Eschew Obfuscation

This is a short essay I wrote for a collection of writings in celebration of Coleen Grissom’s 80th birthday. Coleen was Dean of Students (and then Vice President for Student Affairs) at Trinity University. I’m very grateful for her presence in my life. She was one of the best professors I had (and that is high praise because so many of my professors were spectacular). She also encouraged me and called out my gifts at a time when I could not have named them myself. Thank you, Coleen, for helping me find my voice.

“Unplanned Pregnancies for Presbyterian Sorority Girls” was not a chapter I had read in the book of life preparation. Yet there I was. From where I sat, things were going to one of two ways. Spectacular Disaster. Or Major Catastrophe.

Coleen came into my life through crisis. Friends told me I should go talk with the Dean, that she could help me. So, with trepidation, I did. I don’t remember that entire first encounter, but I do recall weeping through much of it. I was confused, terrified, and muddled. But when I left her office, I knew I’d be okay. And I knew I wasn’t alone.

If you’ve spent more than an hour with Coleen, you’ve likely heard her say “eschew obfuscation”. She would scrawl it across our essays. She lifted up passages in literature where authors had distilled the jumble of their thoughts to reveal the essence. She values clarity of thought, abhors the passive voice, and taught me to do the same.

25 years later, I realize eschewing obfuscation was not just about avoiding passive voice in my writing. It is a reminder not to live my life in the passive voice, a victim of circumstance.

Worried about what other people were going to think of me, she reminded me to attend to how I was thinking of myself. Facing an impossible barrier, she invited me to climb over the top of it and find my future.

I’m grateful for Coleen’s un-obfuscated voice, always helping me find my own.

One thought on “Eschew Obfuscation

  1. I didn’t have her and didn’t run in the social circles where I would have been likely to encounter her. In fact, I don’t think I ever talked to her personally. But “never write in the passive voice unless you are trying to cloud the issue” is a lesson I got from a comparable figure in my life, my high school English teacher, Linda Cross — and it’s something that I mentioned every term when I was a college instructor (usually using examples like sexual assault or colonization that made clear what is stake when we say “she got raped.”)

    I know what a core figure Dr. Grissom is for Trinity — happy birthday and best wishes.


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