Monday, October 21, 2013

What Others Have Said Re: Geo. C. + the CCSS Goes For Me 2

"Someone is always taking the joy out of life. For 20 years I proceed blissfully writing stories to keep the wolf from my door and to cause other people to forget for an hour or two the wolves at their doors and up pops [an] editor... and asks me for an article on the Tarzan theme."    
                      Edgar Rice Burroughs

 It's nearly 10 o'clock on the night before the morning upon which (I just realized) my October post is due to appear. A bit frayed and shopworn I am, having spent the last ten hours fussing with a perfectly speculative, i.e. crapshoot [May I say that?] nonfiction manuscript about a completely compelling (to me) subject, time, and place, none of which I shall divulge for fear of the Jinx. And, as I switch gears, wind up for the pitch, and otherwise warm to the subject at hand I confess that, though I was heartened by Deborah Heiligman's thoughtful and diverting consideration of George Clooney, I chew the lower lip a bit [Can one do that whilst biting the proverbial bullet?] at having had to set aside my obsession du jour to write about the Common Core. 

As Tanya Lee Stone pointed out, "standards committees can suck the creativity out of learning." And that great teachers and librarians have been clever prospectors for years, mining the treasures to be found in nonfiction literature. Me, I was reminded of a weary young teacher I met at conference in Texas years ago, at which the subject was testing: "Must they suck every last drop of joy out of the classroom?" Having crashed and burned into shamefaced cinders as a student teacher some four decades ago, my wholehearted admiration is for the creative Classroom Captains. Had I a hat on, I would reverently take it off to them.  I eventually found my way to writing and illustrating historical subjects: a joyous business. But I never gave one thought to curricular standards. As Jim Murphy quoted that which Steve Sheinkin noted re: Barbara Kerley's excellent and clarifying post, "I still hate the idea of thinking about standards."   But now it'so.m.g. nearly 11 o'clock. How did that old quill-scratcher, William Shakespeare put it? By way of Macbeth, Act I Scene 7? Ah: "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly."  Amen to THAT.

As nearly all of my fellow Inksters/bloggers have pointed out, far better than I, we read, write, research, rewrite, and read still more about stories, events, individuals that command our wonderings, our curious attentions. That tempt us to go gallivanting to a museum or some distant library where more answers may await us. So launch an obsession that we find ourselves hunched over a keyboard all day, fussing with just the right way to tell about it all, so the words sing, so the facts are solid and the story rings true. Frustrated if you have to set it aside even for an hour, just because there's a blogpost to write or some four-legger needs to go outside.  
"Yes, I know you're busy doing what-
ever it is you do, and it's the middle
of the night, but how 'bout a walk?" 
Busting to tell about it in such a way that editors will pay us some money, That young readers we may never meet will get why it was/is so cool or such a big deal. Or how it all lead to the way things are now. How it works. Or how it looked and felt at that particular time, at that particular place, with that set of individuals. What was it like. Why it happened in just that way. If you do all of that as you've learned to do, as your imagination and education has directed, as you pray you can still do, as your subject merits and your readers deserve, then your words cannot help but satisfy a worthy roster of curriculum standards. They'll be worth the precious time of some hardworking teacher, who can wrap his or her head around the eye-crossing language of committee-driven directives while juggling the endless needs of his or her paperwork-generating principal, school board, conflicted, tax-strapped, seed-corn-eating government; as well as his or her delightful/tender/cruel/bored/precious students and their parents plus all of their bumptious universe of challenges at their separate-but-manifestly-unequal homes..  

And so we beat on, ignoring the Sirens on the Rocks, whispering about books we'd like to read. The new autumn movies in the theaters. Or those most seductive things: projects one should not be doing. Planting bulbs. Plotting a murder mystery (mine usually involves a dead art director, but I digress) for Nanowrimo coming up. Listing what you'll pack in the camper of one's pickup truck, a la John Steinbeck before heading out to see.... But no: We nonfiction types, we creative cogs in the great literary-education complex have a lot of explaining to do. The standards are high, but the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

Depending on what day you ask, anyway.


Gretchen Woelfle said...

Loved your midnight-oil take on the dusty subject, Cheryl. I'm still pondering "shamefaced cinders!"

Cheryl Harness said...

Oh Gretchen Woelfle, don't you just adore the English language?