{table talk} advice from the grammar hammer

Table Talk

I was mad at him before I even met him. 

My academic adviser, who was on sabbatical for my first semester of college, put me in three senior-level courses, so I tread water with my face barely above the surface for four months–and my legs were still tired.

But then he walked into the writing classroom, drew a lightbulb on the board with glasses, and called it his self-portrait. I laughed and clawed my way through hard but important truths in his classes from that moment on. And then it totally made sense that he put me in those challenging courses.

I wish I could sit one more time in the U-shaped formation of desks in his classroom, so I can think of no one more fitting to kick off my inaugural Table Talk. A fellow student shared these truths she learned from Professor Jim Wilcox–a list that embodies what he stood for, yet feels like a fraction of what we learned from him.

If you were his student and darkened his door during office hours, this is what he would tell you:

  • You don’t have to please everyone—but neither do you have to make enemies to feel like you’re doing a good job.
  • Cynicism is the easiest and quickest response to criticism; humility and tolerance are the hardest and longest-lasting.
  • Ask lots of people lots of questions.
  • Your work is not the most important thing you’ll ever do—but what you learn doing it may be.
  • Everybody has his/her niche of expertise. Learn yours. Recognize and fill in the gaps with those niches of others.
  • Never stop being teachable.
  • Depression is often a sign that you may be focusing too much on yourself. Best Antidote: GO HELP SOMEBODY.
  • If it’s not killing small children in a third world country, it’s probably not worth worrying about.
  • Pray every day for grace in dealing with others, patience in dealing with yourself and strength for the day.


When I found out Prof. Wilcox was retiring last year due to his health, I mourned for the years of students who should have had him. At his funeral this week, I celebrated with the countless ones who did.

I learned how many he *showed up* for in his loud, irreverent, not-long-enough life.


Here’s to the Grammar Hammer, not taking ourselves too seriously, and the importance of learning.

Which piece(s) of advice resonated with you most?  Do you have a mentor/educator who shaped your life?

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  • The best sort of teacher. I’m sorry for the loss you must feel, but how I cheer for your celebrating his life this way! His advice about criticism really resounded in me–I know the truth of it. “Cynicism is the easiest and quickest response to criticism; humility and tolerance are the hardest and longest-lasting.” I’ve always learned the most when I step back (all while my pride is stinging) and try to see if there’s a grain of truth to the criticism. Often, there’s more than a grain. I’d add that it’s super important to share criticism in that same humility. You know, like “First take the plank out of your own eye before you point out a speck in someone else’s.” Sage advice from the Wisest.