The Learning Adventure


The first day of class, you warned us. “If you won’t be intense about writing, this isn’t where you belong,” you said. I elected to stay, mostly because I needed the college writing credit. You seemed like an interesting teacher, if a bit crazy. I showed up on the second day.

I’ve thought you were less and less crazy with each passing day and, frankly, I don’t think it’s because you’ve been changing – I think that I have. “Writing is my life,” you said. Well, conveniently, I myself didn’t have much else to focus on during J-Term: no other classes, and few scheduled extra-curricular activities. So what did writing become? Really quite a large part of my life. The change was most clear as I was writing my braided essay. There’s a hefty thread in the essay itself devoted to other people’s reactions when they read a draft or when they heard that I was writing an essay on hurricanes. I guess I must have talked about it a lot, left it around a lot, thought about it a lot. The piece morphed from my homework into something that had significant bearing on my life. Weird. “Cut these words and they shall bleed,” I quote. I tell my friend from down the hall about the author who wrote an entire novel manuscript and threw the first draft away. I actually played a writing game on a Friday night. Yeah, that’s right.

I’ve noticed that the phrase “sweat blood and tears” also comes up with relative frequency in class. I didn’t really understand that one, either. When I’m done with a piece, paper, whatever, it’s always been done. I edit for content, to an extent, and for grammar. First drafts had always meant almost done. In this class, it was not to be. I began to understand your oft-used phrase. Again, I’ll use the braided essay as an example, since it became my final project. My first draft is barely recognizable as a precursor to the final. I physically cut the piece three times. I color coded. I rearranged. I asked for advice. I followed the advice, mostly. The following advice part is especially a leap forward for me – I usually hate asking people to edit my work, because then I have to change it. Changing things means cutting parts that may have taken considerable effort. It also means more work. In my past, I have been enamored of neither of these prospects that come with change.

On the last night with my final project, a friend suggested that the italicized song lyrics and book quotes at the end of some of the passages threw her off. They’d been there from the very first draft. I had looked up the songs and the quotes online and read about their histories. I had patted myself on the back for a brilliant idea and left my italics alone to fester, without giving them a second thought. I loved them, but I cut them. The piece is better without them, I just needed someone else’s eye to see that. That was my blood, sweat, and tears. So now I’m using your phrase.

“We’re going to share what we write with the world,” you say. I’ve had particular difficulty with this one. First, there was the issue of the “glorious failures.” Why would anyone want to share pieces on which they failed? Why? Well, I did anyway, because I was supposed to and since I didn’t feel so bad about the failures when there were pieces that I actually liked already filling out the blog. And I found that you’re right (which I’m sure you already knew). Someone left a comment on the “Glorious Failures” page explaining what he liked about some of the pieces. He helped me to see them in a new way. Someone else applauded my bravery (though I’m not sure that that is actually what it was). I am emboldened. I am not frustrated by failing. Well – not much, anyway. I learn from it, and I’ve seen the value of letting other people help me learn.

Beyond the problem of putting failures online, I am quite reluctant to do anything I care about online because my parents always have been. I’ve been warned since I was little that “online” is dangerous, and that people online shouldn’t know my business. By posting, I have started to get over that. I took baby steps. First, I just posted assignments. Then, I began to write little introductions to the pieces that I posted. Finally, I actually wrote posts. I became more comfortable with sharing myself online. My parents were displeased. We had several discussions/arguments about it. I tried to explain why it was important. The best way to learn is to teach.

“You must write about what you have to write about.” My multimedia piece was about second chances. My braided essay was about my place in my family and how I feel about it. Both topics mattered to me, but I chose to bring my braided essay to a more final form because I found it more compelling. I had thought about the my place in the family before. I had come to a conclusion, promptly changed it, and decided on another, changed… It called for writing. It wasn’t always easy – I care too much for it to have been easy. Still, I’m a better person for having written it. Done, it seems like a first chapter.

I have so many new choices for the second chapter: image, text, and sound, and all or any combination. I’m no longer fettered by words.

I understand better how media and text work together, and I have learned, mechanically, how to put them together.

Spring semester will start right after break, and I’ll be terribly, unhealthily busy like everyone else. Still, I think that I’ve taken several lessons from this class that I will actually use on an everyday basis. Truly. The most important is attention. I notice more about what’s going on around me now. I’m not sure how that started – perhaps just because you said it should. I did stranger studies, and I began to notice people. When we started to put image and words together, I began to write sentences in my head for images that I saw as I was walking around campus. I noticed the curve of a hand, the color of a bedspread in a way that I hadn’t before. I don’t think that it would be possible to turn off the ability to see what is around me. Even if I can’t find the time to sit down and write every day, I’ll still be noticing my world.

And last — “I hate grades.” Barbara, I understand that comment now, too! More than a distraction, grades seem actually to devalue what I learned and did in class. [Barbara’s email has the actual grade I assigned.] It makes me feel a little dirty, actually, to be assigning a grade to all this. I see your conundrum. As you know, I talk a lot in class. Really, I talk quite a bit in every class, not just yours. Mostly, though, I think of something to say because I know I should be speaking. That was not the case this J-term. I legitimately had something that I wanted to share or to which I wanted to respond when I spoke in class, which was often. For a two hour class that has absolutely nothing to do with my major, I’d say it was a wild success. It was a success anyway.


So it has to be authentic — something that I would actually want. The time it took me to actually figure out what I want makes me realize that I don’t really want much… A whole other story.

WANTED: Dance partner, American ballroom, near Middlebury, with transportation, dreamer.


Music: Life in the Fast Lane, The Eagles

WANTED: A The Way Things Work book, a map, and a book of random coupons.


Music: Island in the Sun, Weezer

Today we really started discovering how writing, sound, and image can be combined to make a product that is larger than the sum of any of its components. The goal, always, is to find media that work together to create something, not just reiterative media. For the exercise below, BG played 14 pieces of music and we wrote sentences that “inhabited” that music. This exercise followed one in which we moved in a way that inhabited the music. It was interesting, in both exercises, how similar different students’ interpretations were. Lots of nature and sex imagery for the piano and Latin music, respectively. when we were moving, the majority of us were ballerinas for the classical music and did some wiggly hip variations for the Latin stuff.

When BG posts the music that she played to inspire these sentences on the J-term writing blog, I’ll put a link HERE.

1. I’ve wanted it more than anything for so long — and I’ve finally begun to really try for it.

2. It was one of those rare days when you walk through the entire thing as though you owned the world.

3. I can think of things for and against everything.

4. The day I forgot to take a shower was when it all began.

5. He made a discovery and was only just beginning to understand its fantastic implications.

6. Who told you that humans can’t fly? let me show you. It’s like this, and then like this…

7. It seemed his body was not tied to the ground anymore, and they loved it.

8. I was backed into a corner, without knowing how I had gotten there, and I began to despair.

9. There was a malfunction in his power point presentation, which made class much more interesting.

10. Sometimes the little guys can sneak by, unnoticed.

11. All I really felt like doing was sitting and singing to myself — I wished the world were far away.

12. It was hot and sticky, and everyone was flirting and having a marvelous time.

13. The beast was huge and relentlessly walking toward me, but I saw something that looked like it might be good in his eye.

14. I can’t decide who I really want to be, but i think I have the gist of it.

For these pairs, I took the pictures, but I didn’t write the sentences. To see the pictures, click on the sentence.  It was MUCH more difficult than I expected to find 10 sentences that I really wish I had written.  Not because there aren’t 10, but because I had to pick only 10, and because it was really hard to remember where I had read things that I love. 

A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect. ~ Norton Juster

If we only live, we too will go to sea in a sieve, — to the hills of the Chankly Bore! ~Edward Lear

And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours. ~James Baldwin

Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff. ~Annie Dillard

I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. ~Annie Dillard. Also, look at this one. In a very different sort of way, I think that it fits…

It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of Jose Arcadio Buendia with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight. ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed. ~Kurt Vonnegut

In this case, the value of the prune lies not in its ontology, but in its ability to serve as a representative for a particular mindset. ~Brother Dear

Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t you bully me with your politeness! ~Yann Martel

For these pairs, I wrote the sentences, but I did not take the pictures.

The heart still pumps blood, even to imperfections.

They left the bedsheets wrinkled in their enthusiasm to embark on a journey together.

“Wrinkles give character,” he said, as he smiled and his eyes disappeared.

Sometimes, I feel ignorant.

How unexpected when our world disappears! — the only thing to do, I suppose, is make a new one.

Had we fallen, we would have been snatched up and shattered.

He was completely devoted to me, to the sky, and to his hatred.

He was a tease, but he was beautiful so I forgave him.

Because I’m not pushy enough, I never quite got enough food at those big group dinners. (To BG — not at yours though, don’t worry!)

I find, sometimes, a kindred spirit in the most unlikely place.

What I see in them: defeat, hope, abandonment, defiance, perseverance, order, adultery, silence, longing, and exuberance. In no particular order. Mwahaha