(Admin note: Due to technical difficulties--the admin's brain is on the fritz--Michael A. Black's post appears today instead of yesterday. Ann will be back in two weeks in her regularly scheduled slot.)
That title sort of reminds me of those old psychological tests I had to take while applying for job applications to get into law enforcement. You know the kind I’m talking about… Those open-ended, pseudo-psychological questions that try to analyze the applicant’s personality based on his responses to a set of loaded questions. For example:
You’re walking in the business district of the town in which you live on a Saturday morning and you see the minister’s daughter vehemently swearing at a store clerk. You do which of the following?
- You immediately intercede and tell the girl her behavior is inappropriate.
- You do nothing at the time, but make a mental note to inform her father about the incident.
- You keep walking and pretend you didn’t see or hear anything.
- You walk over and start swearing at both parties, showing them you know more cuss words than both of them put together.
Naturally, the last choice is the correct response, right?
Another one of these tests that I took one time had a whole section of incomplete sentences that the applicant had to complete. Things like:
When I get mad I…
It’s hard to…
I was happiest when…
I must admit I never cared much for those types of tests. To me, they smacked of pretention and arrogance on the part of the test givers. I mean, how was the person grading or analyzing the test supposed to be able to tell if I was qualified for the job by the way I answered the questions? Did previous answers by suitable or unsuitable individuals provide a data bank? And how could they be sure that that answers person provided were honest or perhaps swayed by what the applicant thought was the desired response? I’m sure the test people would be quick to say that these incomplete questions were only part of greater whole, and all the answers had to be evaluated during the whole procedure. Yeah, right.
I once applied for the Illinois Bureau of Investigation back when I’d just gotten out of the Army. I was looking for a good job, and someone suggested I apply to that agency. It seemed like a good idea, although I had no particular passion for the job. Perhaps this showed during my application process. I applied and was sent a long application to complete and mail back. One section of the application had a whole section of incomplete sentences that I was told to complete. At the end of this section, there was a space provided for the applicant to leave his or her comments about the test. I wrote the following:
Please read and complete the following sentences and mail your responses back to me at your convenience.
Applications with sections like the aforementioned one are…
People who come up with sentences like these are…
The only thing tests like these prove is…
I figured that they might just appreciate my originality and audacity. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, but I did get a good belly laugh out of sending back the application with those handwritten additions. It turned out for the best, however. The IBI soon faded into obscurity a few years later, and I got a job on the police department. I was very careful, however, about not appearing too audacious during the psychological exam for that job, figuring that nobody likes a smart-ass. But I couldn’t help but think that the demise of the IBI was partially due to the idiotic way they tried to select their applicants.
For my way of thinking, it’s a much better indicator to have someone write an essay on why they want a particular job might be more telling than having them complete a bunch of unfinished sentences. Plus, you’d get a good idea of the person’s writing ability to communicate through the written word. One of the first things I used to do when I was a field training officer was to tell my new recruit, “Write me a two page autobiography. And be sure to include why you want to be a police officer.” It gave me a good insight into the recruit’s penmanship, his writing ability, and his personality. Plus, I could detect a bull-you-know-whatter almost immediately. My recruits didn’t have a cake walk, that’s for sure.
But on to the topic at hand… The story I’ll never write is … the one I have no interest in writing.
How’s that for summing things up in a rather succinct fashion?
Basically, you should be interested in the story you’re writing. If you’re not, it’s probably a good bet that the reader won’t be either. The great Donald Bain once told me a professional writer should never turn down an assignment, and should be able to write anything. Mr. Bain is the embodiment of true professionalism. I pride myself on being able to write just about anything. If a writing assignment comes along and I’m lucky enough to get it, I do my best to engender enough interest and enthusiasm to make it a worthwhile endeavor. The challenge for me is to make it as good as I can make it.
But sometimes I think wistfully back to that old application process of the defunct IBI, and wish I would added one more question to my list of handwritten comments:
When I read these IBI applications I felt like an …
I know how I’d answer that one.