Sometimes the downy birds stir

11 09 2017

Rapid-fire grading of students’ discussion fora (I give them full credit if they do enough writing and it has anything to do with the topic at hand, so a close read isn’t necessary here) always tosses ideas around: little wind-storms of other people’s associations that I try to be responsible about ignoring, because the clock is always ticking, but it doesn’t always work.  Sometimes–at least three or four times per assignment–I don’t even know I’m doing it until, yikes, I have a Google window open and I’m investigating some claim, learning whether an oddly spelled word is really a word (it’s usually a medical term used metaphorically by a nursing major), or looking up a concept I recognize but I’m suddenly sure I don’t know enough about.  This morning, I skipped over to one window to fact-check a student’s claim about the differences in time-spent-talking by men vs. women, found a useful article, linked it to her, graded a few more responses, and was derailed by another woman’s description of how she had a teacher once who was startlingly critical of her “purple prose” and red-marked her papers into poppy fields.  I knew the term (a teen in the early 90s, I think I first researched it in response to that EMF song “Unbelievable”), but I wanted to see what the actual criticism was, what the tipping point was (considered to be) between prose being beautifully descriptive and pointlessly purple.  Of course there isn’t one; like all things artistic, prosody is subjective in its ability to please or aggravate its readers.  But I found the origin story (the clock is still ticking, so I might add it later, but I still have an awful lot of forum responses to read in the next 20 minutes!) and, as I poked around, stumbled into a brief writing-lesson blog post whose writer challenged her readers to write the purplest, prosiest, nothing-happening-est follow-up to “it was a dark and stormy night” that they could manage.  Someone took her up on it, dripping velvet-rich description of a carriage ride with no clear destination over a good two or three pages worth of screen-space, and then a chorus of other writers spoke up to talk about how pretty it was and how much fun to read, even if it didn’t go anywhere, and even if it was an illustration of what not to do, and I stopped skimming, just for a moment, and closed my eyes, and breathed.

“This,” I thought.  I’ve missed this.  Writing for the sake of writing.  Reading/ listening to people talking about writing–not about what’s wrong with their semicolons and whether or not they’re writing a you-centered message that will effectively motivate the audience to whom they’re trying to sell something, but about writing for art, for story, for soul.

I love my family.  I am infinitely grateful for my job.  But I really, really miss that sense of quiet that comes from being able to reflect until the right words come, reflect on others’ words, share words about words, and find those little places of magic that lift you with their transparent tiny wings, wings so small you’ll miss them if you can’t seek out the quiet and just listen, breathe, jot a word or two down, and read.

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