Sunday, May 13, 2012

Twenty Seven Worlds


Eden was never paradise. The scorched eluvium was proof that Mephistopheles was as much its master as anyone, if one would but dig. The virgin topsoil lied.


I sometimes wonder why so many places are named after saints. As if holiness could be inhabited without its deathly menace destroying even the most libidinous heart.


Dante, in his descent, came across a mausoleum of dead souls which had ceased to exist, as if this were a more horrible punishment than eternal torture.


Wherever I have gone, I have never ceased to carry with me homes I have never seen, let alone inhabited. Somewhere in Inverness Lady MacBeth still washes.


The past is no foreign country, nor is it fiction. It is a world much like our own, in which the men and women lived despite history.


John was also a poet. The origin of man was reason. The foundation was logic. Principally, there were stories. Translation, it seems, is the apotheosis of deception.


In Hawaii there is an island called Maui. Before it was covered in fake grass and tourists, it was fished from the ocean by an unsuspecting demigod.


Ought they to have called Venus by Aphrodite instead? The longer name makes up in grace what it loses in pith. Love is better graceful than pithy.


A symphony can be a love story, battling nations, or the birth of the universe. Even were it all of these, it might put someone to sleep.


The same infinite spaces that terrify Blaise Pascal inspire George Lucas to invent aliens with funny heads. But for each man, those infinite spaces are the same.


Perhaps so many movies are bland because no one bothered to come up with a better name than "movie." Or perhaps the causality is hard to decipher.


Virtual worlds are as real to those who live in them as fictional ones are to those who invent them. Middle Earth and Facebook matter in nonbeing.


I do not say that the soul exists, but I equally do not say that it does not exist. Not saying allows me to inhabit either world.


Supposing the Earth were a baseball, it would take a very large being indeed to grab and throw it. And what would such a being stand on?


A world can be as small as an automobile, if that automobile is sufficiently unusual. In particular, if it orbits a star and is actually a planet.


Euphemia is a dangerous place. Everything sounds more innocent than it is. Watching one's tongue can lead to a harsher world because soft words convey less meaning.


What would you say if I told you that Eden was not a place, but the psuedonym of a heavily tattoed adult actress of a kinky persuasion?


Jack Kerouac was right about women, beauty, and how you have to swing (and swing and so on). But he was wrong about the handkerchief and Buddhism.


Two of the wisest people I have known taught me two wise things. Good teachers know how to lie, and good scholars know how to choose failure.


Philosophers are good teachers and good scholars. In Artistotle's world nobody ever bothered to drop a boulder and a marble from a window. Maybe he actually knew.


I have driven through New Mexico on I-25, noticing that we make reservations for dinner and for the survivors of genocide. We prefer the former whenever possible.


If the objective of being is to achieve nonbeing, as our wantonly Westernized readings of the Buddha suggest, then Wagner may have been as wrong as Kerouac.


'On the other hand' is a phrase that proves that language has nothing to do with words, and everything to do with gesture, context, and Hegelian dialectic.


The best of the great poets have always been those who concealed beneath their flattery of the world equal measure of contempt and lust for its inhabitants.


In my dreams I have loved a woman in whom I saw a better me. Awake I love a woman in whom I see a better humanity.


Have you caught my meaning? I pray you, let me know if you have, for I fear I have once again tricked myself into believing I meant.


The difference between the living and the dead is that the living fabricate endless beautiful, fantastical, fictional worlds, while the dead compose all of our real ones.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Creative Writing, Draft Two

This summer I'll be teaching a Creative Writing class at Punahou for the second year in a row. Last year's class was a lot of fun, both because it gave me an opportunity to help my students tap into their creativity and because it compelled me to be creative as well. I'm looking forward to that opportunity this summer, especially as a kind of counter-balance to the kind of writing I have to do for my courses here. With a few notable exceptions, I'm rarely pushed to produce synthetically creative work as a PhD student, as analysis is the touchstone of academic discourse. That is not to condemn the academy by any means, but rather to point out that there are forms of writing it does not necessarily value, but which I still enjoy.

Last year I wrote a post about my curriculum writing process. I outlined the early stages of my backwards design process, the effort to determine an "enduring understanding" for my students, and the pitfalls of biting off too small or too big a goal. The results of this process I captured, at least in part, at the beginning of the course. I don't think I ever got around to writing a retrospective, but suffice to say the course was a blast, the students had a great time, and apparently I was well-behaved enough to be asked back this summer.

Which means that it's time to rewrite and revise. Writing a Creative Writing curriculum is a particularly recursive kind of activity, because the very principles you're trying to teach are - at least in part - the kinds of things you have to employ while constructing the course. Among these is the conviction that revision is necessary. For all of the successes in last year's course, there's so much that I want to do better, so many activities that I want to restructure, so many learning experiences that could be improved.

Perhaps the biggest weakness of my curriculum last summer was its overly workshop-y feel. That is, I treated the course more like a summer camp than a class. On some level this was appropriate, especially because I did select individual activities such that they all revolved around a small number of central themes. However, I believe that the summer school affords the opportunity for a more sustained engagement with a particular text or project than I attempted last year. With that in mind, I'm planning on expanding on a small set of activities I used last year concerning Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.

In addition to being one of my favorite books, Invisible Cities is a wonderful jumping-off point for creative writing. It stands at the intersection of poetry and prose, traditional storytelling and vignette, abstraction and minute, concrete detail. My students struggled to understand the bits of it we tried to read in class last year. Until I sent them out to campus and had them write their own vignettes about Punahou. Invisible Punahou has been percolating in my mind ever since, and I think this year's class will create it.

So we'll spend more than a day with Calvino. We'll read him carefully, try to understand what he's doing and how he's doing it, and, most importantly, create our own version of the story. The purpose of doing so is to collaboratively create, through sustained engagement with a particular text and with a series of writing tasks and activities, a story that describes the campus that these students have spent the better part of their academic lives wandering.

There will be other revisions to the course as well, though none so significant as this sustained project. I have revamped and reworded my central purposes, making them more forceful and more meaningful. I have cut activities that didn't work last year, expanded those that needed it, and substituted in some new ideas. Above all, I have made space to better walk the tightrope that all teachers must walk between careful design and student freedom. I plan to enforce sustained engagement with Calvino, but the project will proceed very much on my students' terms. They will be the authors of whatever it is we produce. They will wield the creative power.