when class talk gets “awk”

Dear Writing Journal,

Since we’re taking a minute as a class to freewrite our feelings and lives and stuff like that…. and moreover recover, I figured I’d give this notebook a whirl again. Students must see their teachers write, after all.

Year 25 of teaching has probably been the most interesting. My class is not exemplary. The students don’t read or come with pens. The prep kids talk of Internet memes and wear Uggs. (You can’t take that seriously.) The punks with beanies like to see how many swear words they can cram in a sentence. (Now, I’m not a prudish old codger who can’t appreciate the craftsmanship of language, but frankly, the way these kids talk… not a lick of poetry.) And of course, the students that want to succeed… they’re in my earlier class.

It is an interesting class, though… One of the guys–we’ll call him Darryl–is a hulking specimen of a human being. His size is simply impossible to ignore. His goal in life is to make it onto the San Francisco SWAT team. Two weeks ago, I came in to see him demonstrating the strangest push-up I’d ever seen in my life. He didn’t use his arms; he pushed up from the floor by the strength of his overlarge pectorals.

The students look like shrimps next to him, shriveled-up and wide-eyed. He strikes a sort of awe verging on fear in them, but they like to ask him questions, and like a giant dog surrounded by toddlers, he generally tolerates their interest with great patience.

“How long have you been training?”

“How many times have you been deployed?”

“What’s the average ab size of a SWAT team guy?”

If my teacherly side was not so intent on getting the kids to like As I Lay Dying, or at least be able to dialogue intelligently with it, I would have asked him a few questions myself. Like:

“How would you tailor your workout regimen for a slightly overweight sixty-year-old man?”

“Can you do P90X without breaking a sweat?”

“What exact number of pushups will give you arms like that?”

Darryl does give interesting answers.

Like today.

As I waited for the stragglers of the herd to crawl inside my classroom, I sat at my desk and listened in on the usual talk.

“Can you lift your own body weight?”

Darryl answered.

“What mileage can you run?”

He answered.

“What’s the longest distance you’ve ever hit?”

Darryl paused. His eyes squinted with thought.

Slowly, he answered, “I would say…about 1000 meters.”

There was a collective gasp. Everyone’s eyes widened. Some of them leaned forward. The ability of their god…inspiring!…marvelous!

Darryl looked unperturbed, only still thoughtful.

He added, “At first, I thought I’d missed…”

They nodded. They listened intently.

“…but then he fell down.”

Someone’s pen dropped.

They turned their glazed eyes to me.

In a heartbeaty moment, “sniper” had taken on a whole new meaning.

Jolting up from behind my desk, I commanded them to journal. I then cranked The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe and jammed START on the timer.

Let’s just be honest. There’s no following that up with Faulkner.

*”awk” — a commonly-used teacher annotation in the margins of student papers meaning “awkward” (e.g. “awk” wording, sentence structure, content…)

on writing

writers’ weird ways

Faulkner wrote on walls.

Melville locked himself in hotel rooms.

Hemingway stood, typing on a shelf the whole time.

Kerouac inscribed scrolls.

Thompson shot at his typewriter.

Sexton noveled in two weeks, out one for doctors and despair.

Hugo wrote naked.

Allen long-handed on legal pads.

Lewis methodologized from bathroom breaks to beers.

Fellow wordsters:

Should we, like Ibsen, frame our enemies’ faces upon the wall to watch as we write?

Should we mechanize words only on old typewriters?

Should we drink ’til we die?

How to write but to write,

But by writing breed more writing and more liking for writing?

We must, I suppose, find our own weird ways.

So I say:

.just write.