Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From the Mouths of Babes

One of the courses of the overwhelming six I teach this year is junior-level American literature.  These juniors are, with the exception of my newspaper staff, my favorite group of kiddos at Wright City High School.  Yes, they exhaust me with their continual, not-so-fluid segues to topics unrelated to their studies, and their whining about how my heightened expectations conflict with their minimalist efforts exacerbates me, and another day of the two phone addicts texting, tweeting, surfing, booking, googling, liking, tagging, ruzzling, matching, wording with Apple or Samsung instead of absorbing Fitzgerald or Hawthorne could send me teetering into a classroom diatribe about respecting your elders, but I genuinely adore those 25 knuckle-heads to death.

Today we spent an inordinate amount of time in close-reading of this, one of my most favorite images in all of literature:

 “Instead of taking the short cut along the Sound, we went down to the road and entered by the big postern.  With enchanting murmurs, Daisy admired this aspect or that of the feudal silhouette against the sky, admired the gardens, the sparkling odor of jonquils and the frothy odor of hawthorn and plum blossoms and the pale gold odor of kiss-me-at-the-gate.  It was strange to reach the marble steps and find no stir of bright dresses in and out the door and hear no sound but bird voices in the trees.”

After the prescribed scrutiny of color imagery and symbolism (yawn) [if students can seek guidance from ChaCha or Cliff, it's not stimulating enough], I shepherded their attention to the subtle ways Fitzgerald emphasizes the intimacy between Gatsby, Daisy, and Nick.  A brief moment later, a hand waved eagerly in the back of the room.

"Do authors really think all of these details out before writing?  Nothing would ever be written if every author took this long agonizing over fine points as you expect us to do," quipped the most inquisitively confrontational student in the room.

"Unless an author leaves behind an analysis of every, single, little idea, it is impossible to know precisely what he had in mind for every, single, little idea, but literary study and criticism identify universal concepts, patterns, symbols, and motifs that hold true for all writing.  The ideas you can Google tend to fall as universally accepted interpretation or analysis, but what I love about reading is going further, looking for more, developing ideas independent of the Wikipedia answer that, though different from established understanding, can be supported with evidence within the text.  So, what do you notice about these characters?"

This deflection did not satisfy him as he again inquired, "But how does anything get written?  It seems the process takes entirely too long.  You couldn't pay me to write.  Too much work."

"Well, people without a passion for writing or a pleasure for piecing every, single, little idea together to weave a story, don't become authors.  And not everyone acclaimed as an author is good at writing (as evidenced by the likes of Stephenie Meyer).  It is a lot of work."

"Do you write?" interrupted a girl across the room.  "You seem to enjoy this stuff.  You should write.  Do you blog?  Can we read it?"

Her questions came flooding at me.  "Yes, I write," I stammered.  "I used to write, actually blog, frequently.  Weekly.  Daily.  But I don't so much anymore."

"Well you should," chimed in yet another student.  "I would read it."

The sentiments of encouragement echoed in me the rest of the day.  And here I am.  Again.  With something to write.


Katie Thach said...

I love reading your words. They make me miss you, but then again, not as much as I did before I read. :)

C.B. James said...

Six classes. Oh, my. Nice post, and a nice way to bring you back to writing, too.