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David Ebenbach

Illustration by Anne Lambelet

I like to tell my students that every conversation is a fight.

Well, at least in fiction. In fiction, every character has a desire, and it’s usually the case that no two characters have exactly the same desire. It’s also usually the case that dialogue is not just talking—it’s a forum in which characters try to move the situation toward their interests. And if conversations are opportunities for characters to pursue their desires, which are not the same as what other characters want,...

About ten years ago I wanted to write an article about how writers, who often teach composition courses, are the last people on Earth who should be teaching composition courses. I had good arguments: First of all, it’s hard for writers to understand and communicate with people who so dislike writing that they only take a writing class when it’s required, and, second, we don’t spend as much time thinking about grammar as administrators might like. Above all, I thought, people who write...

It’s like when someone on TV interviews a one hundred-year-old woman. They always ask her the same thing: What’s your secret? We’re all worried about the future; we want to know what she’s done to live so long. And she never says, “Oh, I don’t know. Don’t ask me. Luck, probably. Luck or lucky genetics or something.” Instead, she describes, as though it has magical properties, her daily regimen. And this regimen usually involves something bizarre like eating two pounds of shredded wheat...

When I was a teenager, I locked my mother in the basement. It was an accident, but that didn't do her any good after I locked that door and left the house to go to work. She had to physically break out of the basement through the bulkhead door, climb the backyard fence, and go to her own job without keys or a purse or anything else. When I got to my job, naturally there was an angry phone message waiting for me.

And how did I react when I found out what I’d done? With sympathy and...

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