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.
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?
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