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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Anxiety attack #1

This always happens in early July. Suddenly, it feels like summer is almost over (even though it's barely started), and I begin to panic about being ready for the fall semester. Not that I immediately launch into work, mind you. I noodle around with some ideas, kinda vaguely look at the books I need to teach, tell myself I really should read X, or revisit Y, open old files that need to be revamped and close them again. Apparently, my individual process is that the stress levels have to build to a certain intensity before I'll actually stop drifting vaguely through the days and accomplish anything of particular value.

I have, however, been thinking a lot about trust. Trust in the writing process. Trust that one has something to say that's worth saying. Trust that one will find the right way to say it. Trust that finding the right way to say it matters, and will feel good, be worth the hard work. I just found a lovely little online essay by Mark David Gerson called "Trust. Let Go. Leap." (You can read it at I've printed it out, and intend to share it with students, along with Paul Roberts' "How to Say Nothing in 500 Words" (a chestnut, from the days when students wrote on typewriters, for heaven's sake, but the ideas apply). And maybe "I Just Wanna Be Average," by Mike Rose. (Hmmm, am I leaving time for the stuff from the textbook I've actually assigned?) But, in terms of 101, I feel a deep need to address writing as writing, the actual, strange, mysterious, beautiful process of saying something worth saying and saying it well.

And that requires all that trust, which I think students lack. Most of them lack any of those kinds of trust; all of them lack trust in some portion of it.

So I've also been thinking about how to help them build trust in the writing process--and not by reading what others have to say but by writing themselves.... Long pause there, while I stared off into space, thinking. What came to me was this: what if I were to have students do the free-writes that I tried a while back (and ditched for reasons I don't now remember...?)--but with this difference. They'd identify themselves only by their student ID number. The free-write would happen on, say, Monday. Then on Wednesday, I'd randomly distribute them. Students would then have to identify at least five things about the writing that were good (identifying themselves as the commentator again only by ID number: that way I can use the assignments for grade points, too). If they got their own, they'd still have to treat it like it was someone else's.

I'm not sure. Maybe free-writes aren't the kind of work that should be subjected to that kind of scrutiny, but it needs to be something brief, low-stakes, and relaxed.

I also want to rework the way I've been trying to get students to identify a working thesis: it still tends to emphasize the notion of having a thesis before you start writing, which I don't want to do. I'm now mulling over the idea of a collaborative exercise, in which students work together to gather evidence to answer the question or make the argument as posed by the assignment. The idea would be to not only make note of the specific evidence, but to note what it would help them prove, why it might be important.

And--shifting gears rather radically--I just realized that A Forest of Voices, the textbook I use for 101, contains a Michael Pollan essay that I've never read (it's at the end of the book, and, I admit with some embarrassment, I never read the last four or five essays). I need to read it, but I have a sense it might be perfect to assign in the middle of the semester, instead of his NYTimes piece "Unhappy Meals," which I've been using the last several years.

But that's one of those "I should read" things. Heaven knows when I'll actually do it. Before September, I expect, but possibly not by much.

Anyway, so the thinking continues. And suddenly, the urge to play has become overwhelming, so I will post this without futher ado (or any proofreading or copy editing whatsoever).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for mentioning my article in your post, Tonia.

    As for trust in the creative process, students aren't the only ones lacking in it. In my workshops and one-on-one coaching, I work with adults of all ages. And most find it difficult to trust in and surrender to the mystery that is the Muse-in-action. It's very much a human issue!

    - Mark David