Saturday, September 19, 2009

For students everywhere

Nothing sucks the wind out of my spinnaker faster than arriving in a classroom, all excited about a new adventure, and having to listen to a teacher drone for an hour. Especially when I’m the teacher.

And yet that’s what I do. I feel obliged to set out the ground rules for those who need guidelines, establish dates for those who need timetables, describe the process for those who need the big picture.

“Assignment One yap yap yap, due blah blah blah, consequences yada yada yada.”

I’m like a film director who can’t come up with anything better than an aerial shot of the Empress Hotel, Fan Tan Alley and Butchart Gardens to establish that the movie’s set in Victoria.

In contrast, as Kinky Boots opens, a child alone in the cold tries on a woman’s shoes and dances. The rest of the film shows two men searching for their places in the world and finding their right livelihoods in high heels and lasts.

The first time or three that I watched The Big Easy, I thought the bird’s-eye view of rivers and bayous was nothing more than boring background for the opening credits. Now I know that water pours through the story, propelling it in the same way it pumps the lifeblood of Louisiana.

A flashback within a flashback opens Casino Royale, showing the beginning of James Bond’s career as a double-0 agent and portraying him as the blunt instrument that M later calls him and as an efficient killer. Through the rest of the film, of course, he proves to be both. And if you’d rather examine the wonderful graphics of the credit sequence, the artist has illustrated the same themes using, of course, playing card designs. Clubs. Guns firing fine-bladed spades that shatter a person into a spray of hearts.

These openings do so much more than establish location.

They don’t Tell, they Show.

And that’s one of the cardinal rules of writing, the one that I share with my students on the first day – after I’ve dragged them through an hour of Tedious Telling.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining,” I quote Anton Chekhov. “Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

He takes my breath away, Chekhov does, and with it fills my sails.

Now it’s up to me to use that power to create a glinting stream to open next term’s writing course. Something that embodies skill, teamwork, timing, grace, energy and of course a symbol of our West Coast setting.

I’m thinking we’ll learn a gumboot dance.

1 comment:

  1. This post reminded me of when I working with middle school students in an assembly. They would plead with me not to become 'a talking head.' And I tried my best.

    As you know - collaboration and having students share their knowledge is the way to go.