The snow fell. It fell and fell. It fell so fast the air was white. It fell so deep, the ground was gone. There was only snow. The little girl stepped out onto what used to be her sidewalk, and she sunk. She sunk all the way up to the tops of her legs. She thought, “If this keeps up, I will be swallowed whole.” And so she shoveled through the night to make a path so that she could walk from here to there. And in the morning light she turned to see her walkway. But there was no walkway. The falling snow had covered whatever work she had done. She planted her shovel into a drift and leaned on its handle. She looked toward the sky, as if some answer waited there. But she could not see the sky through the snow. She opened her mouth to speak, and she saw her breath float out and disappear into the white expanse. That’s when she knew. And so she turned and shoveled her way back through the fresh-fallen snow. It was all she could do—to create the ground of each new step.
Just returned from a writers/editors conference at Rutgers University. What a well-conceived, well-organized event—a one day conference during which writers, editors, and agents mingle. And I was most impressed with the editors I met—all of them young and passionate, intelligent and thoughtful. They love books. They love good writing. And they volunteered a Saturday to offer encouragement, advice, and feedback. Trying to market one’s work can often feel discouraging, but the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature has found a way to make it encouraging. For that, I am grateful.
Creating a collaborative website with students has been really fun. Students now have their own homepages from which they link their assignments. Their first papers/first drafts have been posted, and I have visited each one, making comments as I go. Students seem intrigued by this system.
I also did the first assignment along with my students, posting my first draft for them to see. Many commented that my draft inspired them or helped them to write their own.
Rita is still in intensive care, but there are indications that she is on the upswing. Thank you, readers, for thinking of her. I miss her very much.
My students and I are experimenting with building a collaborative class website through pbwiki. It’s fun. I created a main page that introduces the course theme: imagination. That page also includes links to assignments and to students. Branching out from that main page, students are building their own “homes” from which they can link their individual work. On each page, there is a comment function, so that students and I can go in and converse.
They want to learn—I can tell. And I am trying to hold onto that feeling I had this summer as a student in a drawing class. I struggled. I just couldn’t get it. It took me a really long time to draw anything while the students to my left and right seemed to do it effortlessly.
Writing comes easily to me (well—relatively speaking), but it does not to most of my students. They struggle.
I heard the tail end of an interview about the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables. I had never read the book, so I found it at the library, and I am reading it now. The young orphan Anne cares a great deal about the “scope of imagination”—as she relates in this early scene:
Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everyting, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?
I had dinner the other night with Vanessa and Kennon. They travel all of the time. I told them that traveling makes me anxious. Kennon asked me why. I told him that transitions are hard for me. He explained Bardo—a buddhist concept that, according to Wikipedia, means an intermediate or transitional state. Apparently bar means between and do means island. Kennon explained that the most fundamental transition is the one from life to death. He looked at my denim jacket, and he said, “Consider taking off that jacket and putting on another. Consider that transition. Consider the movement from life to death as being that simple.”
In my drawing class, the instructor spent a whole class period on the concept of negative space—that being the shapes that happen between and around the object you are trying to draw. For instance, if you look at a chair, you see the seat, the back, and the legs. But if you look at the space around and between the chair, you see something else. In drawing the negative space around a chair, you end up drawing a chair.
Last summer I launched my website. It has paid off in ways I could not have imagined back then. People from around the world have visited, allowing me to make connections I would not otherwise have had the chance to make. The website has also allowed me to reconnect with friends from long ago. I am grateful for both opportunities.
All that said, I cannot seem to find my stride with this learning journal. While I had hoped to give it focus, I am not convinced I have succeeded. My original goal was to “document learning moments”—to “examine my own storytelling, as it hinders and helps me along my path,” but I now see that as vague and meandering—without a clear sense of direction.
Okay, I have been teaching first year writing classes for over 20 years. I thought I had a handle on it. But recently, and especially during the last week of grading papers, I have found myself questioning, “Just what does it mean to teach writing—not to those who want to be writers—but to those who have been told over and over again that they cannot write—to those who have become accustomed to circled words and indecipherable scrawls in their margins What is it they really need?”
Today, I asked students to rewrite paragraphs. I handed out a wonderful example of a student paragraph in rough draft form. Next, I showed them how, with transitions and recurring images/thoughts/metaphors—with careful editing and attention to detail—they could transform a choppy, confusing paragraph into one that flowed and connected.
The experience of watching lead runners pass me by during my recent half-marathon experience, as I mentioned in a previous post, was humbling.
On my first run since the half-marathon, I decided to do a four mile route over at the Arnold Arboretum—the amazing tree museum that makes up part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace.
I recently downloaded some Laura Nyro songs from her final album, Angel in the Dark. The producer’s notes mention how important the imagination was to Nyro—it was the “ultimate, the center of spirituality.”
In working with first year college students and their writing, I notice their motivation rises when I give exercises or assignments that invoke their imaginations.
Today students came to class having read an essay called “The Box Man” by Barbara Lazear Ascher. Ascher explores concepts of loneliness and solitude through anecdotes about a homeless man who sets up boxes like furniture and two women whose habits reveal a certain emptiness. Ascher theorizes that the homeless man has a better handle on the human condition than the two women, who have homes.
I asked students to do three fast freewrites exploring definitions of loneliness, solitude, and homelessness. Then I asked students to take some time finding passages in the essay that revealed Ascher’s particular slant on these concepts.