Sunday, February 22, 2009


I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of emotional adjustments when I retired. One problem I didn’t anticipate was purple pen withdrawal syndrome.

Technically, I no longer have the right to take a purple pen and give my opinion of other people’s work. For 32 years, without ever being questioned, I was able to scribble margin notes, put checkmarks next to incorrect answers, draw arrows or smiley faces, and otherwise desecrate and graffiti the work of others. No questions asked. My students were pretty well conditioned to expect to be judged or encouraged or criticized or praised with my purple pen.

So what does a former teacher do with her purple pen comments on life when she no longer has the authority to evaluate and judge others? Shake with DTs? Curl into a fetal position? Go into treatment?

Maybe it would be better if I withdrew gradually. Do you suppose brides would mind if I sat in the pew at their weddings and circled spelling and grammar errors on their wedding programs? Would they object when I handed them the purple-pen corrected copy in the receiving line?

Will the local paper appreciate it if I circle a spelling error in last Friday’s edition (H.S. Hocky Team Wins! Have you ever heard of spellcheck?)? Do you think the local grocery store will thank me if I use my purple pen on the sign that announces that “Banana’s” are 40 cents a pound (plural, not possessive, dummy!!!)? Do you think people would appreciate getting back their Christmas letters, their wedding gift thank-you notes, or printed copies of their emails with my purple-ink suggestions for correcting dangling participles and rewriting topic sentences?

I didn’t think so.

The day I retired, I left my purple pens in the pen holder on my desk for the next person who occupies my office. However, I’ll have to admit I did keep one purple pen as a souvenir to remind me of the days when I could throw my purple ink around with impunity. Now if I used it, I would just be considered an annoying old fussbudget.

Occasionally, I hold my souvenir purple pen in my hand and remember the old days when I had ten-foot piles of papers to grade. It seemed like there wasn’t enough purple ink in the world to tackle the task in front of me.

I miss the students, I miss my co-workers—but now that I think about it, life without my purple pen is kind of liberating. Let the world make mistakes and get the wrong answers! It’s not my problem any more.

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