What Does It Mean To Teach Writing?

Poe

Poe was a great writer. But what does the art of writing even mean?

“What do you teach?”

I often get asked this question when I tell people that I am a professor. My answer typically goes from “I teach English,” to the more specific “I teach writing.”

With the end of the semester fast approaching, I have thought about what it is that I teach. Yes, I teach writing. But what does that mean?

There are, of course, the many concepts that I incorporate and teach to my students. Bias, appeals, audience, tone, thesis, revision, peer review…these are seemingly standard fare in the particular course that I teach. I could get even more general and say that I teach students how to analyze a text, research a topic, and write about themselves in a thoughtful, self-reflective manner.

More than that, though, what I teach is critical thinking. Critical thinking may sound like a simple enough concept, but it’s actually rather complex in that it requires students to engage with a text and/or topic in a way that goes beyond simply reading and looking stuff up on the Internet. Critical thinking involves thinking beyond the self so as to widen the lenses individuals use to comprehend information. And it’s not just students who are tasked with this; as an instructor, I, too, have the responsibility to constantly view information and situations from different perspectives.

To answer the question I originally set out, I teach the product of many discussions, drafts, edits, revisions, and challenges: voice. Because to teach writing is to teach voice. How to have one and how to effectively use it.

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Thoughts While Waiting For A Plane

I do not like to fly.

That statement might seem odd coming from someone who regularly flies, but it is the truth. I do not enjoy flying. In fact, I find the whole act mildly unnerving.

Even before going through security, before checking in for my flight, even before going to the airport I have to be prepared. This process involves making sure there are no liquids in my carry-on bags, except for the 3.4 ounces or less ones in the quart-sized, zip-top bag that I carefully place in either my purse or an outside pocket of my backpack for easier access. I select which items will go in each carry-on bag – decisions that might not seem difficult to make, but for someone who would prefer to have all of their items next to them or under the seat in front of them, it is strategic planning.

I have to make sure to take off my shoes, remove anything in my pockets, and arrange my items in the sullen, gray plastic bins so that everything is visible. I wait to go through the scanner, not fulling knowing where the lines start and who was first, only going through the motions so as not to displease the disgruntled TSA agents. After patting down my wrists, my legs, my waist, or whatever area may have shown up on the scanner due to my preference for looser clothes, I retrieve my things and return the bins to their proper place to await another person’s items.

As I sit in the terminal reflecting on their and other airport procedures and processes, I listen to the coughs, stifles, sounds of crying babies, text tones, and conversations I am surrounded by. I am a germaphobe, and yet I am about to travel for the next few hours with nothing but recycled air circulating throughout the cabin. I resist the urge to envision the types of miasma that inhabit the air and the people they originated from. I contain my anxiety as I am engulfed by strangers.

I do not like most people, another truth that some might find odd given my seemingly outgoing personality. The key word is seemingly. I enjoy being alone, by myself, and away from the general public. I avoid public transportation as much as possible because of this.

Still, I put myself through the ordeal of flying because I love to travel. I like going to a destination I have never been before, or one that I have and am looking forward to returning to. As a teenager, I did not want to get married when I grew up; I wanted to travel.

So, yeah, I do not like to fly. I continue to fly, however, because it is a ritual that results in something that I love: adventure.

Adventure awaits…after the airtime.

 

 

Summer Writing and Realizations

I feel guilty because I haven’t done much writing this summer (or, err, well, in a while, shall we say). Between finishing and graduating from my M.A. program, moving, finding a job, getting ready to move again, and trying to relax a little, I have not been keeping up with my writing. I have, however, still done some writing and with the summer slowly coming to a close, I figured I would share some of it. So here is my summer realization (one of many):

I realized that I do not regret being single.

I made a list of names of the guys I’ve dated. Then I made a list of names of the guys I’ve been in relationships with. I looked t the lists, and I asked myself, “Is there a name on either list that I regret no longer having in my life? Someone I would be willing to give another shot to?”

The answer to both questions was a firm “No.”

The answer resulted from examining each name, recalling the individual, and assessing how things ended with them. One propositioned me in Boston Common for a friends with benefits relationship and upon rejection of said proposition, promptly left me to walk through the Common to the Park Street Station by myself – at night (this was before Pokemon Go came on the scene and groups of people trying to catch Pokemon made the Common slightly more safe). Another informed me that anything we started would have an “expiration date” of September when my graduate program resumed.

Then there was the one who texted me five months after our first date to ask me out again. He didn’t explain the time lapse or why he would not return texts I sent him, attempting to maintain communication. I tried to give him another chance. I told him I’d be open to some of the dates he asked me on, only to realize those dates would entail me making most of the effort and travel. I declined said dates, citing inconvenient commutes. The more accurate truth was that I was inconvenienced by his insistence on his convenience. Despite telling me that he was looking for something that lasts, I began to see that a relationship with him would only last if I were willing to accommodate him without room for me.

I realized that I was fine with not hearing from him again, that I would instead be perfectly content by myself. It was the summer, and I was single. I had my books, the beach, and my best friends if I needed company. No boys needed.

The Jane Austen Social Scene Part VIII: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (2016)

 

prideprejudicesmall1

(Photo source: comingsoon.net)

As a Jane Austen fan and a fan of Seth Grahame-Smith’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, I was very excited when the trailer came out for “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” I was so excited that I actually went to the movies to see it, an act I sheepishly admit to not doing enough of when it comes to film.

Now, I try to keep an open mind in regards to movie versions of books. Maybe it’s the scholar in me reminding myself that adaptations are meant to be different. Still, it’s hard not to sit there and go, “That’s not in/like the book!”

I found myself thinking just that as I sat through “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” (Note: Spoilers ahead)

I could look past changing some of the plot. I get it – it’s being made into a movie, they might need to change some points around. What I could not look past was changing the characters.

Take Wickham, for instance. In the novel, he runs off with Lydia Bennet thinking that her family has money. After being paid by Darcy, he finally agrees to marry her. This point is kept in the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with some added zombie, sci-fi/fantasy plot elements added to it. In the movie, however, Wickham kidnaps Lydia and keeps her prisoner in the basement of a zombie church, using her as bait to lure Mr. Darcy to the church. He never gets forced into marriage. In fact, if the end of the film is any indication, he gets to be made leader of his own rebel zombie army and charge the double wedding of Jane and Lizzie.

Then there’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The movie keeps her animosity towards Lizzie but then does a 180 with her character, transforming her from the snobby elitist that she is into a generous savior who allows her estate to be used as a refuge for the Bennet family when the zombie war starts to heat up. Lady Catherine, the character who openly insults Lizzie for the class distinction between the two of them.

The change that made the Jane Austen fan in me grit her teeth the most though was Mr. Darcy. Yes, Mr. Darcy is reserved. He insults Lizzie’s family the first time he proposes to her. He’s not the most outright amiable character. But what Darcy is not is cruel. Lizzie begins to see the softer side of Mr. Darcy when she visits Pemberley, and his servants talk about what a good master he is and how kind he is to his sister. This man is a far cry from the Darcy of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” a man who purposefully switches out the communal zombie church offering of pig brains (a substance the zombies choose to consume so as not to lose their sanity and become slaves to the lust for brains) for actual human brains, resulting in turning the zombies into, well, crazy zombies that need to be killed. That act is cruel, unfeeling, and not keeping with the Mr. Darcy Austen created.

Despite my frustrations with certain elements of the movie, I have to remember that the movie is an adaptation of an adaptation. In other words, it’s not only about what they changed but also about what they kept. The Bennet sisters are still strong, powerful women. Lizzie rejects Mr. Collins’ marriage proposal in a scene that affirms her independence. She also rejects Mr. Darcy’s initial marriage proposal in a similar scene. Jane marries Mr. Bingley, and Lizzie marries Mr. Darcy. The movie ends with a wedding.

So, then, what’s my take on the movie?

It’s not a happily-ever-after version of the original tale. It’s reads more as a struggle to hold onto decorum and tradition while constantly being made aware of threats to civilized society. And I think that’s something modern audiences can relate to.

The Jane Austen Social Scene Part VII: John Willoughby

Oh, wow, have I been absent from the blogosphere! I just realized my last post was back in May, and I am officially embarrassed!

Seeing the date of my last post, I wondered, “What have I been doing all this time?” Well, I like to think that I have been out experiencing the Jane Austen Social Scene for myself this summer.

My experiences with dating and relationships could very well turn into excerpts for a book whose ideas for a title could include It’s Actually Not My Fault That I’m Single, Buttmachine* and Bike Helmets, and What To Do When Your Date Leaves You To Walk Back Alone At Night. Trust me, there are also other working titles and the chapters would be even better.

After taking a break from attempts at dating, I decided to give it a whirl again this summer. I tried different venues in the past from going to events to the slew of online sites, so I wanted to try a dating avenue I did not pursue before but had heard much about: Tinder.

I am an optimist. I see the best in people. I am honest, genuine, and direct. I apply the golden principle of “Treat others as you would want to be treated” to my interactions with fellow creatures.

Unfortunately, I can not say the same for others.

When I think over the dates and the people I have met because of Tinder, I likewise think about where in the Jane Austen Social Scene they would inhabit. And there is one character who comes to mind: John Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility.

Willoughby is a character who essentially leads Marianne on and ends up hurting her. He shows interest in her, they share common interests and engaging conversations, and he creates an implicit attachment between them. It’s also revealed that he got a girl pregnant, refused to take responsibility for his actions, and was disinherited as a result. His financial crisis leads him to needing to marry someone rich, which he does.

Now, the guys I met did not necessarily match Willoughby’s plot (thankfully) nor will the Willoughby type in general (at least I hope they don’t). The Willoughby guy is the type who at first presents himself as charming and expresses an interest. Once this interest is reciprocated, they give the appearance of a desire to get to know a person. This desire, however, has an ulterior motive to serve their own means which are usually selfish.

How does one deal with a Willoughby type? By having the good sense to exercise sensibility.

*Buttmachine refers to title of a song. No, I’m serious. Google “Buttmachine song” and see for yourself.

 

The Jane Austen Social Scene Part V: Marianne Dashwood

Photo source: barnesandnoble.com

Photo source: barnesandnoble.com

Okay, confession time. I was apprehensive about writing about Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. Marianne was a character I did not give a lot of thought to when I first read the novel except to think “Silly girl.” When I decided I was going to write about Marianne for The Jane Austen Social Scene, however, I had to give her more thought.

Sure, she makes her attraction to Willoughby very public to the point where everyone thinks that the two are engaged and then has to endure the embarrassment of finding out that he not only rejected her, he gets engaged to another woman for her money (ouch!). She’s spontaneous, a romantic, and seems to wear blinders when falling for Willoughby. The first time I read the novel I kept thinking “Someone needs to slow this girl down and tell her to think before she acts. She’s making an idiot of herself all for some guy!”

Making the decision to write about Marianne for this blog made me realize something I did not when I first read the book: I have a bit of Marianne in me. Hence, this post becoming a bit of a confession.

The Marianne Dashwood is someone who forms strong attachments to people they are interested in, not caring if they look slightly foolish or imprudent in making their interest known. Slightly naive in regards to love, the Marianne Dashwood type will come to understand their folly in time, usually after they find out that the person they were interested in does not necessarily return their affections in full. Upon accepting this, the Marianne Dashwood will move onto someone who actually loves them (Col. Brandon, anyone?).

The Jane Austen Social Scene Part III

Happy New Year!

In honor of the New Year, I figured I would post about two of my favorite Jane Austen characters (okay, who am I kidding, they are two of my favorite overall literary characters as well): Emma Woodhouse from Emma and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

Photo Source: fridayonmymind.hubpages.com

Photo Source: fridayonmymind.hubpages.com

Photo Source: ebookbees.com

Photo Source: ebookbees.com

I like to think that Emma and Elizabeth, or Lizzy as she’s often referred to, would be good friends.  Both are smart, witty, and social.  Both get involved at one point with guys who turn out to be liars.  On the surface, they can appear to have a lot of the same character traits.  Yet…

Emma is a homebody whereas Lizzy is not.  Although Emma is social, she is tied to her home and to her father, so much so that she tells Mr. Knightley that can’t marry him because it would hurt her father too much to have her move away from him.  Meanwhile, Lizzy travels with her aunt and uncle and moves to Pemberley after marrying Mr. Darcy.

Despite Emma being higher up socially than Lizzy and being more wealthy (at least when they are both single), I would say Lizzy actually has more physical mobility since Emma does not travel except on her honeymoon.  This lack of travel on Emma’s part is in large due to her care of her father who is constantly worrying.  I give a lot of kudos to Emma for her patience with her father, but I give more kudos to Lizzy for making her own decisions without worrying about how her parents might react (example: her rejection of Mr. Collins).

Lizzy is also more grounded than Emma, perceiving the world in a way that demonstrates more of an awareness about society than Emma has.  Does Lizzy try to persuade her friend Charlotte Lucas to call off the engagement to Mr. Collins because Lizzy does not particularly care for Mr. Collins?  No, Lizzy does not.  Emma, on the other hand, practically holds up a neon sign to let her friend Harriet Smith know what she thinks of the idea of Harriet marrying Mr. Martin; as a result, Harriet rejects Mr. Martin the first time around, potentially ruining her social prospects.  Both Emma and Lizzy can be naive when it comes to the society around them; however, given Emma’s elevated position this lack of awareness is more pronounced.

There are certainly more differences when it comes to these two.  Lizzy comes from a large family; Emma has a sister, but seems to suffer from only-child syndrome at times.  Lizzy is perhaps the more mature of the two characters whereas Emma has moments of immaturity such as her insulting behavior towards Miss Bates when they are on an outing in the county (again, lack of social awareness – poor Miss Bates really is poor Miss Bates).  What makes me love both of these characters so much though is that they both have great hearts.  Emma feels awful once she realizes the mistakes she’s made and seeks to remedy them immediately.  Lizzy understands how she let her bias cloud her better judgement.  To me, these two are some of the most “real” characters in the world of Jane Austen, characters I identify with within myself and with others (and those others are often my close friends).