The 13th week of class is the time to harangue now-familiar students to get cracking on those research-paper rough drafts, most definitely not the time for recapping the semester's beginning assignment. And yet, as always, I find myself about this time looking ahead (my own procrastination strategy), looking forward to the fresh start that January will bring with its rosters of strangers' names.
Classmate snapshot (original version). Pick a representative moment in yr life, a tiny slice no more than a minute or two that captures some aspect of yr life or personality that you'd like to share. Maybe you were driving through Dunkin Donuts this morning for yr daily French vanilla iced coffee, singing along to whoever-it-is on yr car stereo, as you drove up to the window momentarily embarrassed at the mound of crumpled McDonald's bags on the floor of yr car. Maybe you were sitting on yr new overstuffed couch at 2 am, watching Casablanca for the thirty-eighth time, with a tub of pistachio ice cream on yr lap. Maybe you were standing at the kitchen stove trying to cook, with yr two-year-old clinging to yr knees and yr preschoolers tearing lettuce at the kitchen table. (Contrary to my own obsessions, food need not be involved.) Maybe you were at work. What were you doing? Who else was there? What do yr surroundings look like? Or maybe you're involved in one of yr many hobbies. Imagine this moment as a snapshot (or a very short clip of film).
Now pair up with another student. Introduce yourselves. Each of you must interview the other, asking about his/her snapshot moment. If the snapshot is not clear in yr mind, ask questions to sharpen the picture. Take notes. Remember the tools of the fiction writer: setting, character, action, dialogue (a line or two can "snap" a character into life). For homework, write one paragraph that gives the reader this snapshot of yr classmate in words. (If you get home and find that yr paragraph is thin and skimpy, make something up.)
- to get students talking to each other
- to get an initial portrait gallery of the class (for semesters when I'm using a CMS or blogs, I ask students to post these paragraphs--so useful for orientation to technology involved as well)
- to obtain initial writing sample for informal assessment of writing "levels"
- to talk about specific details (evaluating which details are "best," i.e., most revealing) , showing not telling, revision, and all that beginning-of-semester jazz (to be reprised throughout)
Classmate snapshot (most recent version): Same as above, except now you must be engaged in the writing process. This need not be in school (in fact, I'd encourage you to think of any personally meaningful writing you've done, recently or from sometime in yr childhood, or you may choose some writing that's a routine part of yr life): text-messages on yr cell phone, letters to yr brother or sister in Iraq, IMs on computer, grocery lists, journal entries or song lyrics, notes during study hall (or class), writing assignments that were especially challenging or rewarding or successful, orders jotted down during yr shift at the diner or some other work-related writing, letters to Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Be sure to include details about the medium and/or writing utensils involved, the occasion for the writing, the intended audience, yr feelings while writing, something of yr process as you composed, yr surroundings, perhaps a snippet or two of quotation as you remember or imagine.
In the midst of my stacks of essays to grade, I need to remember that I too write, wrote, have written, and I assign myself the snapshot-of-writer assignment:
THE NATURALIST OFFERS A DEFENSE
Though knowledge may console, I've found that, lit
by sorrow, real or conured neon scars,
it doesn't help to know the way things fit
together: double helix, patterned stars,
or urban grid of cells, their elegance
beyond belief. Better I find to seek
the maudlin, crazed connectives: somber dance
of insect caught in web, syrupy reek
of rotting lily, sudden swoop of hawk
against the bricks. It seems, as ruin arrives,
we manage to find, mute as weather rock,
an emblem for our frail and ciphered lives.
For this we need to know of natural things:
hollow bones of birds, easily broken wings.