“The dark green trees behind her on the Wesleyan campus sharpen her outline. She is dressed in pale colors, pearls at her neck and ears. She’s tall, athletic, vigorous. Her skin glows. She holds out her hand. Chee, she says. Give me a drag off that. She calls us all by our last names.”—
I teach Annie Dillard’s “The Chase” in my English 101 class—that story is a delight. I use the essay as a jumping off point for my students’ narrative essays. I haven’t read more of Dillard other than that short story, or Chee. I’ve been reading him on social media for a while now.
I’m curious about how writers are as teachers. I’ve been working on being a creative writer since I was thirteen, but teaching is my day job and I think it makes me a better writer, so I’m always in search of how others approach the subject of teaching writing. Especially writers who made teaching a day job like John Green, Dillard, and David Foster Wallace. You could say I’m leeching off of these people, because—basically—I’m a sophomore teacher. This is my second year as an english teacher, and I’ve been trying to figure what are good methods and how I can be better. I’m always asking my colleagues and such if I can sit in on their classes, what they do in particular situations, how they structure their essay assignments, etc.
This article was especially enlightening, because it’s Chee’s perspective as Dillard’s student. This bit, on her requiring the papers to be triple spaced is interesting:
There was that much to say. Each week we turned in our assignments on a Tuesday, and by Thursday we had them back again, the space between the triple-spaced lines and also the margins filled with her penciled notes. Sometimes you write amazing sentences, she wrote to me, and sometimes it’s amazing you can write a sentence. This had arrows drawn pointing off towards the amazing sentence and the disappointing one. Getting your pages back from her was like getting to the dance floor and seeing your favorite black shirt under the nightclub’s blacklight, all the hair and dust that was always there but invisible to you, now visible.
This is one of the many things I’m constantly worried about: going through nearly sixty papers a week, giving that much feedback leads to there not being enough time in the day—and burnout. Giving as much detail as I can in my comments is a tough cat walk.
What I try to do in my classes is preach this:
You are the only one of you, she said of it. Your unique perspective, at this time, in our age, whether it’s on Tunis or the trees outside your window, is what matters. Don’t worry about being original, she said dismissively. Yes, everything’s been written, but also, the thing you want to write, before you wrote it, was impossible to write. Otherwise it would already exist. You writing it makes it possible.
I think most well-intentioned writing teachers try to put this on, or attempt to try and help the students become themselves rather than mini versions of the teacher. I had a discussion with a student who said a previous english teacher told her never to write research papers using the quote hamburger. Are there better, more eloquent methods? Probably, but I haven’t found one as effective and I get good results. The quote hamburger is a concept I picked up from my time at Brooklyn College where the top bun of the paragraph is the topic sentence, the meat of the burger is the quote or evidence from another source not your opinion, and the bottom bun re-contextualizes the quote into your argument. The purpose of the research or thesis paper is to have a conversation between yourself and another writer. The student might have have misinterpreted the previous teacher’s point, but at the end of the day you’re not there to turn them into versions of you, but help them be themselves and also know how to properly write a research paper. How they write their sentences, what they write about is entirely up to them.
Finally this bit was really cool, and not something I’ve ever thought about, but I’m going to do it the next time I’m in a bookstore so I’ll probably teach it too:
Go up to the place in the bookstore where your books will go, she said. Walk right up and find your place on the shelf. Put your finger there, and then go every time.
Sholly Fisch talking to J. Caleb Mozzocco about comics for grade schoolers.
Mozzocco:In other words, are you writing for grade-schoolers or grown-ups or both, and is that always in your mind while writing, or do you write what you personally find well-constructed and funny and worry about who is reading later in the process…?
Fisch:Well, to really answer that question, I have to back up a bit and explain some of the other stuff I do for a living.
When I’m not writing comics, I’m a developmental psychologist who helps make educational media for kids—TV shows, interactive games, things like that—and I worked for years and years at Sesame Workshop, where they make Sesame Street and other things. To encourage parents to watch with their kids, Sesame Street has always been written on two levels, with plenty of gags and slapstick to appeal to kids, plus parodies like “Monsterpiece Theater” for the adults.The Adam West Batman series did something similar too. When I was a kid, I loved Batman for its super-hero action and adventure, and it was only years later that I realized how funny it was. From that point on, I started to appreciate it on a whole other level. That’s the same sort of thing I go for when I write kids’ comics. If you’re a kid, there’s action, adventure, and jokes for you. But if you’re a longtime older fan, there are assorted in-jokes that most kids won’t even notice but, hopefully, will keep you entertained too.
So the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer was sweet. We all love Rocket Raccoon. He’s a raccoon that shoots a gun, after all! Who could say no to that?
But he didn’t spring, fully formed, from the ether, despite what people may think happens with artwork on Tumblr. He was…
Bill Mantlo is a legend and if you’re going to see Guardians of the Galaxy you should donate to help pay for his hospital bills, because he gave us the awesome thing such as a raccoon with a machine gun.
“All literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction….Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving—amateurs—we proceed, seeking out the blank places in the map that our favorite writers, in their greatness and negligence, have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers—should we be lucky enough to find any—some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff that we love: to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.”—
I’m writing a bit of a jam session, and have been asking—am I writing fanfiction? And yeah, I guess I am, because I’m writing something that I’ve been wanting to write since high school and it is tremendous fun.
It’s been a pretty blah year for the books I’m reading so far. I realized last year that I don’t read enough women so I’m trying to alternate. For every male writer I follow that book up with a female writer, because in years past I haven’t done that—in fact in 2012 I only read three books by women—and last year I read eleven out of forty-six. So a little better, but I could do better. This year so far I’m not really sticking to that: four male-written books and two books by women.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Gabraith J.K. Rowling: Reminded me quite a bit of Crooked Little Vein, but instead of it having creative sentence turns it’s about the death of a model and a four hundred page detective novel that labors along like its protagonist. Pretty sure that a reason to read a J.K. Rowling book just because it’s Rowling is not really a good reason anymore.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: I’ve read this book, it’s called Something Wicked This Way Comes, and that’s why it was an okay read. It sent me back to being twelve again. While the setting has shifted and this book is about a competition between magicians and how this develops the circus, I felt nothing for the characters when I finished it. They seemed like props, avatars for plot. This feeling is something that really terrifies me, mostly because I’m worried that most of my characters are also nothing more than plot entrance points and it creates okay books, but not books that I feel any reader would feel the compulsion to finish.
The System of Comics by Thierry Groensteen: Really interesting, because the French comics critic uses Barthes’ semiotics to dissect comics. I’ve been looking for exactly this for a while now, and it makes perfect sense to use the study of symbols to break down comics. A fascinating, if not required, read if you’re someone like me who is attempting to talk about comics at the higher-ed level. The only problem I had, as Bart Beaty talks about in his introduction, is that I’m not familiar with any of the comics Groensteen talks about.
What mattfraction does here is particularly interesting in learning to write comics:
life is feeling particularly unmanageable and i am feeling particularly powerless tonight so i thought if i could trick my brain into thinking about comics for a little while maybe i could get to sleep.
i’ve talked before about reverse-engineering comics, or doing cover versions, as being a big…
I did a similar thing in seventh grade when I started reverse-engineering the Flash storyline “Terminal Velocity” by Mark Waid and Salvador Larroca into prose, which is basically the root of my writing. When I was finishing at Brooklyn College, I was tutoring a group of high school seniors by having them write comics this way. I found they could write descriptively and many of them went from D students to B students. I think this method can really help visual learners become better writers so I’m glad Matt’s shared what is basically a how-to model.
I am a drug addict in recovery, so like any drug addict I know exactly how Hoffman felt when he “went back out”. In spite of his life seeming superficially great, in spite of all the praise and accolades, in spite of all the loving friends and family, there is a predominant voice in the mind of an addict that supersedes all reason and that voice wants you dead. This voice is the unrelenting echo of an unfulfillable void.
Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise drug addicts.
The troubling message behind Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, which we all feel without articulating, is that it was unnecessary and we know that something could be done. We also know what that something is and yet, for some traditional, prejudicial, stupid reason we don’t do it.
Russell Brand - The Guardian Feb 6th [x] (via wifegoals)
“By becoming the most famous woman author—not writer, an important distinction—of his generation, Truman Capote sought to limit or cock block other women writers in their quest to be popular, admired, celebrated. He did not want to share the female stage. At the same time, he thought of himself as the model of potential for women who wrote, and an image of what they might become if they continued to write: popular, admired, celebrated.”—
I wish I could make any sort of sense out of that first ninety or so pages, but I think it’s beyond me. I would call it creative typing. The rest though? I found to be good. Especially with Flannery O’Connor and Capote.
Im being bullied for liking comics and my friends have abandoned me. Can you PLEASE give me advice??? It would help just to know how to get through the year? Thanks much!
Well, I’m Angry for you. that sucks. even if they are just goofing around and don’t realize they’re hurting your feelings.
there is absolutely no reason real friends shouldn’t be charmed by you loving something. no one should make you feel bad. passion for anything is a plus in my book
the good news is comic books are awesome. they are wrong and you are right. and, even better news, it is very easy to make friends around comics. in a comic book store or online. people with similar interests always gravitate towards each other. it might take some time, but everything worth doing does
so my 1st advice is to trade up to better friends. let your love of something guide you towards similar minded people
my 2nd advice, and probably better advice, would be to take these feelings that you have and write them down. don’t walk around with a bad feeling inside. put it on paper. put it on the screen. let it out of you.
even if you don’t fancy yourself a writer. it’s just good to take feelings that you don’t want inside yourself and give them a new home. it is very therapeutic. and you just might love it.
and I know why you asked this question anonymously but I guarantee you if you didn’t you would be flooded with kind thoughts by similar minded people.
check in with me from time to time and let me know how you are.
I’m terrible with money, I don’t sleep at night thinking about it and I work myself up into a frenzy that affects people around me. It sucks, but it’s the nature of my job to not know how much money I’ll be making from one semester to the next. So when Meggan put the above article in our group Diigo account, I realized that I really need to make better choices with my money and what I choose to do for work. So, I found this post, (and this blog), interesting and helpful, but a little meandering:
Essentially, the realization I had is that money is permanent. You have it until you trade it for something, and then that trade is permanent — you are thereafter permanently without that money. It’s gone and belongs to someone else now. Therefore it’s important to consider the permanence of whatever benefit you traded it for.
Think about it: when you die, you will have earned and spent a specific, finite number of dollars. For you the number might be 2,193,003, or maybe it’s 8,806,550, or even 217,101,992. Whatever it is, at the moment you die, it is a real and actual number. Even if you never wrote any of your purchases down, there’s an actual list of things these dollars were traded for, and each of these trades contributed to (or maybe detracted from) the overall amount of pleasure and fulfillment you experienced in your life.
There’s an enormous range of possible things to trade these finite dollars for, but ultimately there’s only one thing you’re trying to get for your money, which is quality of life. Universally, we want the feelings in our lives to be good, and there’s really nothing else we value. If you could see your “final balance sheet” and look back on how things went, you’d intuitively know which of those transactions contributed significantly to your overall happiness and which didn’t.
One of the things that I’m trying to cut back on this year is buying books. I love them, I need them on a regular basis, but I have to say all of these comics and books are getting costly considering I’m an adjunct teacher, which is a job that does not pay well. I really have to be smart about what books I do buy. I’ll buy the single issues of series I really adore, like Saga, Sex Criminals, and Hawkeye, but I can really do without a lot of them.
Fortunately, the library system up here isn’t bad, and I can get some good stuff like Chip Kidd’s Batman: Death by Design, and some Harvey Pekar that I didn’t realize was published after Cleveland. There’s a great Overdrive service that the county library system, as well as my institutions subscribe to so I can get J.K. Rowling’s new book and finally have a use for my Nook. There’s also a great interlibrary loan service, which is how I have Hilton Als’ White Girls sitting on the coffee table at home. It traveled all the way from Brooklyn to get to me up here.
So I think I can cut down on my primary expenditure which is mostly notebooks and books. Cutting down on the number of notebooks I use per piece of writing will help too. I just need to be less ceremonial about it.
I barely go to the movies anymore, but we have Netflix, so it’s not like it’s expensive to go the Palace these days. Though I’m kinda boycotting them. I’m only going if there is a movie there I have to see, and so far that’s only Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle. Since neither of those are here yet I don’t see any reason to go and support a business that is ungrateful for the help I gave it.
I like Cain’s idea of “building something with my dollars,” but I feel like I’m doing that whether I buy a book or borrow one. I’m building and constantly learning by reading. That saved thirty bucks can certainly go a long way in terms of food and learning to cook. Frankly, I want to spread myself around enough to have work continually going so I don’t have to scramble and run myself down just so I can sustain what is a shitty financial existence. Reading good stuff and writing, which is what keeps me sane, is something I can get for free through the best deal in the universe (the library card).
The thing I’m trying to build is a life that’s set up to generate happiness on its own, as an inevitable byproduct. Every dollar I burn — rather than place somewhere where it will contribute to my happiness for a long time — is a lost opportunity that will affect what I am working with for rest of my life, to some degree.
Cain is engaging, but he doesn’t quite go far enough to be truly helpful for me in anything other than a perspective change, which is probably enough. The notion of building something is not new, and at this point I realize that I have a problem—and it’s been a problem for a long time. It’s not sustainable, because I can’t do anything with it other than continually worry. I can’t put myself and others through that. I have a lot to do, and it requires all of my energy and attention. So it’s important to me that I get smarter with the extremely meager sum that I do make.