Middle school existentialism

I’ve been reading The Giver every year I’ve taught 8th grade English.  And every year I love it.  I love the conversations it provokes from my students; conversations about the importance of making your own choices, about safety versus freedom, about the meaning of life itself.  And inevitably we talk about death.

Those who live in the sheltered world of the Giver’s community know nothing of death.  They believe that people are “released” from the community and go to “Elsewhere”.  In my class we talk about denial, about grief, and about the role of religion in explaining the unknown.  It’s heavy stuff.  Today it provided this little gem of a conversation between two students.

Kid 1: Death is totally going to suck.

Kid 2: Yeah remember before you were born, it’s like that, nothing. Totally boring.

Kid 1: Yeah, it really sucks.

I’m sure there are scholars who could say it in a more complex way, but not nearly as entertaining and probably just as enlightening.

These are things

This is going to be a longer post.  WAIT!!!! Don’t click away just yet.  I promise it will also include life-changing wisdom and book recommendations.  At the very least, book recommendations.

The title of my blog; Ideas in Things figures into today’s post.  William Carlos Williams (so much depends on a red wheelbarrow -guy ) said this in a poem he wrote.  A lot of other people have taken it on as an idea about good writing.  What I take it to mean is that the things you write about; the purple plastic hairbrush with the rainbow sticker that your character always has in her purse, should tell you about the character more than any adjective or passage of description.

That said, I’ve just recently read three of Jennifer Egan’s books in reverse order from their publication.  I finished up her debut The Invisible Circus a week or so ago.  I find it fascinating to read an author this way and observe how their plots become more twisting and complex, their characters more multi-layered and original.  This was certainly true for Egan.  I enjoyed The Invisible Circus but found in unsurprising in the same way that sometimes in a predictable movie, I can picture the lines written on the script as the character recites them.  I noticed how often she described people’s faces falling in reaction to the events of the story; her face fell, his face sagged, her face sank imperceptibly, that sort of thing.  The book is good, but nowhere near what she achieves in her later books.   Once I read Egan’s brilliant National Book Award winning  A Visit from the Goon Squad and cosmic surrealist The Keep, I felt, in reading her debut, that I was witnessing the learning process that is inevitable with all art (with anything really).  It’s good to remember that art has a learning curve too and the writers I admire weren’t birthed with this breath-taking ability.

These are ideas (not so much things) I find hopeful and encouraging.

I love to learn, even if I kick and scream a little along the way

Big dork alert.  This post is about how I love to learn.  But it’s true and it’s a big part of why I love teaching.  I especially love to learn when things are easy for me (duh).  When things are hard, I sulk and avoid a bit more.  But in the end I’m usually happy I stuck with it.

Things I’ve been avoiding include any kind of New Year’s resolution type post.  I just don’t think I have anything to say on the matter that hasn’t been said better and before by someone else.

However, one goal I do have for this year (goal, not resolution) is to attend a writing conference.  I’ve participated in a number of writing conferences before and found them to be invaluable in one way or another.  A writing conference taught me what point of view really was, and what it meant in my writing.  Writing conferences taught me that you really can learn about your own writing through editing and discussing other people’s writing.   Writing conferences have made me appreciate the sheer delicious indulgence of devoting yourself completely to one subject for a week or a weekend or a day.

Something I’ve been learning lately, is that just because you write one book, it doesn’t make writing the next one any easier.  I was really hoping it would, but it turns out it’s just as hard but in a different way.  So now seems like a good time to do some learnin’.

Registration for the NESCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s) Spring conference opens in a couple weeks and I intend to sign myself up. (One of my writing idols -the incomparable Sara Zarr will be speaking.  If you haven’t read her books, you should.) Hopefully I’ll learn something, even if it means I kick and scream a little along the way.