19 January 2011


I mark 'harsh' as a metaphor in my data. I mark harshly as an essay marker. There is something to be said about harshness.

harsh adj \ˈhärsh\

1: having a coarse uneven surface that is rough or unpleasant to the touch
2a : causing a disagreeable or painful sensory reaction : irritating
As some of you know, I mark essays for a university I work part-time for (see CV) and when I finish marking, I get comments on my marking. They are generally positive comments, but I have, more than once, been picked up for being too harsh on the students. When I read that criticism of my marking, I have the uncomfortable feeling of being presented with a part of myself that I'm not particularly pleased with and probably need to change.

When marking essays for students studying at a distance, it's extremely important to be careful how you word things because you don't have the benefit of face-to-face interaction to read how someone is reacting and mediate yourself. No, you have to anticipate how someone will react and also consider that you might be dealing with someone who is not necessarily British or Canadian or American, places where criticism is generally different than in Korea or Japan. I have tried to mediate my harshness by dropping the pronoun 'you', 'You must be more explicit in your description' becomes 'This paragraph might benefit from a more explicit description.' But I am not consistent enough in doing this or careful enough to praise what is praiseworthy. Well, another batch in February will be another chance to improve, I think.

More (perhaps much more) importantly, is my harshness with my wife and daughters. This too needs to be mediated much better in my life. And unfortunately, you don't get notes on your interactions with your family. How useful would that be: every two months someone observes you for a day and tells you what you are doing right and wrong. I should start a business of personal assessors. 'Curious how others view you? We'll tell you!' Put that in the back pocket in case I fall upon a lot of money and can try all my business ideas one at a time...

Oh wait, I think they already have people who do this: they're called psychologists. Well. Never mind.

War and Peace, among the many things it gets so well, is what men think and say with other men and what they think and say when the women they are committed to are present. Of course, these are military men, 200 years ago and in Russia, but still: some of it rings so true. Neither of the personas are quite right. Both are performance. Prince Andrew, whose wife I know by reading the cliff notes (which should have warned of spoilers) will die in childbirth, is the best character for this. He says to Pierre in Chapter 8 of Book 1:
Never, never marry, my dear fellow! That's my advice: never marry till you can say to yourself that you have done all you are capable of, and until you have ceased to love the woman of your choice and have seen her plainly as she is, or else you will make a cruel and irrevocable mistake. Marry when you are old and good for nothing- or all that is good and noble in you will be lost. It will all be wasted on trifles. Yes! Yes! Yes! Don't look at me with such surprise. If you marry expecting anything from yourself in the future, you will feel at every step that for you all is ended, all is closed except the drawing room, where you will be ranged side by side with a court lackey and an idiot!... But what's the good?
How true and false at the same time. Both yes and no. (I wish the translator and/or Tolstoy had omitted the exclamation mark in the first sentence. It's not needed: the point is made without it.)

Have I mentioned how good I think this book is? I think it's great.