Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Blog Insecurity

It's like the Bourne Identity but darker. There are so many things you can't blog about: specific students, specific friends, specific colleagues, specific husbands. You can't blog about money because you'll seem too rich or too pretend poor or about running because you'll seem still too fat or too obviously thin. You can't blog about how your blog will appear because you'll be a) too self-conscious and b) too boring.

And it is with this, self-consciousness and boringness that I will recap the semester while simultaneously wrapping it all up with the blog insecurity and its attendant dilemmas.

As often happens around the 8th week of the semester, I'm about ready for the semester to be over. That is a feeling that comes about 8 weeks too soon. It makes me feel like a crappy teacher to have these feelings. My job is awesome and teaching writing is awesome and my students are generally awesome but by week 8, the workshop model and the harping on the physical, idiosyncratic (saying it wrong nearly every time), the concrete, the specific, the scene, the image, the example, the argument makes me feel like I sound like a puppet. A puppetmaster mastering a very repetitive puppet. Who can't say the word idiosyncratic.

You can feel, as my students feel my reluctance, the whole class losing cohesion. If we were a boat, we'd be taking on water. If we were a class, we'd start self-consciously still asking for more scene by saying things like, I know I always ask for more scene but I really think more scene would be good here. Here's an example of scene you do well. Do it again. Here.

Even with the concrete example of an imagistic, idiosyncratic scene, some students just don't get it. And then, as I did once in a class with Karen Brennan, they start using horrible words like "reverie." One student used the word "intimated" as a dialogue-tag.

I do this too when I get nervous. Use weird, formal language, usually inappropriately when I get self-conscious and insecure. When people say be more specific, have a point, draw us a picture, be more present, I shellac a wall of bad writing around me to protect me from my worst fear: that someone doesn't like me (my writing, but really, since I like to write and I like people to like my writing, it feels like not liking my writing is not liking me. Which it is, except when I'm writing badly because that is "not me" writing, that's some weird impostor that uses phrases like, "she sank into reverie." I don't like that person either but it's hard to get her out of my head when people are yelling about me about idiosyncranicity which I'm pretty sure is not a word.)

So goes the teaching where at once I feel their frustration, and, especially the first semester students, I feel their nervousness but I also feel like 8 more weeks of reverie might kill me.

Sometimes there are breakthroughs.
Sometimes the 8 weeks continue forth and I bite my tongue and let someone else say, "scene."

Of course, week 15 or so, I am panicking that they didn't learn enough and that they are losing all confidence and all they will do is intimate in my general direction so then I start with the platitudes in conferences about we love you and we just want you to succeed and we just want you to know what we mean by scene. Here, let me show you again. And I feel like I was too mean and I feel like I was too nice and I feel like I don't know if any of us need to put any more words into the world anyway.

And then I get notes like this: "Also, I would like to thank you for a wonderful class. I enjoyed it very much, and I wish I could have attended this last one. You were an awesome teacher (I shouldn't use the past tense here) and other poets were all amazingly talented. So in short, thanks."

So. OK. Not so bad. Maybe harping on the word 'scene' and 'image' didn't destroy my students' ears and all their confidence (confidence?) in the pedagogy of creative writing. And, you thought the other students were getting pretty good at their writing? You are a nicer person than I. It's OK to be nice.

And another student said, didn't intimate, actually said,, "this class has been so awesome. My other classes. They just don't put in the effort you do." Effort? I accidentally wrote "reverie" all over your paper but thank you for taking it with the full force of kindness behind it.

And so, there it is. the students are more self-conscious than I. And I should learn as they should learn and maybe we both have learned that if you get all worried about your writing that worry will come out in your writing in the form of reverie and in your teaching in the form of intimation and instead of writing anything interesting about the world or the words or the people or the pine needles on the ground that are itching to get inside your shoe and ruin your day, you will write a bunch of crappy, defensive bullshit that uses words like insecurity and self-conscious and "blog" and "publish."

So on days when I'm feeling all crappy with rejection and wonder about the way my students keep writing about how they are sad instead of giving me a scene about pine needles, instead of writing about the crappiness, I shall write about pine needles on the ground trying to get into my shoe or food because food is always present and immediate and useful and sometimes people will say,  yes! you can put hollandaise on lettuce and call it a salad. And there is a scene, right there. With egg yolk and butter all over the computer keyboard. A sticky "e" indeed.


Lisa B. said...


>>If we were a class, we'd start self-consciously still asking for more scene by saying things like, I know I always ask for more scene but I really think more scene would be good here. Here's an example of scene you do well. Do it again. Here.

I do this too. You gave me courage today by confessing the ubiquity of your scene advice. I am not intimating this, but simply telling you: thanks very much.

Dr Write said...

You are awesome. And I always feel this way and I am in an exhausted reverie.

radagast said...

"Since I like to write and I like people to like my writing, it feels like not liking my writing is not liking me." Right on right on right on. And also, write on, please. (To set the scene, I am sipping a latte, Mr. Sulu-ing around cyberspace and, every once in a while, catching a peripheral glimpse of a steaming pile of student papers.)

Counterintuitive said...

Love the reverie and intimation themes here. And, I too beat up on myself sometimes when I feel overwhelmed or down about teaching: "buck up you spineless feck; this is the life, the teaching life so love it or leave it." And certainly I ain't leavin it.