At my college, we offer regular, semester-length classes (sixteen weeks) along with a different option: the eight-week class. The eight-week option was created to help our students pack as much learnin’ as possible into the shortest reasonable time frame.

One would be justified in having reservations about the eight-week classes, as our students often have below-college-level reading and writing skills, so the logic of speeding up the learning for students who struggle even in “relaxed” courses might be flawed. On the other hand, the eight-week classes often work really well, as their accelerated pace makes for a rhythm of “BAM, BAM, BAM” when it comes to deadlines and getting things done. Just when a student might be considering taking a breather and thusly screwing up his/her grade, the class is over. Before they can make a mess of it, the thing is done.

At any rate, we just passed mid-term, which means a bunch of late-start eight-week classes began a few weeks ago. In my late-start section of freshman composition, students had to jump into their first essay, the narrative, on the first day of class. This was a rather dizzying assignment when they didn’t even know each other, or me, yet.

To get us going both with introductions and finding topics for the narrative, I asked them to post brainstorms of at least ten significant moments in their lives, moments that could potentially work as topics for their narratives at the same time they shared a bit of themselves with the class as a whole.

Below is the example I provided; I urged students to focus in on specific moments rather than broad swathes of time, telling them a micro-moment yields a more original and interesting final paper.

Here are my micro-moments:

–When I was seven, my sister came to me and whispered, almost threateningly, “I know something you don’t. Mom and Dad didn’t even ask you, but they signed you up for piano lessons. You start next week.”

–When I was fifteen, feeling awkward and like I didn’t know how to fit in at my high school, I joined the speech & debate team. Mostly, I joined because I had a crush on a guy (guess who was gay, and I didn’t know it?). I ended up dating this guy for a year-and-a-half. We were really good at owning the floor during extended dance remixes of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.”

–When I was eighteen, I went away to college, more than a thousand blissful miles from my Montana home. The first week at college, every time I went through the cafeteria line, I was left thinking, “I’m confused. There’s no beef entree. I see turkey. I see salad. I see lasagne. But where’s the beef?”

–When I was twenty-one and done with college, I decided to take a year of Not Pursuing Serious Employment. I worked for a couple months as a temp in big buildings in downtown Minneapolis before taking a job as a nanny. Sometimes I would go out dancing at The Saloon on Hennepin Avenue (the gifts of my high school gay boyfriend continued to pay off!) and realize, the next day as I held the baby and tried to amuse the preschooler, that I was still detoxifying from the previous evening’s partying. Ah, youth.

–When I was twenty-two, I took a few months to drive around the country. I saw where Buddy Holly’s plane went down; I visited Graceland; I stood in The Alamo. One night, in a campground in Hot Springs, Arkansas, it rained and rained all night long, and since I was in a $24 tent from K-Mart, the rain came right through the fabric. By morning, I was sleeping in more than an inch of sop. At that moment, I started to consider graduate school as a means of eventually making a liveable wage.

–Before starting graduate school, I lived for six months in the mountains outside Boulder, Colorado, in a log cabin with two women, a ferret, and a wolf. The wolf was cool, even though he killed every hummingbird that came to our feeders (until we clued in and raised the feeders a few more feet). Because I hate rodential things, life with a ferret was challenging. One night, when I was home alone, the thing slipped its cage and tried to come into my room. Because I didn’t have a door but rather an “opening,” I had to scream a lot and stack chairs to block things up. The ferret slid right through, at which point I fled and went out to sleep in my car for five hours, until my roommates came home. When I woke up at 2 in the morning, stiff, cold, crumpled in the back of my Honda Accord, I realized, indeed, it was time to grow up.

–When I was twenty-four, I finished graduate school, with a Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language. The practical experience I’d gained, though, was teaching composition, which I’d done as part of a teaching assistanship. So I got a job at the U of Colorado in Colorado Springs–a beautiful and conservative town. Three years later, after reading one too many student papers that argued people with AIDS deserved the disease, I moved.

–At twenty-nine, I got a job in southern Minnesota and entered community college teaching. I was living in the town where they make Spam, so the place sometimes reeked of cooking pig parts. During these years, I saw the stresses of small town living, as many of my students were still burning from the big strike that had taken place at the Hormel plant years before. One day, when I tried to put a class of students into groups to work together, kids of “labor” refused to work with kids of “management” parents.

–When I was thirty-one, my cousin and I, hanging out together on Thanksgiving Day, stood next to a pick-up truck bed full of nine dead deer. As their tongues lolled out, my cousin asked me if he could act as my “agent in the field” and set me up with a guy he knew.

–Less than a year later, I married that guy. A few weeks before the ceremony, I had miscarried one of the twins I was carrying. I sobbed with a whole lot of emotion throughout the vows.

–Thirteen years after that, I moaned when Duluth Public Schools closed due to cold temperatures. How to get through the fifth day in a row, in January, with two kids suffering from The Serious Goofies? We played raquetball at the Y; we went to the library; we had a friend come over. It was, essentially, a special day, but a day like any other.


Obviously, I could have gone on and on, what with limitless babbling being one of my superpowers.

So, now:

Spill. Let me in to your life, Petunia. Even if I’ve been reading your blog for years, I’ll bet there are things I don’t know about you.

What micro-moments-of-greater-significance would you have shared?







17 responses to “Narrative”

  1. Friko Avatar

    Before I was even half way through I thought: that’s one for me, when I can’t think of anything to blog about, like now. Good, I don’t even need to ask permission.

    Micro-moments-of-greater-significance, aren’t they what life is all about? Those moments when we turn an unexpected corner, when we learn the true nature of the person we trusted, when we do something for the first time, when a passage in a book provides sudden illumination on a problem we have battled for ever, etc.

    Thanks Jocelyn. Whatever became of your blog-writing-class?

    1. Jocelyn Avatar

      I look forward to reading your post, Friko!

      The Writing for Social Media class ran last August-December and was great fun, with lots of blogging, tweeting, and updating. I will teach it again this upcoming fall. Thanks for asking!

  2. Erin Avatar

    I’m not ignoring your request…just still thinking.

  3. Choochoo Avatar

    I lay in bed, late one night, trying to think of a meaningful micro moment, and couldn’t come up with anything. Eventually, I started to think that maybe I’m mentally handicapped. Then my thoughts were interrupted by loud scraping noises from downstairs. I went to check. Turns out Pooch had somehow managed to drop a treat underneath the misters guitar amplifier, and was now trying to get it by smacking the amplifier as hard as she could. Retrieving the treat for a now ecstatic Pooch, I realised that I will alway be a great genius to someone out there.

  4. kmkat Avatar

    Well, there was the time when I hosted the post-party for everyone at my company after our annual Christmas party (~23 employees plus significant others; it was a holding company for other companies employing ~3,000 people; CEO was a prominent figure in Mpls business and society).

    Which micro-moment to describe? The one where Smokey built a fire in the fireplace in preparation for everyone arriving… and forgot to open the flue? The house filled with smoke, we had to open all the windows (this was mid-December in Mpls), and so everyone had to enjoy our post-party in their coats in our tiny back den, the only room with a door to close it off from the rest of the smokey house.

    Or should I mention that I had made mulled wine (although I hadn’t counted on there being that many people) in an early version of an Air Pot… and it erupted with hot red wine all over the controller of the company?

    Or should I talk about how I had made snackies of crackers and cheese and prosciutto-wrapped melon slices and arranged them with loving care on the dining room table… and while we were all in the back den the cat sampled them and proceeded to hurl on the table from the richness of the fare? (And I wondered (me in the back den) why no one was partaking of my delicious snackies)

    My life is long enough that I have a nice backlog of micro-moments 🙂

    1. Jocelyn Avatar

      I’m hoping you give me even more of this wonderfulness in your Monday post!

  5. chlost Avatar

    May I also do this as a blog post? It will take me a while to put this together in my mind. I love yours. I didn’t know you were from Montana. As we drive to Glacier in the summers, we pass so many teensy tiny rural towns which are no more than a few grain elevators along the railroad. I wonder how different our children’s lives-and ours-would have been had they grown up there. A different world.

    1. Jocelyn Avatar

      I would be beyond delighted if you did do it in a post. There’s something about the accumulated power of random moments that introduces us to each other in whole new ways, eh?

  6. lime Avatar

    micro-moments of greater significance. i think you have given me fodder for a blog post that shall be a more positive read than the furious screed i was envisioning. i believe i shall do that.

  7. lime Avatar

    it’s up now. on a different day i may have shared different moments but for today, these are what came to mind.

  8. ilyanna Avatar

    I didn’t quite achieve a marrative arc like you, but I did manage to find a few moments to share. I’d love to take your class some day *sigh*

  9. Maria Avatar

    I worry about things way too much. Like…yesterday…my partner and I went to a park by our home and while she jogged, I sat at a picnic table soaking up the sun near the playground where I used to take my daughter. I looked up, saw some lovely trees and began taking photos of them with my cell phone. Then, I started thinking that people would think I was creepy, one of those people who go to parks and take photos of children who aren’t their own. So, I sent texts to several people and waxed poetic about trees. I worried that people would think I was pretending to text, but secretly taking photos of their children, so I put the phone away, picked up the book I brought and pretended to read. I did this while several shutterbugs around me were happily taking nature photos. What the hell is wrong with me?

  10. Lil Avatar

    I read your post the other day. I’ve been thinking and thinking of this, and I can’t find a single thing. I’ll try to think some more.

  11. Bone Avatar

    I’ve always wanted to work in one of those big buildings.

    There are actual animal parts in Spam? I’m impressed.

    A couple of moments came to mind right off. I was twenty-two the first time I saw the ocean. I squinched my toes into the sand, and knew that this was someplace I’d always want to be.

    I was seven. Dad woke me at 1 in the morning. Mom was having a baby. I puked in the waiting room garbage can. I had a sister. Now, I wouldn’t trade her for anything. But for the first fifteen years or so of her life, I may have occasionally had other thoughts.

    “Once I ran to you… ooo ooo… now I run from you…”

  12. Secret Agent Woman Avatar

    I have done variants on this, usually organized under a theme but sometimes more random. But since my mind often works in micro-moments, I’ll tackle this one over the weekend.

  13. actonbell Avatar

    That’s a great exercise, but no fair, you’ve lead an interesting life and write too well!

    I didn’t know ferrets were so–friendly.

  14. Jess Avatar

    Two recent micro-moments stand out:

    I’m at the park, sitting on a blanket eating fresh strawberries with my husband while the kids play on the playground. We’ve just been to the farmer’s market and the library (blissfully located right next to each other on a gingko-lined street downtown) and I have a pile of unread books waiting for me like a pile of mysterious wrapped gifts on Christmas morning. It’s spring in the central valley and the weather is perfect. I am not nauseous or in any other form of pregnancy-induced discomfort. Life is good.

    It’s evening and the kids are in bed. The kitchen I spent too much time cleaning today is trashed again from dinner preparations. Our tiny apartment feels like a prison. I can’t help feeling panicky about how we’re going to fit a baby into it when we barely have space ourselves. i suddenly realize that my light at the end of the tunnel- my husband’s rejoining the army when he finishes school so we’ll have an income and be able to afford a house and a move out of this valley where I have no family or friends- will involve his being sent to OCS for three months, leaving me alone with probable postpartum depression, a newborn and two school-aged kids. For Three Months. I am going to die.

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