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.