Thursday, October 20, 2016

#SOL16: On Writing and Teaching Writing

Art Conversations (M.A. Reilly, 2008)


Recently I wrote in the comments section of a blog, "I like to think every letter of every word written and the spaces between these words are a record of healing." 

And I do.

For the last six years that I have kept this blog, I never imagined how much I would grow to need it--to need you--my imagined reader. Back in 2009 when I first posted, I did so out of obligation. I was taking a weekend course at Bard College and everyone enrolled had to make a blog.  So I started this blog, posted, and did not write again for another 8 months. But even as I did not write, I knew in the back of my mind that there was this space waiting for me to fill.

Since then I have written more than 1500 posts and have published 1400 of those. Since Rob's diagnosis, I have written more than 200 posts, more than 100,000 words and I recognize that each utterance and the spaces between have been healing steps. 

Who knew I would ever need this like my very breath?


I think a lot about the intersections between writing and healing. And today, I am less sure that writing instruction at school is worthy of our children's time and attention. These commercial units of study that are so popular feel so contrived. So jammed up with tasks to do that thinking, yes thinking, feels somehow left out. Completion should never be mistaken for grand conversations. When I read the prepared units I think that learning is so outlined and calendered that one might wonder where there was room to pause. To think. To talk. To err.

I grow weary just thinking about the rush to teach so many different genres each year to children of all ages. Surely in this drive to pack it all in we may be missing what is most fundamental: 


Yes, invention is at the heart of writing. William Carlos Williams admonished us years ago when he wrote, "Shame on our poets/they have caught the prevalent fever:/impressed/by the 'laboratory,'/they have forgot/the flower!/which goes beyond all/laboratories!/They have quit the job/of invention. The/imagination has fallen asleep/in a poppy-cup."

When I think of learning, not necessarily teaching, writing seems more possible, more ready to wear, less stuffy. I want the young people I work with to make meaning because they must. I want them to do it daily and to do it with intention when possible. I want them to learn the art of contradiction, the wonder that comes when the poem writes itself, the frustration that happens when the page remains empty. I want them to live wide awake lives and take notice. I want them to privilege accuracy because the words and marks they place on a page matter so, as do their readers.

I want the young people I teach to learn writing by walking/wheeling/moving/chatting. The world beyond the school house beckons and we ought to help our young people build bridges with words and intentions to it--to gather the shorelines in their fists. I imagine writing instruction has more to do with painting--with mess making--with building stuff, than with strict guidelines about any particular genre. I shudder when imagining teaching a class to write poetry at the same time. No, not that. Never that. 

I would surely fail as a writing teacher today, likely I would be dismissed. But, I would fail brilliantly. Chuck those units of study out the nearest window or better yet use them as substrates to bloom beautiful works. At best, I would hope to occasion the interest in my students to see what might be waiting around the bend. To listen to what is not said. To consider the possibilities before them and say what must be said and honor, yes honor, the silence such saying might evoke.  We could sit awhile. Perhaps take tea. There is time for this. 

John Cage knew. I have nothing to say and I am saying it--may well be the first creative act after breathing.

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