Saturday, November 2, 2013

Week 11: Sample # 1

Here is a piece I wrote a few years ago for ENG 162. This is a combination of essay and class instructions. I just segue from one to the other and back without apology or concern.

Unless I flatter myself badly, this is a piece about writing in which I display some knowledge about writing and teaching writing and student psychology. Or maybe not.

Love it or leave it, it is one of your 262 samples, but just a sample--don't go off and do week 12 of ENG 162 for week 11 of ENG 262! For example, in this piece for 162, I say don't use the first person--that's something for the 162 people, but has nothing to do with you--your job is simply to see this as a sample for week 11 of writing displaying expertise.
Baseball legend Ty Cobb used to say, "Hit 'em where they ain't!" That meant shifting his stance, shortening his swing, guessing on the pitch, and drilling grounders through the infield into gaps left by defense, then legging out a single or double. It sure worked for him.

But when he suggested to even-greater baseball legend Ted Williams that he do the same, to take advantage of the extreme Williams shift that opened the whole left side of the field, Williams was horrified. He had his thing, he did his thing, his thing worked. No way was he going to mess with it, change things around just to punch out a dinky hit--so what if that's what it took to win a game!He was Ted Fucking Williams (in his autobio, he says that's how he thought of himself), and you'd never see him change anything! Ever!And he never did! (And one of the elements of the Bambino's Curse was always Ted F. Williams. Appropriate they named a tunnel after him, not a soaring bridge.

But that's a sidetrack, and the 2004 baseball season is over--gloriously over and the curse is no more!)This week you're going to hit 'em where they ain't.In other words, you have your strengths and the fielders try to guess where you'll hit, but you're gonna pull a Ty Cobb. You're going to fool them!I seem to be addicted to sports epigrams this morning: the same idea is expressed in boxing--'Box them if they're punchers, punch them if they're boxers!'

Okay, you all have convinced me you're punchers! You do excellently what I spend a whole semester trying to get my ENG 101 students to even consider--you use yourself and your experience, thoughts, feelings, observations to motor a piece along.You're Ted Williamses! And I'm philosophically inclined as a teacher to have you reinforce those strengths, to build on them, but I'm equally suspicious of myself, arguing that--c'mon, John, you're obliged to get those students to peek at the weaknesses too.

So, how would you do in a piece where you couldn't use yourself directly? Instead of offering prompts this week, I want to throw out this gauntlet: write two or three pieces where you don't show up as an authorial 'I.'Not an anonymous encyclopedia article. Not voiceless instructions. Not cookie-cutter prose. Not a ranting political editorial about some evil thing. Not smarmy greeting card goop that's the most anonymous stuff going. In fact, NOT something that sounds like anyone else but you, but something that somehow has you stamped all over it--but that is not directly about you, your life, your experience.

Tough, tricky? You bet, but there ought to be roses on the other side of all those thorns!And why not post them on your blog, and use the comments section here to react to the assignment, ok?

How about an example for Week 12? Sure!Well, actually, most of this Week 12 prompt/lecture/theme material--all the stuff about Ted F. Williams, Ty Cobb, bridges, tunnels, boxers--is an okay example of me writing about something outside me in a way (again I hope I don't flatter myself) that is inimitably me, even though I'm not in it directly. That's what you're working on this week.

By the way, this kind of writing could be considered a distancing technique. If it works right, the reader keeps trying to pull the curtain aside to see you. The reader says, 'What an intriguing voice! Who is this?' But while continuing to intrigue, you never quite offer an answer to that question--which keeps the reader reading....


  1. Please clarify: I'm trying to sort out "-don't go off and do week 12 of ENG 162 for ENG 262!"
    Are you looking for us to write several short pieces, or a single, longer one? I know I'm not caught up, so you'll probably be glad to get anything from me (ha), but how many?


  2. Also: authority without opinion? I'm finding that tough, partly because I have opinions about the topics I know well, and probably also because I haven't yet done the opinion piece and they're getting conflated in my mind.

    Any pointers for that?

  3. The piece that starts out with baseball and Ted F. Williams is a lecturette for my ENG 162. I included it because I thought it was a good sample of confident writing about teaching writing that displayed or embodied expertise without my direct presence on the page.

    I only expect one piece from you but would certainly entertain two short ones, if that's your preference.

    Authority without opinion? Where did I say that?

    Authoritative people tend to have opinions, and that is fine. (Of course, opinionated people are not always authoritiative, which is somewhat less fine....) But this is not primarily an opinion piece; it is an essay whose hallmark is its expertise. Opinion may come along for the ride, if it likes.

  4. Thanks. I know you didn't say authority without opinion. I just meant that I'm having trouble keeping personal pronouns out of my authoritative writing, all while trying not to let it sound like a mini, 500-word history thesis.

  5. I've got to get rid of that 162 stuff--for that, yes, I wanted people to try to avoid 'I'--but those weren't actually 262 instructions. Confusing--I'll do something different next semester. What would your Little Rock piece have looked like if you'd gone first person?

  6. I agree with Stephanie on her last comment.

  7. Feel free to put yourself in, your opinions in, and so on. The piece I included showed my expertise, nothing else. That I continue to include it in 262, despite knowing it does not work for you, shows my stupidity.