Baked in the oven of your heart

This has been a fun year in literature class so far. Besides reading Flowers for Algernon, which caused my students to blink back tears as they stared at their desks when we reached the end of the story, and The Lady. Or The Tiger, which resulted in indignant expressions about the outcome, we have read lots of poetry.

There are few things more rewarding than seeing a student engaged with an idea. We read A Loaf of Poetry (which gave me chills. No lie.) by Noami Kiroyata, which compares the creative process to making a loaf of bread. Yet weeks later, the students still refer to the "yeast of inspiration" and "baked in the oven of your heart". One student was astounded to learn that the author was male.

When we finished Southbound on the Freeway by May Swenson, the class was absorbed in the riddle she presents. We discovered the answer while we talked about it.

We also read this Gwendolyn Brooks poem. After a vigorous class discussion, one student said, "I didn't know what this meant, but after we talked about it, I really liked it."  A-ha! I gotcha!

Changing perceptions and seeing their surprised delight is truly one of the best things about teaching.


Being creative

In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about the necessity of sitting down every day and devoting time to writing, whether or not you "feel" like it. This is a piece of advice that often comes to mind when I'm in the tall grass and don't feel like I can string two coherent sentences together.

I had an interesting conversation with my sister Deb a few months ago about how much writing feels like work sometimes. If your goal is to be a writer and you want to enjoy what you do, why does the process feel so excruciating? I mean, really...between teaching, other jobs, and just trying to keep it together, how can I set aside a time to write? 

Here's what I decided: I have no choice. I have to be creative in some way (writing, design, whatever). It's a moral imperative for me. I'm going to be thinking about it anyway. (Deb says the words bounce around in her head and they're going to keep doing that until she gets them out on paper.) I know what she means.

Here's the world's worst analogy: My mind's like a bathroom sink. I've got all this detritus clogging my pipes. Being creative and allowing my mind to wander and ponder, before refocusing and organizing is like taking a snake tool and removing the nasty hairballs and bits of decaying debris. Occasionally, one might come up with a diamond ring in the process, but it's fairly unlikely. The important thing is that the water can flow through the pipes again.

The upside is that I don't worry so much about the outcome of a project. I might have a great creative brainstorm that turns out to be an ugly disaster, but there will be some that are worthwhile.