Sunday, November 11, 2012

Teaching Storytelling

I've been so lucky to teach a lit class this semester, the Short Story. I decided to focus on storytelling in not only short stories but also visual art and film. We've been looking at work by Kara Walker,

Ann Hamilton, Carrie Mae Weems, and using the online collaborative space for students to contribute their writing or art work. We'll sometimes do a fiction exercise in class as a warm-up or response, and students have posted stories to their blogs. I'm always stunned at the work students can create in class in just 10 minutes or so, and I hooooope that at least a few of them keep writing these sorts of pieces now and then, or springboard off of what they've started in class.

My favorite unit this semester was our "Roaring 20's" time, in which we looked at the work of Dali, Picasso, and Matisse, watched Josephine Baker dance, listened to Cole Porter's music,

read Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and both Fitzgeralds. And then -- grand finale! -- we watched "Midnight in Paris." Some students had already seen it and were happy to find that they "got all the jokes" this time around. I loved seeing Stein and Hemingway and Picasso et al. brought to life, and I hope the students had some fun with it, too.

Now, we're onto contemporary short story collections and have had the joy of reading Jody Lisberger's stories, Remember Love, and then visiting with her in class. Then, David McGlynn's stories, The End of the Straight and Narrow, and he Skyped in with us. The technology wasn't perfect -- but it was a lot of fun to have him in class from Wisconsin.

Next up -- Tiphanie Yanique's How to Escape from a Leper Colony, one of my favorite collections. Hoorah!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Two Kinds of Decay

Last night, I started reading Sarah Manguso's Two Kinds of Decay, and I couldn't put it down. I finished it at about 1am and am still thinking about the story this afternoon. I love her poet's-language and the way that she pushes through the story -- diagnosis, treatments (many painful treatments), leaving and re-entering and leaving school again to live with her parents -- without falling into the pitfalls of dwelling too much on emotion. She's also funny at times:

"My blood plasma had filled with poison made by my immune system. My immune system was trying to destroy my nervous system. It was a misperception that caused me a lot of trouble" (14).

Understated and direct. Woven in shorts that focus on the trajectory of her life with the disease, sometimes interspersed with memories of the past, after the second half of the story -- this is a brilliant arrangement of parts.

And this line is just, so, perfect, in response to a doctor who took pity on her and told her that she'd "already endured something much worse than most people have to endure in an entire regular-length life":

"The doctor was older than my parents, and he must have had plenty of younger patients, but he didn't understand yet that suffering, however much and whatever type, shrinks or swells to fit the size and shape of a life" (83-84).

I love this book. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I've abandoned this place for almost a year now, and have decided it's time to have another crack at blogging. Having finished up the first year of the PhD program here in RI, turned in the book copy, and let go of other commitments -- oh, fall is stretching out ahead with freedom all over it! No classes! Just READING! Sure, there's a test at the end of all that reading (errr, two tests), but that's just fine. I also get to teach LIT -- glorious LIT! -- and am excited about my plan for the semester -- a lot of art, film, and short stories by writers who are going to be visiting my classes -- oh, la la, good times abound. My sister Becky deserves lots of credit for her film and art suggestions for me this semester. She's a talented artist and illustrator, and always points me towards artists I love.

This summer was full of travels and the chance to quilt, quilt, and quilt some more. Finishing Mike and Ellen's quilt after two years of sewing was pretty exciting.

I may prefer the back to the front, because of the quilting and the loud-orange-splash on one side. But the front is all shot cottons, and so soft. I hope they like it -- and use it, use it, use it -- take it on picnics, eat breakfast in bed under it, etc..

I'm now finishing up an all-by-hand quilt, which will be shipped off to its home soon. It's so nice to have my hands on fabric again, playing with color.

One of my many goals for fall is one short assignment (for myself) a week, inspired again by Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, which has fed me for...oh, decades...on and off.

"'E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard."

I like it.