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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly...

It's been a hell of a day, advisement to observation to class, toting my lunch around with me and no time to eat it (typical). I should have had a break between Advisement and the observation, but of course the last student I saw had a zillion questions and a complex situation to deal with. It wasn't even like on Monday, when I was an idiot and took a student when I was about five minutes away from the end of my stint: I had about 20 minutes left when the student walked into my cubicle, and still I had to trek straight to the observation. I was there a few minutes early (I was late to the last one, so that was a good thing), but the class I was observing ran a minute or two long, and then I had a very brief conversation with the faculty member I was observing, but even that was enough that I got to the building just as my class was supposed to start--and I didn't have the class folder with me, hadn't copied the stuff we were going to work on today, hadn't entered the marks for the assignments I had graded (hadn't finished grading). Oy.

Fortunately, the students are so easy about the class, what's going on, that they don't mind chatting amongst themselves while I put my head on straight (or as straight as it gets). We postponed the next story until Wednesday, since I'm an idiot and hadn't gotten them the assignment until today. And I told them to go ahead and start all over with the character they're working on, use the setting they'd developed--or not--whatever. Oh, hell, just write a story.

Then, I distributed one of my own stories. It's the shortest one I have, and it's the one I showed the Fiction Writing students last fall. We worked through it paragraph at a time, and the main thing I was working on was determining whether I was "showing" or "telling." A favorite moment came when a student pointed out how a particular paragraph didn't just tell the character's background but showed it (even as it's just being told, if that makes sense)--and another favorite when my sweet student from former semesters pointed out an area where I was, in fact, telling rather than showing. Another student also pointed out an area where I could tighten up (I'd made the point--and was sort of telling what I'd already shown); and the Brit said that an exchange between two characters seemed like a scene from a TV show. None of us knew how to take that at first: was that a criticism or simply a comment. Essentially, what I understood after questioning him about it is that he meant he could visualize it very clearly. I wonder now if he also meant there is something almost script-like about that particular passage: mostly dialog, not much else, like a scene being played out, rather than a scene being described (if the distinction makes sense).

And at the end of class, they said they wished we could do this more. Do what more, I asked: this process with their work? No: this process with mine. Well, golly. I'm vain and egocentric enough that I'm happy to share my work with them and let them pick it over. I think they don't feel they can pick over the work of a published author (who, moreover, isn't actually there to respond), but my work, they can look at from a remove--and somehow it's a different remove than they bring to each others' work. I told them a little about the genesis of the story, that it arose from the exercise I have them do, of taking a minor character from one story to make into the primary focus of another. I also told them that the story is part of what Le Guin calls a "story suite": not a novel, but an interconnected series of stories, with overlapping characters. They're now curious about the story in which the main character of this one--Lucas--is only seen as a background character, so, OK, I'll share it with them. But since we're talking about style, I may see if there's something in the comedic novel I started (and will probably never finish) that would show me trying a different voice (with probably limited success, but the failure might be instructive). And since we didn't finish reading my little story, a number said, "I want to know how it ends." Great, I said: finish it up and bring me your comments; I'd be grateful.

Fun. And I think they're getting something useful out of it, so it isn't just massaging my ego. But I'll check in with them if we do any more working through my stuff, ask them to tell me what they're learning from the process, and why and how it's different from workshopping their own stuff.

Returning, however, to the title of this post: although it's early, and although I have tons of stuff to do (see last night's post), and despite my overly optimistic sense that I might have enough oomph left after class to get some of that work done, I'm going to flit, float, flee and fly out of here. I'll try to get in as early as possible tomorrow to clear things out before my meeting, and I'll use the office hour to as good effect as I can. I'll be on campus on Friday for a symposium, but I know damned well I won't do anything after that's over except change my clothes and maybe eat something before I rush off to  my riding lesson, so, well, there may be a "day off" when I actually have to get to campus and do some work to get caught up. Especially with the sabbatical letters: those have to move to the top of the triage list, right under "finish marking student assignments."

But we've definitely come over the top of the roller-coaster hill now, so I'm holding on to the safety bar as I throw things into my bag and head home.

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