Saturday, May 12, 2012

Aftermath: Pobject reflects

A week or so ago I posted on my last object, "blackboard," putting a cap on our 30-day project.

I miss it.

It ain't over yet, though: we all agreed that once done we'd take some time to unpack and reflect on our experience in performing the exercise. How did we feel, how did we act, and what did we think, as we wrote? What did we find out about our objects, our selves, and each other, through our writing? What will we carry, from this project, with us into our future writing? And how will this project figure into our futures more generally?

I'll try to answer some of these questions here, though I'm sure it'll take a few more weeks/months/years to realize the full impact the project's had.

Well, where to begin?

First of all, I might say (with uncharacteristic immodesty) that I'm tremendously proud of the writing I did for this project. Several of the poems are among the best of those I've written lately, and I enjoyed the personal narratives as well. I wrote fewer pieces of short prose fiction than my friends...I believe "aloe" was my only one. Several of the poems had fictive elements, though many were based on actual people or events.

Second, I'm impressed (and humbled!) by the writing my friends did! Wow. I'd write my piece on a certain object, and a few days later one of K. or L. would pull the same object and write her piece and I'd think "gee, I wish I'd thought to say that!" Clearly they're both smart, sassy, and superlative writers, to an extent I might have guessed before but wouldn't have known. I had to find that out.

That's ultimately what's struck me most about this project: how quickly I came to know my friends more deeply through their own words. This quick acquaintance doesn't shock me much when it comes to L., for she and I just met about two months ago at the 2012 Conference on College Composition and Communication. It's understandable...even expected...that I'd learn a lot about her through such a collaborative project. On the other hand, I've known K. for some time now (I met her at the Carolinas Writing Program Administrators conference at Wildacres in September of 2008), and I found I learned just as much about her through 3 x 30 = 90 as I did about L.

Granted, we all did some soul-searching and soul-baring in these here posts...but all of that searching and baring was mediated by the objects about which we wrote. I didn't write about my childhood for the sake of writing about my childhood, but for the sake of a house key, a sandal, a vinyl record. These objects evoked memories and emotions I'd buried long before. Symbols of great potency and salience, they, each, held at once the premonitory power of an oracle and immeasurable talismanic protection.

How can we account for this? It makes sense, if we believe William Carlos Willams's famous dictum, "no ideas but in things!" We have a tendency to tokenize, to signify, to create connections. We are meaning-making machines, we human beings. We dislike disorder, and we imbue all that we see around us with structure of some sort. Every little thing around us means something, and if that meaning doesn't manifest itself of its own accord, we find meaning where meaning may not at first be.

How healthy is this? I found myself wondering as I wrote this last paragraph. Must everything mean something? Might we be better off just letting things be the things they are? There's likely more meaning in this than in any meaning we might impose.

The project's not going away anytime soon. The three of us have plans to talk about our experience at this coming September's North Carolina English Teachers Association conference in Charlotte. I've already started to spread the word about the project's community-building efficacy: a couple of days ago I included a description of the project (and an 8-or-so-minute miniature version of it) in one of the sessions I led for a communication-across-the-curriculum workshop my friend Jean put on for her faculty at UNC-Charlotte. It went over very well there, and several faculty indicated they'd give it a shot in their classes this coming term. I think I'll do the same, as an ice-breaking exercise on the first day of class, and as a reflective piece to refocus reflective energy at appropriate points throughout the semester.

To be continued, I'm sure, as more ideas come...

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