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Archives: Teaching

Care-lessness

Care-lessness

It occurs to me that when I say that I am disinterested in my students’ excuses, many people hear me saying, “I don’t care.” Disinterest is one of those words with a slippery and probably disappearing meaning. The word I’m using means this: the state of not being influenced by personal involvement in something; impartiality. I may (or may not) be genuinely sorry that the dog ate your semester portfolio. But, burden that it might be—all that gummed up 20# paper clogging up your vacuum, all those vowels clogging Fido’s intestines—it’s not my burden, nor is it my problem to solve.

At the beginning of the school year, back in my middle school days, the students would line up six deep at the desk in the morning with an array of pre-teen drama. Usually it was related to the various things they couldn’t, wouldn’t or didn’t do, or things that were done to them by others in line, and the reason why these things should matter to me. There were more mystery ailments than on a year’s worth of daytime TV.   Many days I felt much like a benevolent king, holding court as his minions approached the throne, my tribute their carefully crafted tales of young adolescent suffering.

  • David Haynes
  • David and Jessica
  • Jude David Emily
  • Faculty after Jan 14 graduation (1)

Arisen from the Sickbed: Photos from the Winter 2014 Residency

I really was sick as dog for the entire residency.   And I really do only have two outfits.  Photos by the amazing Alissa Whelan.

 

Marta Asks Me About My First Time

Marta Asks Me About My First Time

<iMarta asks:  You’ve expressed a great deal of openness with what we are calling “cultural trespass,” with authors writing across lines that can sometimes feel dangerous — race, class, gender, sexuality, etc., even when writers don’t always “get it right.”  Have you always felt this way? Or was there a time when those boundaries around voice and identity felt more rigid to you, like boundaries you needed to protect?

For better or worse I came of age before the heyday of cultural studies.  Even the youngest among the professors at “progressive” Macalester College was strictly old school in his approach to literature; with the exception of a brief foray into Native Son during my senior year in high school,  it’s likely across my entire “formal” education that any work I read by a person of color I read because I chose to and not because I was assigned to.  Good, bad or indifferent, representations—in any media—of people who looked like me or lived the kind of life I lived were few and far between.  Culture, therefore, was mostly lived experience.  It was the eclectic music on the stereo and a family field trip to see the touring Pearl Baily production of “Hello, Dolly” and Nikki Giovanni on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson—as well as her first books of poetry delivered by my cousin who was in graduate school at Yale.

Welcome to Our Lawn

Welcome to Our Lawn

While I was sick as a Ricky Gervais joke during the January 2014 residency for the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College (I have NEVER been more invisible) I was able to rise from my bed to deliver a class I called “Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy?  Looking at Other People and Their Stuff.”

Here is a description of that class:

Reader, Beware!

Reader, Beware!

Surely I am not the only person who rolls his eyes when Ira Glass gently cautions his listeners that the story they are about to hear acknowledges the existence of sex.  Don’t get me wrong: I have been addicted to This American Life since it first started airing on Minnesota Public Radio.  No other broadcast program so regularly rewards my craving for engaging narrative.  Still, I find something…disingenuous and coy about Ira’s warning to the easily offended.  And I doubt anyone at his production company is the least bit surprised by that response.  When he reads this disclaimer, Ira’s tongue is stuck so far in his cheek that it looks like he’s hoarding nuts for the winter.  Neither he nor his staff finds the content of these stories the least bit controversial.  Alas, in the public sphere, one plays along nicely in order to keep the puritans at bay.

You and Your Filthy Mouth

You and Your Filthy Mouth

Whenever I work with aspiring children’s book authors, I suggest they spend some time considering the sensibility of younger readers.  Often enough this discussion sidetracks into anxiety about censorship—self- or otherwise—but I steer it right back to the matter at hand: By the time they become readers, and even before, most children have already developed a strong sense of propriety.   

Hey, I Know Her

Hey, I Know Her

About a half-dozen years ago a shy young woman who called herself Elizabeth Tshele walked into my undergraduate fiction writing workshop at SMU. I had the sense that she was taking it on a lark, kind of a filler class to round out her schedule. The stories she brought in for us to discuss were brilliant and disturbing and rendered many of the workshop members mute with admiration.

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