Prepared by Delores Schweitzer
We started today’s class with a journal prompt by Grier. She explained how she uses and grades journals in her classes, emphasizing the importance of give students some choice and flexibility in how they approach the assignment, while still holding them to high expectations in length, specificity, and commitment to following directions. Grier brought a stack of folders that held postcards or pictures clipped from magazines and books. Typically, the students choose a folder (sometimes, she lets them choose a second time if they don’t like what they pick), and then they get instructions on what to write. Examples are:
• Write a letter trigger by the picture. Who is the letter to? Who from? What is it about?
• Write a story about what you see. Make sure there is a beginning, middle and end.
• Describe what you see in sentences (or brainstorm clusters, for younger students).
• Draw your own version of the picture and change some element. Then tell about that change.
• Use the picture as a bridge to a personal experience or other art (music, book, movie) or idea you have encountered in the news, science, the Bible, etc.
Grier invited us to choose whatever approach we wanted. Our pictures ranged from photos to portraits to landscapes, providing for lots of interesting stories.
Snacks were provided by Delores, featuring Latte Poundcake with coffee glaze (all decaf, so as not to give us the shakes), fruit tossed in lavender syrup, Fig Newtons and packages of trail mix. The recipe for the lavender syrup is as follows:
Boil one cup of water. Remove from heat. Steep two tablespoons of lavender flowers in the water for at least ten minutes. Strain flowers from water, or better still, use a tea ball to contain them while steeping. Reheat water to boiling, remove from heat, and add one cup of sugar, stirring until it is dissolved. Allow syrup to cool and store in the refrigerator. Use as a dressing for fruit salads – together, they make a great fruit compote to go on top of pancakes, pound cake or vanilla ice cream!
Next, we discussed our readings from In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal and On Writing Well by William Zinsser. We started with the stories from In Brief that we liked, considering the techniques that worked for us and why. Some of the favorites were “Swimming with Canoes,” “A Sense of Water,” “Bobcats,” and “The Indian Dog,” while none of us seemed particularly crazy about “The Missing Star.” We spoke at length about the virtues of creating short pieces that convey feelings and events in a variety of different ways, and how these stories might be used in a class situation. Upon reviewing our experience of the Zinsser book, we found it closer to a style manual than the Lott or King books. Having signed up for a memoir class, it is not surprising that we prefer Lott’s and King’s approaches to teaching the craft of writing with carefully chosen examples from their own lives. However, we agree that Zinsser has many valuable things to say about writing, and it is a text well-suited to college classes.
In today’s Mini Lesson, Amy asked us to visualize one particular object and write it down. After checking that we had all done this, she asked us to explain how our mothers were like the objects we chose. We did so, and then shared what we wrote. Amy explained that there was power in unexpected comparisons, as shown in some of the originality of pairings, and our challenge as writers is to avoid the schmaltzy and cliché, looking for original ways to present ideas and paint visual pictures for our readers. She also emphasized the importance of looking at the hard stuff – the unattractive parts of the people we are describing – because this lends credibility to our objectivity as storytellers.
After the Mini Lesson, Teri and Lynda went to the computer lab, as their King discussion was completed yesterday. Grier, Lilless and Delores met to plan the discussion of Bret Lott’s book on Thursday. After this, we spent the last hour of class writing and/or revising our memoirs.
Amy closed class with reminders of what to bring and how to prepare for the Beach House activities tomorrow.