"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Day in the Life: Week 11 Update

It's been a while since I've posted, but my Eng. 150 has been workshopping their second Writing Project, and there hasn't been much to report there, except that their topics and approaches are phenomenal. I just love my job. I'll have more to report after tomorrow, when they turn in their final drafts. The other reason why I've been lax here is that I've been working on my novel, since my self-imposed deadline to give the second draft to my advisor is tomorrow (11/1)--and I made it. I made it! The last quarter of it is nowhere near where I'd like it to be, but I'm seriously stuck, so it's a good time to get somebody else's eyes on it.

A side note: my Eng. 252 (Fiction) class was asking me about titles for their stories a couple weeks ago and I told them that I wouldn't be any help, since I'm really bad at titles. One of my smart-asses (smart ass in a good way) says, "What's the name of your novel?" Blushing, because I can't ever help it, stupid Swedish skin, I say, "The O'Connor Women." He looks back at me and says, "Yeah, that's pretty bad." Yes, students, it's true what I meant: I won't ever bullshit you. I will always tell you the truth.

My Eng. 252 class has started off the second half of the semester by starting William Kent Krueger's suspense novel Iron Lake and Andrea Barrett's Servants of the Map. We've moved beyond the craft-lecture portion of the semester and the rest of the semester, we'll be applying what we've learned about writing and how to read like a writer to these texts. Last week went really well as we talked about the role that place plays in each of the books, how landscape and weather plays in character development, plot and suspense, and more. My students are revising their short stories that we workshopped before Fall Break and they're working on their craft essays, due at the end of the semester. The premise of this essay is to take an element of craft (voice, character, plot, dialogue, tone, any of the things we've been talking about) and write about it: they could look at one author's craft across several craft elements or they could take one craft element and look at one author's use of it, or they could examine how several authors use it. Should be interesting--in a really good way. I see proposals of that paper in the next couple of weeks.

Right now, for the purposes of this blog and this Eng. 992 class I'm taking, I'm working on several place-conscious pieces of my own, both creative and critical and that's just fun. As part of the requirements of the class, we're asked to put together a place-based teaching unit and even though I don't know what classes I'll be teaching next semester, I'm working on putting together this natural disasters narratives class that I've been dreaming about for a long time. As I'm envisioning the class, I'm leaving it open enough that I could teach it as Eng. 101 (Rhetoric as Reading) or Eng. 150 (Rhetoric as Inquiry). I've started putting readings on the syllabus, page numbers, giving titles to the various days' discussions, due dates. It's true. I'm a nerd. But it's further confirmation that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. That's always great.

So far, in the Ancient Disasters Unit (Writing Project 1), we're reading the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical flood, with critical readings on all sorts of interpretations; then we'll read some Plato and Dialogues of Timaeus and Critias and talk about Atlantis. Yes, I know that I've got my chronology backwards (Atlantis is earlier than the Flood), but it works better this way, in terms of developing the ideas of the course:
  • What is a natural disaster?
  • How do we talk about disasters in literature? What function do they serve in the culture and history of this group of people, at this particular time?
  • How does the epic form impact the subject matter?
  • How do these stories function for readers today? Morality tales? Literal history?
  • How do these stories and the disasters themselves function in terms of creating identity?
  • How does the literature of fact and the literature of fiction here? How does one become another and how does the disaster play into that?
Their first Writing Project essay will be discussing their position on any one of these questions (and more), supported with direct references to various primary texts, as well as critical texts.

I'm pretty excited about it, but maybe today I'm more excited about natural disasters than usual, because it's the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Halloween Blizzard: more on it here at the Star Tribune. I don't remember much about it, except that it was about football playoff time and because of the snow, all the playoff games were moved to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, because all the fields were under several feet of snow. And I'm remembering my own Halloween escapades, the injustice of having to be a ballerina in a snowsuit. This is what it means to be a kid in Minnesota and that's different than any other place in the world. This is what Place means.

Right now, my sister is dressing up her dog, Marley, in the sheriff costume I sent--and I'm waiting for pictures of my niece, C., in her bunny costume. I'm promised videos.

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