Essays & Thoughts, On Motivation

Annotate.

I ask every student I tutor, “Do you enjoy reading?”

They look up at me from their phones internally preparing themselves for their English tutor’s overdramatic reaction when they say, “I don’t like reading.” Instead, they are surprised when I reply with, “Oh, that’s okay.” They are surprised that I am not surprised; that I am not fainting onto the floor bleeding unwritten thesis statements. I don’t need to tell them that I do actually die a little inside every time I meet another person on this planet who doesn’t like reading because that’s entirely irrelevant to what I actually want them to enjoy: learning.

Although I equate reading with learning, I am not so delusional as to believe it is the only way to learn. The printed word may be considered the greatest invention (just shy of pre-sliced bread) of humankind, but it is a relatively recent invention (in regards to eternity) that, today, is more a necessity than it is a luxury. Having traversed the world (…the tri-state area) the past quarter of a century (+1) I’ve interacted with enough people to understand that it’s not that they don’t like to read, it is that they are told to read.

What I am saying is not epiphanic: we all know we don’t like to do as we’re told, however, being told to read is different from being told to exercise or being told to practice good hygiene: you can pretend to be well read.

Lack of exercise is indicated by flabby, sagging bellies and the fact that you still cannot do one push up.

Lack of good hygiene and you’re the recipient of a variety deodorants and colognes every holiday, even Arbor Day.

Lack of literature? Google.**

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it’s impossible for even a toddler to discern a liar from a truth-teller. We are all born with the ability to sniff out bullshit: trial and error is a hazing we must all undergo, but some people, like the students I tutor, don’t know they can.

So, I don’t just ask them to read, I arm us with pencils and we read together.

Other than explaining that I enjoy reading aloud, I also explain the magic of annotation. I say ‘magic’ because the ‘science’ of annotation is still pretty unexplainable to me. Although, by definition, annotating is to add explanatory notes or comments to a text or diagram, it is much more because it exercises your brain.

Annotation is the questions you ask your first date or your lifelong enemy. Maybe you’re dating your lifelong enemy! Annotation is the joy you have for others when they succeed, and the sadness you have when they are lost. Annotation is the practice of the inborn bullshit detection system. Annotation is the last word which wins you the debate.

Annotation is the push up. It’s the deodorant and cologne you receive every holiday including Arbor Day; makes you buddy-buddy with the bouncer at the entrance—now the club is inclusive.

If you could annotate this article right now, you’d probably write in the margins, Justine really likes analogies. It’s annoying *poop emoji* but come on! Who doesn’t want a rock-hard bullshit detection system?! Especially with the recent bout of fake news! Fake news invaded every type of media—it is not difficult to find like-minded people. What is difficult, for me in particular, is to find trustworthy people. Too many people only look trustworthy; only look intelligent, well-researched, well-read.

Flipping through the pages of my life I find sticky tabs and Post-It notes and pencil and pen marks (probably some crayon doodles) commenting and regretting and fulfilling and hoping on every area of my life: every promise I make to me, and every lie said to and of me—it is marked up and preserved for me to review and learn from.

Broken promises are not dead ends and (I can’t believe I have to say this) lies, no matter how alternatively attractive, are not the truth. Deception in all forms is far too pervasive to be ignored, and yes, it can be disrupted by the simple act of annotation not solely because words create and harness power, but because it is an accessible power that can anyone—ANYONE—can wield.

Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it. —Gandalf***

When I ask students if they enjoy reading, what I’m really asking is,

“Have you ever wanted to create something? Do you dream of winning the World Cup? Are you going to ask her out? How do teeny little seeds grow into mammoth redwoods? Do aliens exist? Is simplicity really better or is it overrated? …do you want to know who you are?”

Reading may not answer these questions but it provokes the questions to evolve. Reading, and hopefully annotating what we are reading, will force we readers to ask, is what I’m reading true? Is what I’m hearing valid? Is what I’m seeing believable?

Many people are compelled to give voice to any passing feeling, thought or impression they have. They randomly dump the contents of their mind without regard to the significance of what they are saying. When we talk about trivial matters as in gossiping about others, our attention is wasted on trivialities. —Dr. Hyder Zahed

Not all thoughts are created equal.

Annotation will force the reader to ask, do I want to be true, valid? Believable?

I agree this sounds like a high and mighty expectation. Most students I tutor just need to pass the SATs; reading is still boring let alone taking an erasable pencil to it with an overzealous tutor. But why should it be a high and mighty expectation to teach children to become independent, discerning, kind adults who can, really, do anything they set their minds to. I am the last person to tell a student her dream is too big because she is too small. She is big enough.

People may not enjoy reading, but they need to learn now that reading (learning) is not a privilege reserved for well-to-do, white-collared, educated elitist book snobs. It is a right—a right which we must all defend.


**I don’t not like Google. I love Google. It’s one of the apps I have in that special place near the bottom of your iPhone menu–the, uh, four most used apps part, thingy (I swear I’m a Millennial). Never mind that Google sells my information to potential advertisers…

***LOLJK. I know it’s Professor Dumbledore. Calm down.

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