As I look at my yearly tabulations on Excel, I see that if I write 1,185 words I will have averaged over 4,000 words per month on the year. Given the myriad other elements of 2016, it’s important to me that I achieve this meager milestone. (Hey, I’m already down to 1,139 words!) (1,132!)
I’m currently sitting at a table in Montpelier with five other writers, all on our laptops. It feels good. I’m helping out with the winter residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, my beloved alma mater, prepping for a two-day generative microfiction workshop we’ll be conducting this week before attending a lecture by Trinie Dalton that will most probably remind me how much I have yet to learn. I’ve just decided on the fly that I want to have students read my friend Jeff Rose’s year-end collected chili meditations for the workshop, and I encourage you to as well, even (or especially) if you’re not that into chili.
Wow, I already ran out of ideas before I even came to a real one. In desperation, I just posted a call for suggestions on Facebook. The first came from my friend Richard:
Neutrality aids the oppressor. And go!
This is something I’ve thought about quite a lot as a teacher and as a human this year. Here are a couple of examples, one from my teaching life and the other from my human life.
I team-teach most of my classes during the fall semester, as the writing professor attached to a thematic seminar taught by another faculty member. One partnership this semester was with an International Politics professor who was teaching a class on dystopia in modern media and mythology. She is incredibly intelligent and on a work visa from Bangladesh, and also not that much older than our students. As November 8 approached, a couple of students in our class let her know they were voting for Trump, one fairly belligerently and with a looming hint that the student hoped Trump might the professor’s status as an immigrant and a Muslim against her. All of the students mentioned a particular class experience to me in which my teaching partner challenged the class to elucidate their argument; the class seemed to think that her perspective was not “neutral” enough, and that mine might be more neutral, the implication seeming that I might be more neutral as a white non-immigrant.
After the election I traveled to Standing Rock, ostensibly with my Trump-supporting childhood friend. He backed out as I was traveling to Kansas to pick him up, but before that happened another friend sent me a message that "30 hours in a car with a Trump supporter would be less feasible for a lot of people who feel color, gender, or orientation difference."
As I was thinking about that, I also thought about how I arranged this trip before the election in part as an olive branch to my friend, who would be downcast after the country finally came to its senses. I have to say, I wasn’t entirely disappointed when my friend backed out, and I’m starting to see that a lot of (white) people, in pretense to neutrality, have given a con artist with no virtuous qualities and his brood of leisure-class insiders the keys to the White House, mostly out of a sense of perceived familiarity with a guy who shares no cultural or financial referents with them except his self-identification as a Winner.
In both of these cases, I think, neutrality is essentially identification as the cultural “winner” – the person who, in setting and defining the rules of the game(s), is most apt to control the outcomes. This is not neutrality, and this is not moral. This is violent, and oppressive. And it’s why I’ve decided it’s important that I, as one white male, am not neutral.
Ok, I’ve now eaten dinner and sat back down, and my Facebook thread has waaaaay more responses than I could possibly respond to in the waning hours before the new year. They require much more thoughtful discourse than I’m capable of right now with a beer at my writing table and fireworks booming outside my window, but I’ bet listing them might both queue them up for near-future development and push me over my word count:
- From my friend Michael: “The reductiveness of ‘teach a man to fish,’ using actual facts about fish” (This is a full-on essay waiting to happen.)
- From musical genius Chris McFarland: “Write about songs that should no longer be covered, i.e.: retired like a sports jersey number” (To start: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” One of the most powerful songs ever written, that’s been borrowed and bowdlerized into submission.)
- From my old buddy Joe: “The Kansas Jayhawks: A List of Players and Coaches I have Watched” (Ooh, I sense a winter series of blog posts coming on.) “…or alternately: Duke Players: A List of Whiners, Floppers and Cheats” (This one pretty much writes itself.)
- From my friend Heather: “Words made up by children” (I wish I could think of my children’s right now, and/or tap into the voluminous cloud on this one. It’s rich for development.)
- From my old friend Angie: “Why people make New Years resolutions but always break them” (I’m doing my part not to break my word count resolution.)
- From my former student Loren: “The pitfalls and bias of crowd sourcing information from a social group who, presumably, have very similar outlooks and opinions.” Did I mention she was one of my more smart alecky students?)
- From my old friend Sarah B.: “A spiritual or supernatural experience that you have had that doesn't fit into your current worldview” (Standing Rock. More on this soon.)
- From writing colleague Nicole: “'On anticipation,' or 'Snacks and Rituals,' or 'Dropping the Ball' (any ball you want).” (Ohohohoho. Three dandies.)
- From my friend Carrie: “Dreams!” (I want to only write about this subject from now until forever.)
- From writing colleague Sheree: “10 things to do in 2017 to honor the lives of the artists we lost in 2016”
- From my old friend Sarah G.: “The trend I have increasingly been made aware of in my adulthood of people and friends committing to an event and backing out at the last minute...students backing out of an artwork, lack of commitment.”
- From my Aunt Stacey: “Close your eyes and tell yourself a story. Happy New Year!” (You too, Aunt Stacey, on the story and the happy New Year!)
I’ll squirrel these away for future essays/blog posts, or if anyone wants to run with any of them, consider it my New Year’s gift to you.
And that, my friends, just put me over. Here's the evidence, on advice from my old friend Darin: “Why numbers matter and how to fudge them”: