption of the textbook industry within the university — a Catholic university no less! — but at the end, I withdrew, and produced instead a sanitized and hypothetical scenario, calculated to offend no one. Charity? Maybe. Fear? Also maybe. Indeed, why not both? Deep down, I’m just a poor memoirist, not a hard-hitting journalist.
The story I really wanted to tell was this: a fellow teacher, a department chair, came to me with a request to endorse the textbook, and this in my capacity as assistant dean. The details I already alluded to previously, but here they are again: I saw duplicated page numbers, judged the work substandard, and refused to sign off. The rest of it, as I already wrote, was connecting the dots, why some members of the department (and see, I censor myself again) seemed to merit such privileged treatment from the publisher, and why it seemed to me there was urgency that I should give the textbook my stamp of approval.
But I know that I am writing this in a public space, both in print with the Metro Post and online in their Internet edition and in my blog. Am I willing to hurt people in a crusade that is based on plausible suspicion? No. And so I keep the details to myself, for now at least. Maybe with the passage of time I will be able to tell the story in full — because within its layers is also a story, tangentially, of a tragedy. Deep down, all the actors in this play, I believe, acted with the best intentions, allowing themselves one teensy compromise within a broken system that was already in place, and really, maybe not even realizing that the system was broken in the first place. What’s more, a principal actor already passed away…. De mortuis nil nisi bonum.