Finding the Angle

File:Tango-origenWhen my son laments the five paragraph essay he was assigned in school today, I remind him of this simple fact: YOU have the power to make writing fun.   Or tragic.  Or racy.  (Okay, if you’re writing an essay for World Geography, you might want to steer away from racy.)  It’s possible to write interesting prose on almost any subject.  All you need to do is look at your essay (or story) through the correct lens, and then spend a few minutes finding an angle that interests you.

Writing well is all about telling a story you find compelling and chipping away at all the dull stuff until the masterpiece within is revealed.  (Most good writing is about using fewer words to say more…  As Samuel Clements said: “I didn’t have enough time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”)

So, you got assigned a dry topic like “Exports from Argentina”.  What to do?  Something I call Finding the Angle. (No protractor needed!)

First, toss out all the boring stuff, and then dig around for some gems — something unexpected or even shocking.  Let’s give it a try:

Exports from Argentina:  A quick look on Wikipedia shows that beef, wine, & corn are major exports.  Yawn.

What else has Argentina “exported”?  Eva Perón (“Evita”).  Che Guevara (dashing revolutionary & pop hero).  The tango.

evaperonThere’s enough dirt on Miss Duarte to make a movie, musical, numerous books, and an ongoing campaign for sainthood.  Evita (“Little Eva”) was the fifth child of an unmarried “working” woman.  Eva Duarte was born in abject poverty, but eventually rose to be the First Lady of Argentina (and a heavy user of blond hair dye).  When her leftist, charismatic husband Juan Perón became president, he handed over various ruling powers to her (to the horror of the upper-classes and army.)  She was adored by the lower-classes and reviled by the aristocracy (and the military).  She died of uterine cancer when she was 33 and immediately became a quasi-saint: “the spiritual leader of Argentina.”

That story has a bit more pop to it than corn and beef, wouldn’t you say?

Beautiful but tragic women not your thing?  Did you know that the tango was considered scandalous in its time (sweaty bodies pressed together while dancing), and that the exported version was sanitized (ballroom position: hands touching, only!)  How about this?  There were many male-only couples: men dancing with men, and they would practice for years together before going public with their routine.  The dance began in Buenos Aires with the lower classes, spread to Europe and the United States, and only after it became internationally popular did the Argentinian upper-class take it up (and claim they started it all).  Now that’s a story with some clever moves to it.

Che 1951Not into dancing?  How about Che?  Here’s a photo of him in 1951.  His nickname as a kid was “Chancho” or “Piggy” because he rarely bathed or changed his clothes.  He was half Irish and came from a rich family.  Growing up, he was a geek: played chess, liked math and engineering.  He had at least five kids, two wives, and a degree in medicine (Dr. Guevara).  After he was executed, a military doctor cut off his hands so that they could be sent to the police in Buenos Aires and finger-printed.   Children in Cuba start each morning with a pledge to “Be like Che…”  Quite the high-profile export.

Find the angle that interests you, spend some time digging up juicy facts, and what World Geography teacher could resist giving you an A?

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