March 7th, 2007


Asana -- on the mat and on the page

Critiquing students' creative work is never easy on the old heart -- a truth that's exacerbated by "Distance Learning." 

This semester, one of my classes is being held entirely online. No up-close-and-personal witticisms or warm fuzzies, no sitting-in-a-circle pow-wows. Just a web site, a discussion board and a whole heap o' emails. Many of which are requests for revisions. 

I fear I'm getting a reputation as Mean Mrs. Red Pen.

I post announcements about the value of revision -- and the value of imperfect drafts. I reemphasize process. I give examples of all the writers in the world and all the drafts in their desk drawers. But try as I might to create the same safe space online as I do in a classroom, it must be a bit disarming for students to have their poetry deconstructed and shot back at them with no discernible human attached. 

Sometimes a student sends a revision with a wistful, "I hope this one is better." Others admit being overwhelmed by my requests to reconsider line breaks or word choice or imagery that's cliched. I scramble to repeat my reassurances.

So this morning, I'm in the middle of a yoga session, bent over sideways in the triangle pose, when my teacher presses her hand against my hip and rolls my shoulder open, and I think, "Maybe this is what I do for my writing students. I offer adjustments." 

And as the class moves forward, the comparison grows vivid. (I know -- not very yogic to let the mind wander this way. But it was enlightening!)

Annick moves around the room, leaning and tilting and tweaking each one us, so that we can move more deeply into the poses, more fully realize the beauty of the craft at hand. And isn't that our objective -- yours, mine, and all the Mean Mrs. Red Pens out there? To help our students dig a little deeper, wring as much out of the language as they can and, at the same time, relish the process?

I bring this thought back to my desk today, with the hope that some semblance of it will transcend the barriers of screens and cables, that my intention can be executed effortlessly, that my students enjoy the push.