Thursday, July 08, 2010

Today I was helping a student work through some ideas for an essay on Gianni Versace, helping her come up a with thesis from the three pages she brought in. I couldn't quite read her mind or her words well enough to understand the larger point driving her essay, and in fact, as is the case with a lot of reluctantly written first drafts, she didn't know her larger point either. This was a problem. One-on-one writing work can be tricky because it's tempting to do the work for the student, i.e. tell them what they should be writing about. It's easy and it's fast. Some students want you do to this, some do not. Personally, I don't want to write an essay about Gianni Versace so as, I have to find a way to help the student think through her own ideas.

What doesn't work is beginning with a big idea: the illusion that everybody knows what they're going to do before they do it. Ninety-five percent of everything that's appeared on this blog I didn't mean to write. I mean, sometimes I'll have a first sentence in mind, or an idea that I'm trying to get to, but usually once I get going I completely forget why I started and am just looking for a good place to stop. Then again (from a Liz Waldner poem,
I fell in love when she said,
"any insect creatures' babies make me disgusted."

For these people, they just open their mouths
and the world is there.
"Wants to Sit in the Big Chair. Does.") Sure there are some people who have big ideas on cue, but most of the students I work with don't. And even if they do, there's just as many problems supporting it, usually leading one to modify or abandon it and start back at the beginning anyway.

What seemed helpful was simple description of the image in front of us: what are these patterns called, how does the shape of the earrings relate to the shape of the dress, what associations come up when looking at this set of colors; simply, where does our attention go? What is there? What do we see? Starting at this point we were able to build an idea, rather than imposing one from the top down. Observing and then pooling all our observations until commonalities emerge. A kind of research. Here, in this moment, all these questions of what to talk about and how to write, disappear and we are working, finally.