Tag Archives: participation

Pay Attention

Writing Books
“He could go anyplace he wanted with a sense of purpose. One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches and tramps around. Writing taught my father to pay attention…”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I avoided writing whenever possible in high school and celebrated upon testing out of both required English composition courses in college. And now I love to write. For whatever reason I cannot seem to pick up the curveball in this game called life.

When my dad died in 1994 I experienced a strong urge to write—the first time I wanted to write an essay—and the urge returned not long afterward when the moms and dads of my elementary school daughter’s local soccer team acted completely insane and nearly drove me bonkers.  Around then it occurred to me that I should not have prayed so fervently to test out of English composition.  On both occasions writing was my way of processing the confusion of life.

And then, on the eighth day, God created a host of things like home computers and Microsoft Word, grammar check and spell check, print-on-demand publishing and blogs.  I became a writer in spite of poor life decisions.  Sort of like how Donald Trump became the president.

Somewhere along the way I purchased and devoured two wonderful books on the craft of writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing by Stephen King.  Both are chock full of hilarious, practical, and straight-shooting advice on this creative outlet that I now adore.  It was Lamott, however, who zeroed in on what I love the most: Writing teaches me to pay attention.

I shouldn’t need anything to make me pay attention to life, but then again, maybe I do.  Maybe my cousin, Amy, is right when she claims that we all have a creative side that needs exercising, and maybe it is that need to create that leads us to lean into this thing called life, to have a reason to head out into it, to use all of our senses, to take notes on everything that is there.

Maybe.  That’s all I’m saying.  I just know that writing is now a part of who I am—and that I am thankful.

Active Participation

This is an important message for all teachers and all students at any stage in life. So, this is an important message for everyone.

I have a book of short stories by famed science fiction author, Theodore Sturgeon, simply because his last name is Sturgeon. This is the extent of my science fiction knowledge (and my juvenile approach to leisure reading). However, at a recent conference, I learned of Samuel R. Delany, another legend in the science fiction field. Delany is a prolific author and in my opinion a dead ringer for Santa Claus. He is also a literary critic and a professor, and it is his work as a professor that led me to bug you today.

Cathy Davidson shared the following description of a touching interview with Delany:

Whenever the great science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany teaches or is in a situation talking formally with others, he asks questions and has one requirement: everyone has to raise a hand. Everyone. Whether one knows the answer, doesn’t know, or doesn’t understand the question, he insists that every hand go up and he calls on someone to answer at random. They can then either offer an answer, articulate something about the question they don’t understand, or say they don’t know the answer and that they want to hear what Person X has to say about it. In any case, they represent themselves as present, as a participant, by that boldly raised hand (even if the answer is unknown) that says: I. Am. Here.

In the interview, Mr. Delany weeps as he talks about the deep, self-degrading personal toll of not raising a hand, of being indifferent or ashamed of not knowing, of being in a group and yet willing oneself not to participate (he sees it as a practice of self-erasure). Mr. Delany notes that every time one skulks behind indifference, one trains oneself not to know, not to be, not to be seen; one trains oneself into believing that not knowing the answer means you do not have a right to be heard.

I share this primarily because I work at a law school. Law school is an environment where “being called on” is a constant fear and avoidance is a survival technique. Professor Delany would cry puddles.

It is okay not to know an answer. In life, it is okay not to know an answer.

It is NOT okay to avoid participating in life because you do not know an answer.

Teachers, create an environment where everyone’s voice is both welcomed and heard. Students (i.e., the rest of us), join the conversation.

Mr. Shakespeare was all over it when he had Prince Hamlet identify the question as: To be, or not to be. For things to start to look up, raise your hand and choose “to be.”

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The video featuring Delany can be seen HERE.