A Great First Two Days of the Term

bowling shoes

Whenever I think about teaching a J-term writing course, I wonder how I will possibly put together something that will help writers deepen and move forward in their practice in four short weeks without overwhelming them with the possibilities (and my own enthusiasm). I spend weeks gathering ideas and throwing them out, designing a syllabus and compressing it, putting together a huge selection of readings and letting most of them go. How do we find a balance between the delights of experimentation and the need for space and time to let our writing simmer, our ideas develop? A balance between connecting with one another in our community and spending long hours alone, thinking, reading and writing?

Already, after two days, I see that this group is ready, no, hungry for the Far Reaches of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction writing adventures. You are fearless about trying out Web 2.0 tools and pulling up blogs–many thanks to Remy and Piya for their inspired guest teaching/presenting of online storytelling and the intersections between image, sound and text. You are also clearly willing to crawl around as writers inside the readings, searching for lessons about the how of the what, comparing the results with your own work. And in-class exercises? What I’ve heard and read from you, the results are inventive, playful, and useful. I hope you will post your “On Water” shorts and all your other in-class experiments for us to learn from–by seeing the different choices made and by responding to them, we stand on each other’s shoulders, inspiring and inspired. I will create a static page on which I will record the exercises in case you ever want to return to them. And if any of you dream up exercises you’d like us all to try, post them here!

Two quotations from the blogs I’d love to hear responses to:

Alex R on the creative tension we’re experiencing as a community getting to know one another through our writing first and primarily:

“So, we’re all starting up in this class- and on these blogs- as a community. We vaguely know eachother, or can at least make an attempt at the name/face/ I think the first letter is A… spiel. In a more profound sense- we’re bound in a knowledge of eachother that is unnatural- I don’t know your name, but I know how you write, I know that your favorite place is a corner nook, shaggy carpet, over water, in the back room etc. ”

Miriam’s response to my opening question about why you want to take this course:

“I feel as though I’ve been bombarded with painfully uncreative nonfiction for the the past six years or so. Who hasn’t realized that “science journal article” is often a synonym for “afternoon nap” and that time carefully budgeted for geography reading quickly morphs into valuable Facebook-surfing time? But there’s a problem with all this, beyond the stony-faced professors who ask unanswered questions in class: we still need to know the information in those readings. Not just for the grades, but to know the stuff. Why go to college if we didn’t have to know it, and if there would be no future benefits?

So it’s time, for me at least, to learn something true that’s interesting. To revitalize my drive, so to speak. Beyond that, I want to present what I have to say in a way that makes people take notice. Who cares about the message of a piece no one will ever pick up and read?”

I can’t wait for Monday. 😉

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4 Responses

  1. This is in response to Alex R’s comment. That’s a really interesting observation. In the past, whenever I read my classmates’ work, I always thought about how they would read their own piece. This means that someone’s personality and how well I know them affect the way I read their work. The relative anonymity of blogging with classmates, at least for me, will heighten the importance of bringing my voice into my writing, because my audience doesn’t know me very well and may not be able to think about how I would read my work.

  2. This is also in response to Alex R’s comment. I have always found it easier to share some of my most personal stories with complete strangers. My friends for a long time did not understand and were hurt that someone I had just met seemed to know more about me than they did. But that’s just it; how much do we learn from each other by sharing the big things without first establishing the little details? I feel like we will read a mixture of both the big and little details in this class and that some will tell us exactly what’s on the writer’s mind, while others can only be understood through conjecture.

  3. Again, in response to Alex ~
    The only I-know-your-secrets-but-not-your-name situations that I’ve ever been in have been prescribed. Usually, like everyone else, I start with “Hi my name is Miriam and I’m from Chevy Chase, Maryland… no, not after the actor.” I’m so focused on my little spiel that I actually don’t pay attention to new acquaintances as they say THEIR names anymore (alarming — something that I found out at the beginning of freshman year). So cut the spiel, and what am I left with? Mostly stuff surrounded in my heart with walls of varying heights and things I assume other people are not interested in. Enter teacher. “Tell of a deep learning experience.” My common first reaction? Make it up, it’ll be more fun for me and more interesting for them. Then, a mediating realization: this is a nonfiction class. Alright, you have me. I consider myself a pretty open person. Still, I’ll be interested to see if this has any effect on my interactions with people, in general, outside of class. Especially since this is J-term, and I have no other academics to focus on — will this type of situation ever come up unprescribed in my future?

  4. First of all:
    Miriam, I was weirdly happy to read what you wrote about getting so wrapped up in introducing yourself that you stop hearing the introductions of others. For me, preoccupation with my own half of the dialogue grew out of switching from going almost exclusively as “Jess” in high school to almost always (though sometimes I forget or deviate from this intentionally) “Jessica” in college. After a year and a half here, it still plagues me. Glad to know someone else shares in this ridiculousness…
    And also:
    What Ashleigh said about finding comfort in the relative anonymity of one’s audience seems to recall a conversation that we had (on the first day of class, I believe) about the author’s distinction between fiction and nonfiction and the sort of liberty or responsibility to which such a distinction might give rise. In our present situation, it seems that we have almost complete freedom in how we present ourselves, our stories, and our writing, largely because we are the only ones holding ourselves accountable for the truth of what we say and of how we say it. I know that I am personally looking forward to stepping outside of the self-imposed boundaries that usually shape my writing…. It’s frightening, certainly, but at this point it also seems invigoratingly cathartic.

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