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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sick and tired

Literally. Well, not sick-sick: I may have infected the entire campus with whatever hurkey-furkey I'm carrying around, but despite a cough and serious brain-fog, I was well enough to put in the full day of work today. I was pretty much falling apart by the end (my poor Fiction Writing students), but I got through Assessment (which I essentially chaired, as Bruce was very late), Advisement (back-to-back students), Seminar Hours committee (oy gevalt), and class. I've sent off a few e-mails (to students who missed class today and need to collect the stories we'll workshop next week, following up on Assessment stuff), and now I am stick-a-fork-in-me done. Finito. Basta. I saw a think on Facebook, someone proposing slapping a sticker on his or her forehead that says "Out of Order," and leaving it at that. Good plan.

I actually spent more time with the students in Fiction Writing than I'd intended: I was planning on just handing back their homework, photocopying the stories for Monday, and letting them go. However, I started them off with a free-write prompt while I went downstairs to make the copies, and when I came back, they were talking, not writing--which was totally fine by me, but then a few of them said that they wanted to try an exercise I'd mentioned on Monday. It's the writing equivalent of an improv exercise that--in the symposium I went to on Friday--was called "Yes, and..." The idea is, one person starts something off, and no matter what it is, the next person accepts it ("yes"), then adds to it ("and").

So, in class, we all started with the same prompt: tell the story of two strangers who meet on a bus from Newark to Denver. We each wrote the first sentence, then passed the paper one person to the left--and added a sentence, then passed to the left again, and so on, until the papers had circulated all the way around the room once. We could have kept going for a second round, I suppose--except for the professor being in a brain-fog thing--but I stopped it when the pages were back where they started. Then we each read the result aloud. The Brit rightly noticed that there were a few places where someone hadn't exactly said "yes," but had instead redirected the flow in a new area. The students got into a "top this" sort of competition: how funny--or profane--can this become?  (I, of course, rose above such silliness.) One student remarked that it was actually relatively easy to keep bouncing the story along (which makes me wonder if it would get harder with more turns around the room); I noticed that sometimes people weren't paying attention to point of view, so suddenly a third-person narrator would become first person (which tends to happen in their stories, too).

I loved the laughter that the exercise elicited, but I also wanted to draw some kind of teaching moment out of it, so--picking up on one student's remark last class about getting out of writer's block by writing anything, not necessarily the thing you're "supposed" to be writing--I reminded them that they could probably take what they had on those pages and turn it into something, make it an actual, coherent story. Perhaps a little tweaking might need to be done for consistency, but anything can turn into a story. Save your free-writes.

And I sent them on their way.

As for me, I have put a folder of work in my bag to schlep to Baltimore, hoping to get some work done either in my hotel room of an evening or on the train on the way home. I'll be traveling down with one of my co-panelists (trying not to cough on her); my naturally inverted self sort of wishes I weren't, but she's great company and I know I'll have a lovely time talking with her. I'm also going to have dinner on Friday with an uncle who lives in Maryland. However, those interactions with interesting, nice people, on top of the usual conference activities, will utterly max out my social abilities, so I am very much looking forward to having a hotel room to hide in when I need to. And to week after next, when I can just hole up at home for five solid days. Oh, bliss.

I'm also looking forward to sleeping tonight, trying to get that immune system cranked up and fighting off this whateveritis. So, off I toddle.

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