Wednesday, September 9, 2009

lesson learned

You're supposed to learn things in college. Important things. From people you respect.

No, not like what percent of alcohol you can consume in a 48 period and still live to tell about it.)

Seriously. You (or your parents) pay larege sums of money for you to get an education and receive a piece of paper that basically means "I survived". That education inevitably shapes the events that occur over the course of your next 60 or 70 years.

Looking back on my six (ahem) years of college, I could easily generate a list a mile long on the valuable life lessons I learned and still apply to this day.

(Many of them involve the phrase "get sleep", "remember to eat", and "put down the vodka bottle", but that's another post.)

But in my (over) half-decade of quality learning at Kansas University, there is one lesson that continually sticks out in my mind.

I didn't learn it from a teacher, a counselor, or even a professor.

I learned it from a cheater.

During my sophomore year of college at KU, I took a book reviewing class. On our list of literature were a few classics, one or two so-boring-I-want-to-gouge-my-eyes-out-with-a-screwdriver, and a novel by an author local to Lawrence, KS.

His name was Philip Kimball and he was the author of the semi-successful novel "Liar's Moon".

(There's some foreshadowing there. Wait for it.)

The book was a Western meets Folklore meets Tall Tale. I didn't so much love it.

(Mostly because my idea of a good book is focused on a slighlty less elevated theme. Like shopping. And kissing.)


After we finished the book in class, our teacher managed to coerce Philip Kimball into appearing as a guest speaker in our class. Though Kimball's topics of choice were less than thrilling to me, I was still excited to meet a real author and hear about his struggles, his accomplishments, and most importantly, his process.

On the day of his visit, Mr. Kimball arrived in our classroom and began to speak.


And kind, boringly.

Okay, fine, I stopped listening after 30 seconds.

Though I'm sure he had interesting things to share, I found myself daydreaming about Fred Durst laying naked in my bedroom for the better part of his presentation.

By the time Kimball wrapped up his speech and began to take questions, I hadn't absorbed one iota of advice he had imparted. I mean, for a guy who supposedly writes stories that are so amazing and full of life and texture, I was ready to voluntarily slit my own wrists if it would make the talking stop.

I felt bad. Here was a real life author in front of me, and I had disrepected him.

I decided to ask a question. Confidently, I raised my hand and asked:

"Where do you get your ideas for your books?"

Predictable question, maybe, but valid nonetheless. Kimball thought for a moment, and I swear to you, said the following words with the fervor and zest of a witch over a bubbling cauldron:

"Plagarize!!! Plagarize!!! Why do you think God gave you eyes!!????"

He then proceeded to explain to the class that "Liar's Moon" is actually a spin on several existing stories that he stole and re-spun to create his novel. And yes, he used the word STOLE.

My teacher (who was also nodding off, I'll have you know) nearly fell out of his seat at Kimball's response. A published author just told a class of impressionable (and opportunistic) students that plagarism was the way to write a brilliant novel.

Looking back, I'm sure Kimball was attempting to say that every story, no mattter how original the idea, is likely the result of many experiences from other people and pulled together by an author.

Which is true.

But the fact that our guest of honor was explaning the HOW WHEN, and WHERE to get away with plagarism was downright shocking.

As if it wasn't enough that he pontificated for ten minutes on the wonderfulness of plagarism and concluded his speech by repeating his special poem,

"PLAGARIZE, PLAGARIZE! Why do you think God gave you eyes?"

Finished with his tirade, Kimball flashed a creepy grin and looked at us expectantly.

I think we clapped.

Immediately following Kimball's departure from the room and back to the land of Colossal Cheaty Cheatersons, our instructor vehemently apologized and requested we forget everything we had been told in the past hour and a half.

Ironic that out of all of my years of college lessons, Kimball's lesson is the one I remember most.

The obvious moral to this story is: don't plagarize. It's mean.

And in case you're wondering, God gave you eyes to read other people's stories and become inspired to write/draw/craft something you can be equally proud of.

So come up with your own stuff, no one wants to be a "Liar's Moon."

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