Monday, September 1, 2014

What I Learned from Teaching My Summer Course: the Garden of Big Ideas


            It is hard to stand up and talk coherently for over an hour.
            You can over-prepare and still forget everything you planned to say and start babbling when the brain gets tired.
            Not as many people have read "Pride & Prejudice" as someone like me assumes. ('Someone like me'? Who dat?) It should be no cause for astonishment, then, to discover that few harbor an abiding admiration for the novel's famous first line.
            There is no good time to drive to Cape Cod on a Friday in August.
            If you state in a pre-course email 'Feel free to read these excerpts and print out copies to refer to in class,' some will feel free not to.
            Your printer will run out of both paper and inkjet the morning of the course when it occurs to you to print out extra copies.
            You think it would be a good idea to listen to relaxing music or an inspiring piece of literature on the long stop-and-go drive to the writer's conference. But none of your inspiring music has made it into the car and the book on CDs you took out from the library is a piece of junk.
            The city of Hyannis has many roads, both large and small, that serve utterly no purpose in taking you to your destination.
            Many other people are having a busy August weekend.
            It is very easy to allow very important statements prepared in advance to slip from your memory when the time has come to declare them to the world. Or have I said this before?
            Nobody even knows anybody who has ever heard of "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf. It is easy to forget to ask, "Have anyone seen the movie 'The Hours'?"
            At least one other person in the universe can match the sentence "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice" to the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude." Whew.
            On the other hand, few people are impressed by the connection between the famous first sentence "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" by Tolstoi and the sentence "The place where you grow up is always the most boring place in the world. The place you leave behind is a source of endless fascination"... by, ahem, yours truly.
            When the Writing Conference session you have been preparing for for weeks is over, you will feel an astonishing sensation of relief.
            At the session's end some participants will come up to thank you for the course, including one or two you didn't expect it from, and say complimentary things about your choice of excerpts.
            Some of the others will sneak out the door before the session is actually over. These will unfortunately will miss the opportunity to fill out the course evaluation forms, on account of being gone by the time the instructor passes them out.
            When one of the more engaged participants raises his hand and observes, "So is it correct to sum up what you're saying as 'you only get one chance to make a first impression?'" you will think hard for a moment and then respond with an enthusiastic "Yes! Yes! See you all next year!"