on writing

By force or just by discussion, I have given this a lot of though this week.

The “this” is writing. Specifically, I have been thinking about the whys of writing. Why is that I feel compelled to sit here and write out my thoughts? Why is it that I carry around a journal? Why is it that I teach my classes they way I do? Why do I feel so tortured by the prescribed reading material?

In three different conversations, people described their disdain toward writing. And I wondered about that. Partly because I had just sat down two weeks ago and written five admissions essays. It wasn’t fun. Not at all, but it also wasn’t torture. I think about how much my students despise writing. I think about how some of my coworkers–in the English department–proudly profess that they are not writers.

I suppose the technical part of it is very daunting. There are millions of rules for millions of situations. I’m sure I make tons of mistakes in my writing. But I also think I had wonderful training in writing. Grammar doesn’t stress me out. It just is. I suppose if you take that part out of the equation, it’s downright painful. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be my student and receive a paper back riddled with pen marks, documenting each and every grammatical mistake.

When I was hired to teach writing, I said simply that I take it seriously. When I was asked why, I said, “Writing saved my life.”

A couple of days ago, I said that I love to write because it’s the only way I can “transfer dreams or imaginings into a perceived reality.” It’s so simple for me. Black words on white paper. You can read into it what you will. You can imagine from it what you will. I don’t have to color it. I don’t have to illustrate it. There needs to be no visual interpretation of my images at all.

That is an incredibly powerful thing.

And today, when I became engaged in a curriculum discussion, I said that I could very well be wrong. I’m not a literature person. By that, I mean, I don’t have sick desire to embrace every piece of classic literature.

But, I went on to say, the big difference is that while other teachers see the writing as the assessment, I see it as the IT. That’s what it’s all about.

In my frustration, a couple of weeks ago, I stripped the entire front of the classroom of all the cute motivational posters about being nice to each other and being a good person. I printed on plain paper the words FIRST FIND YOUR SOUL. THEN FIND YOUR VOICE.

I’ve written about my decision to teach “Zoot Suit” over “The Great Gatsby.” I did that for two reasons. One, it is genuinely more interesting to my students and they’ve devoured it in half the time they would have read Gatsby in. But, the more important reason for me is that it symbolizes so well the power of the written word. It tells so well the idea that words create injustice just as easily as they create justice. And it tells of the importance of telling stories. Telling stories to bring light to injustices. I think when young people learn about the world–as they are every day with me–it seems overwhelming. There are no answers. There are no easy solutions. But there are thoughts and arguments. There is enlightenment. It all comes through writing.

Writing is a voice that has allowed me to be heard my entire life.

I say to my friend all the time: that is going to be my gift to the Junior class of this school. I want them to understand their words are the truest expression of who they are intellectually, emotionally, academically, and spiritually.

And slowly….slowly….they have picked up on the format. Even more importantly, I smile every time I read a student’s analysis of a character’s soul.

When I sat down this evening to grade essays, I thought to myself, “Who thought it would be a good idea to teach English?”

It’s even more painful than the writing process itself. It’s a slow bleed to death. It’s watching the words I love so very much be mangled each and every day. But there are small glimmers of hope. I see where my students have grown. I see their weaknesses. And even their  in 80 millionth character analyses, I can see their very souls. I see what they value. I see their experiences. I see their faith. I see their hopes.

But most of all I see in them what I share in my writing–their soul.

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