Just finished writing a short short for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest. Ever try to tell a solid, well constructed story in six-hundred words? Character, conflict, setting, action, landscape, emotional core? Tough enough by itself. But this year, the contest added a few rules. Each story had to contain a character telling a joke and a character crying. I had fun with it. I showed my first draft to my wife, Gail, and she had a couple good comments, so tonight, with only an hour to spare until deadline, I finished a second draft. What a great challenge!
Plus, I’m nearly done with revampin’ my syllabus for my classes. I’ve managed to add some new stuff into the mix while retaining a lot of what made the class work in the past. I have to say that teaching composition for so long, it’s tough to get excited about it. The students are good. They’re smart. But they are also under a lot of pressure (financial, social, academic) and a required English class isn’t at the top of their list of fun things to do. Most hate the idea of required classes anyway. They seem to want classes that will get them into their prospective fields rather than the good old fashioned liberal arts education, that rounded balance of critical skills. So, I get them in the classroom, try to pass along a few skills that will help them become better writers, but that’s all I can really do. Whether they want to write more soundly is another question. Oddly enough, we are writing more and more each day, but saying less and less. I’d like to think that at least for a while, my students are forced to try and rise above the current elementary levels of discourse in our country. In the best of all worlds, I’d love to see them leave the class seeing how their critical writing/thinking skills will benefit them in their lives. But in the real world, I’m usually happy if they can get me a paper with some solidly crafted sentences and good sources. Still, I think we have some fun, too. It’s not all methodology or pedagogy. In fact, there’s darn little pedagogy in there. I’m a writer, so I approach the act of writing from a less theoretical standpoint. I think I have Don Murray and his descendants to thank for that.
The fiction classes are where I get to have fun. This semester, in an attempt to enliven the discussions, I’ve picked all new stories to read as a class. Has anyone read Roddy Doyle’s story, “Blood”? It’s a strange, cool story. I hope the students appreciate its oddity.
Now, I must go mourn that the stupid Steelers are in another Super Bowl. Boo!