Friday, September 6, 2013

Week 2. Here's a piece from my blog, describing some events

Working on isearch topics today, always stressful for students and teacher, but also exciting for me to deal in very rapid-fire fashion with many ideas. Students look in various areas for possible topics: work, health, leisure, relationships, big purchases, family, jobs, religion, career, travel, and so on. I try to steer them away from mere curiosity, which leads to those unserious high-school style information-search papers, and toward questions about topics that matter and connect to their lives and lead to papers with answers as opposed to random info.

Yesterday a student said that Topic X was the Most Important Thing in his life.

I remembered that today while walking the dogs. When we passed the construction site over on Swan Lake, Timmie found a half-bagel (slightly burned, cream cheese) someone must have tossed at lunch. Timmie carried that damned bagel for a half-hour, running in front of the pack, crouching down, dropping the bagel in front of him, and then looking around, saying, "Wow, look at this! A whole half-bagel and ALL MINE, suckers! Want to try taking it away from me?"

And as soon as anyone showed any interest, he'd snap it up and dance off. He was not interested in eating it. Food is not the most important thing in his life. The Most Important Thing to Timmie is Fun. Boys just wanna have fun, and nothing in the world is more fun than having some goodie no one else has and keeping it away from them.

After a while, Scoot began getting annoyed. Not that he wanted a bagel. This lad is all skin and bones; food is merely fuel (unless we're talking deer liver, which he is awful partial to.) But the idea of Timmie dancing off, going nyah-nyah started to get to him--because the Most Important Thing to Scoot is Keeping an Eye on Things, which includes hundreds of alert hours in the dooryard as well as monitoring punks and providing discipline where needed, which it clearly was in this case.

So, the next time Timmie dropped the bagel, Scoot was all over him, Scoot growling and snapping, Timmie yipping and apologizing for being such a jerk.

While all that was going on Chloe darted in, snatched the bagel, and moved off a foot or two. Chloe is the great survivor. She watches out for Chloe and would not, for example, dream of going outside in the rain to relieve herself. Why get wet tootsies when the bath mat makes an excellent pee receptacle? If two dogs are fighting, she waits til one is down and then goes in and bites the underdog! Safety first!

But safety and comfort are not the most important thing. The Most Important Thing to Chloe is Being Serious. Chloe is serious about her own safety and comfort, she is a tireless worker in tricks and training, because she is always dead-serious about earning her treats. Life is real and life is earnest, and she has no interest in jokes or frivolous levity.

And here she was seriously scarfing down that bagel. Timmie had carried it for a mile; she'd carried it two feet and no nonsense about pretending to let someone grab at it. She ate it, growling nearly nonstop, lest anyone think she was Not Serious.

Meanwhile, Maddie stood around looking vague. The Most Important Thing to Maddie is Looking for Love in all the wrong places, and this situation did not touch her inmost dog.

Wrong places? A wrong place to find love would be from me when I'm bent over trying to tie my shoes and she sees a licking opportunity, or when I'm praising Chloe and she squeezes between us, or when the UPS man arrives and she decides she really would love to go home with a man dressed in a brown uniform and who is that guy with the white beard anyway?

Maddie, next class we're going to sit you down and get a good isearch topic for you.

You'll notice that although a bagel is the star of this piece and travels quite a distance over the course of it and although there are four dogs also having featured roles, the essay in the end is not about dogs, isearches, teaching.

What its theme actually is I will leave to teachers of literature to discuss.

Here's what you must think about: the writing starts in a classroom and leads to that single-sentence second graf. The rest of the piece offers Most Important Thing examples and also describes the interaction of the four dogs.

There's your week 2! Actions observed and described.

The writer was not afraid to be discursive. He thought the image of Chloe pissing on a bathmat might amuse or horrify you, even though it had nothing directly to do with the events described. You get to picture Maddie offering her soul to the UPS man, again not directly relevant.

The writer did not fall into the trap of thinking that the events and actions were the point of the essay. Those actions must be described, but that is only the beginning of the writer's obligation. Those actions were described to make the dogs come alive, and he made the dogs come alive so he could loop back to his point about Important Things.

And finally notice that this short essay is like a nesting doll: the biggest doll is all about isearches, and within that is the doll about important things, and within that are the four little dog-dolls and descriptions of their character. And character led to the action, the innermost doll of all. Maybe that's a helpful way to think about the structure.

Now you may be panicked at this point. You may be asking yourself how you are supposed to figure all that stuff in and squeeze it into 667 words (I added an unnecessary word as I wrote so I could avoid the satanic 666!)?

Truth is I didn't think about anything at all as I sat down to write except the dog story I wanted to tell and how my dogs, just like people, have Important Things. All the rest of my commentary here is stuff I never thought about until today when I sat down to write this lecturette.

The goal for this week is to shoot for coherence: to not get lost, to keep to the track, but to find a track with a few twists in it too (but don't get lost!)

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