It’s been weeks since my last post and I know that in blog land, that is a very, very long time. I’ve been marking student assignments and final exams, as well as dealing with my own end-of-year portfolios. Now that I’ve finished, I’ve caught the requisite end-of-term cold, so I’m forced to lie about and think. When I’m under the weather, I always think about Woolf and her essay “On Being Ill,” in which she states that the mind is esteemed as a civilizer of the universe. By allowing ourselves to become ill, the potential for further illness—for “wastes and deserts of the soul”—becomes possible.
It’s totally true. I’m wrung out after weeks of almost constant marking. I’m not someone who can just apply a time limit to each page. Sometimes, I’ll spend as long as forty minutes per assignment. I second-guess myself, I second-guess the writing, I second-guess myself. (Maybe I should say I third-, fourth-, and fifth-guess all of these things. You get the picture.) Thank goodness there’s an established marking criteria guide for me to reference. I emailed it out to my students and told them to self-mark their work so that they’d have an idea of where they’d land in terms of grades.
The issue is, after six years of workshops, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of assigning creative writing a grade. This incongruity has only happened since I started grad school, where we’re told not to worry about grades any longer and are hence liberated and free to take risks. At an undergrad level though, I feel as though there’s the assumption that students need to know the basics. That they have to know the rules in order to break them. Blah blah blah. I’ve heard myself say it a million times.
But why not liberate new writers sooner? Now that I’ve internalized the marking criteria guides, I can’t help but see them hovering over my own page like a stencil when I sit down to write. Not a good feeling. Marking has completely taken over my life – but not the marking up of any pages with new writing, unfortunately. Did my workshop students have similar experiences? I think I’m going to ask a couple of them to discuss their thoughts about introductory creative writing courses here. That’s what I’ll do.
And I’m going to return to Woolf again. (I know – it’s just a cold. What can I say? I like drama.) Woolf says illness is why we need poets and writers to create a heaven that we can access when we’re sick – that the sick grab at the instinctive, evocative quality of language because there aren’t words to express the experience of illness. So I’m going to bunker down with the latest Paul Vermeersch and Steven Heighton. We’ll see what happens.