Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Murder of Crows

I passed the murder of crows just now, while they were at their confab in Harmon Park. The meeting broke up as I walked past; perhaps they were discussing the alleged GSHS irregularities. I'll probably never know.

Last night we did the writerly thing and had a few drinks. Mostly we used the opportunity to tease Rebecca because she thinks Agymah and I do not talk nearly enough. I told her we chatter like anything the rest of the time, we're just quiet around her. But it did lead to a discussion about performance and just how bad many academics are at it. Funny, you'd think that people who have to be in front of an audience daily would become wonderful performers. Despite all arguments about pedagogy, the bottom line is we need to have a little ham to coax our students into learning. I told the story of my first Kalamazoo (the first image, of course, was stopping at the entrance to Valley III because there was a stretcher coming out with a collapsed medievalist on it; "wow," I thought, "must be a brutal conference") where I went to my very first medieval panel: humor in the Old Norse sagas. I thought it was going to be wonderful--after all, the sagas are filled with that mordant humor, a biting line usually followed by "and then he fell down dead." I figured the panel was going to be great.


It was the most tedious 90 minutes I think I may have ever spent. Not only were the papers long and lacking insight, but the readers droned on and on in buzzing monotones. How difficult is it to be a little animated? It's one thing when you're new to the work and nervous, but these were senior scholars.

So last night we all talked about how much fun it is to do a reading, to respond to an audience, to feel that electricity (or not! even a bad reading experience is interesting). Why wouldn't you want to shine? But I do remember my first day in a class room, feeling sweat ooze from every pore--why oh why did I wear that silk shirt that quickly became stuck to my dripping back. They all could tell, surely, that I had no idea what I was doing! But I went back the second day and kept struggling, until that wonderful day that I got stuck at the DMV. I rushed into class with bare minutes to spare, a hasty lesson plan concocted on the winding road from Willimantic slapped down on a sheet of paper -- and I had the best class ever. In retrospect I realize why: it was the first class where I made the students do most of the work. I had over-prepared every day before that, terrified that I wouldn't be ready for some picky, probing question that never came.

All I needed to do was help them figure it out for themselves--and we all had fun because of it.

Sometimes doing less yields more. I have to rely on the muses to be there, but I have found that they are generally hovering nearby. If I listen closely and pay attention, really be in the present moment, the words flow, the thoughts arise, and everything goes fine.

I think I'm going to go do less now--it's a beautiful day.


C. Margery Kempe said...

Oh, and don't forget to check out the Lovely County Citizen's HoraEscopes (no, that's not my bad typing).

C. Margery Kempe said...

Speaking of animal groupings, this is the best: a smack of jellyfish!