The Power of the Red Pen

It smites us down, that red pen. It deprives us of that crucial tenth of a point, the point which makes all the difference.

They conditioned us when we were young: respect the red pen. Now, we quiver in fear of it, unable to resist habit and enforcement; too much red ink is as devastating as an apocalypse, sparse red ink means momentary relief.

Oh, what we would do for the red pen’s approval! We already do so much. We expose our vulnerable minds to it, craving rewards, unaware of how easily the red pen shapes the thoughts and perceptions of our developing mind. We sacrifice whimsical amusements and precious sleep; the dedicated among us go farther. They sacrifice their wellbeing, and some sacrifice their sanity.

This red pen rules our lives. We slave away wearily in hopes of the slightest mercy from it. When we fail to receive its favor, a storm rages in our mind: our inner skies darken and thunder with disappointment and self-reproach. External forces join in, and a simple storm transforms into a hurricane. This is unacceptable; we expect more from you.

After years of sacrifice, some of us forget why we serve the red pen. Sometimes the red pen drives us mad. We weep or wallow, out of frustration, out of anger, out of regret. Sometimes the red pen pushes one of us over the edge. There’s always the one, a local legend, who had the intelligence and the ethic, but one day he or she got lost in the red pen.

I can picture the one I knew: beautiful and brilliant, destined for greatness. One day, her endless motivation got the best of her, and she forgot what it all meant. That’s when she decided she couldn’t deal with it anymore. So she opted out.

Some of us are lucky enough to become disillusioned. Maybe a dear friend salvaged our rotting robotic minds, or maybe we escaped by ourselves, completely by chance. We step away and watch others still in the trance, potential prey for the red pen. We attempt to save our loved ones from the societal curse; remember what’s important, we whisper. Some days we’re successful but mainly our efforts are in vain.

It’s funny how an ink mark plagues us. It was intended to better us through revision and correction, yet instead it tears us down.

Here we stand, afflicted by the red pen.



Inspired by impending finals and the Daily Prompt –


8 thoughts on “The Power of the Red Pen

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