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Monday, October 24, 2016

Saved by the shitty ones

The only reason I am finished with grading essays for the SF class is that several of them were so shitty--or so woefully incomplete--that I didn't really have to grade them at all. Paul reminded me that we can refuse to engage with the drama over bad work: we can simply fail the assignment and let it go. I realize that part of what's been leading to my feeling of frustration and being overwhelmed is the desire to save too many of the students from themselves. I need to reconnect with that adult calm that says, "If you want to learn how to cook, I will teach you: I'm here in the kitchen, with all the tools. You bring the ingredients and come into the heat, and I'll show you how to put the ingredients together. But you can't do it without bringing the ingredients, and you can't do it if you don't come into the kitchen."

That said, I look across the room to the radiator, and I see the fucking enormous stack of stuff I have to wade through for the 102s--even though a lot of it is apparatus and doesn't need to be read, per se--and I want to vomit.

It seems entirely likely that I will spend October 26 and 27 at home, grading assignments--just so I don't have to collect anything else until I have all this handed back. (I'll also take a cat to the vet on the 27th, which is another source of stress, but that's the personal life impinging on the professional.)

I will, however, go out the evening of the 26th with William, Paul, and Kristin. That will be good for the soul, no matter what the essays do to me.

And all of that is in the future--which is merely a concept: it does not actually exist. So, no sense getting my tummy in a twist.

The classes today were not quite leaden, but definitely trending in a downward direction. I thought the poems were pretty clear and easy--but ye gods, some of the misreads. Li-Young Li's poem "The Gift," for instance, which I need to duplicate here, so the student responses make sense:

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he'd removed
the iron sliver I thought I'd die from.

I can't remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy's palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife's right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he's given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
 
One group said, "Who died? Two people died, right? But who?" Um, no one? "But it has the word 'death' in it!" The speaker also says he did not say anything about death... did you miss that little word: "not"? Or the student who thought the boy was being trained to be an assassin--or the multiple students who thought the boy was being beaten...

Oh, I despair.

But they did get Billy Collins's "The Lanyard"--though they didn't realize it's funny until I read it aloud (and they'll find it even funnier if they watch and listen to him read it: he does it far better than I could).

Well, anyway.

It's another very late night here in the office, so I'd better get my little self home. Tomorrow is that other day we keep hearing about....

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