WHEN DOES EDUCATION STOP?
by James Michener, 1962
During the summer vacation a fine-looking young man, who was majoring in literature at a top university, asked for an interview, and before we had talked for five minutes, he launched into his complaint.
'Can you imagine?' he lamented. 'During vacation I have to write a three-thousand-word term paper about your books.' He felt very sorry for himself.
His whimpering抱怨 irritated me,
and on the spur of the moment I shoved at him a card which had become famous in World War II. It was once
used on me while I was 'bitching' to a chaplain on Guadalcanal. It read: young man, your sad story is truly
heartbreaking. Excuse me while I have to fetch a crying towel.
My complaining visitor reacted as I had done twenty years earlier. He burst into laughter and asked, 'Did I sound that bad?'
'Worse!' I snapped严厉. Then I
pointed to a novel of mine which he was using as the basis for his term paper. 'You're bellyaching 发牢骚
about a three-thousand-word paper which at most will occupy you for a month. When I started work on Hawaii, I faced the prospect of a
three-million-word term paper. And five years of work. Frankly, you sound silly.'
This strong强硬的 language
encouraged an excellent
discussion of the preparation it takes to
write a major novel. Five years of research, months of character
development, extensive work on plot and setting, endless speculation on psychology and concentrated work on historical backgrounds.
'When I was finally ready to write,' I replied under questioning, 'I holed up关在 in a bare-wall, no-telephone Waikiki room and stuck at my
typewriter every morning for eighteen months. Seven days a week I wrestled with与较量 the words that would not
come, with ideas that refused to jell成
形. When I broke a tooth, I told the dentist I'd have to see him at night. When DeWitt Wallace, the editor of the Reader's Digest and a man to whom I am much indebted, came to Hawaii on vacation, I wanted to hike with him but
had to say, "In the late afternoon. In the morning I work."'
I explained to my caller that I write all my books slowly, with two fingers on an old typewriter, and the actual task of getting the words on paper is difficult. Nothing I write is good enough to be used in first draft, not even important personal letters, so I am required to rewrite everything at least twice. Important work, like a novel, must be written over and over again, up to six or seven times. For example, Hawaii went very slowly and needed constant revision. Since the final version contained about 500,000 words, and since I wrote it all many times, I had to type in my painstaking fashion about 3,000,000 words.
At this news, my visitor whistled and asked, 'How many research books did you have to consult?'
'Several thousand. When I started the actual writing, there were about five hundred that I kept in my office.'
'How many personal interviews?'
'About two hundred. Each two or three hours long.'
'Did you write much that you weren't able to use?'
'I had to throw away about half a million words.'
The young scholar looked again at the chaplain's card and returned it reverently虔诚地 to my desk. 'Would
you have the energy to undertake such a task again?' he asked.
'I would always like to be engaged in such tasks,' I replied, and he turned to other questions.
Young people, especially those in college who should know better,
frequently fail to realize that men and women who wish to accomplish
anything must apply themselves to tasks of tremendous magnitude. A new
vaccine may take years to perfect. A Broadway play is never written, cast选
角色 and produced in a week. A foreign policy is never evolved in a brief time by diplomats relaxing in Washington, London or Geneva.
The good work of the world is accomplished principally by people who dedicate themselves unstintingly无私 to the big job at hand. Weeks, months, years pass, but the good workman knows that he is gambling on an ultimate achievement which cannot be measured in time spent. Responsible men and women leap to the challenge of jobs that require enormous
dedication and years to fulfill, and are happiest when they are so involved.
This means that men and women
who hope to make a real contribution to American life must prepare themselves to tackle big jobs, and the interesting fact is that no college or university in the world can give anyone the specific education he will ultimately need. Adults who are unwilling to reeducate themselves periodically are doomed to mediocrity.平庸
I first discovered this fact on Guadalcanal in 1945, when the war had passed us by and we could see certain victory ahead. Relieved of pressure, our top admirals and generals could have been excused if they loafed, but the ones I knew well in those days took free time and gave themselves orderly
courses in new fields. One carrier 航母
admiral 司令studied everything he
could get on tank warfare. The head of our outfit部门, William Lowndes
Calhoun, spent six hours a day learning French.
I asked him about this. 'Admiral, what's this big deal with French?'
'How do I know where I'll be sent when the war's over?' he countered.反问
But what impressed me most was the next tier层次 of officers, the young
Army colonels上校 and the Navy
commanders. They divided sharply into two groups: those who spent their spare time learning something and those who didn't. In the years that followed, I noticed in the newspapers that whenever President Truman or
President Eisenhower chose men for military positions of great power, they always picked from the officers who had reeducated themselves.
More significant to me personally was my stay with the brilliant doctors of an Army hospital in the jungles of Espiritu Santo. The entire staff of a general hospital in Denver, Colorado, had been picked up and flown out to care for our wounded, and they
experienced days of overwork followed by weeks of tedium. In the latter
periods the doctors organized voluntary study groups by which to further their professional competence.
By good luck, I was allowed to participate in a group that was analyzing alcoholism酒精中毒, and
one night the leader asked me, as we were breaking up, 'What are you
studying, Michener?' The question stunned me, for I had been studying exactly nothing.
I drove back through the jungle and that very night started working on something that I had been toying with漫不经心做 for some months. In a
lantern-lit, mosquito-filled tin shack, I started writing Tales of the South Pacific.
I have been the typical American in that I have had widely scattered jobs: teacher, businessman, soldier, traveler, writer. And my college education gave me no specific preparation for any of these jobs.
But it gave me something much better. I attended Swarthmore College, outside Philadelphia, and by fantastic luck, I got there just as the college was launching an experiment which was to