Slice of Life: Dancing with Rules

I sat with Laura from Brooklyn outside Zankel Hall. In shadow, as the sun hit the southwest side of 120th, we talked about teaching, about the pros and cons of living in New York versus Los Angeles.

And then, we watched the parked cars came to life as they pulled out and waited for the street sweeper to pass. Honking occasionally at the less aware. Weaving in and around, the street sweeper danced with the cars in front of Teachers College.

Apparently, this happens all over New York.

What we watched wasn’t quite as organized as the above, but the technique was evident. These drivers knew how to navigate the rules of the street. It was all a matter of knowledge and timing. If you mess up, you get a ticket; maybe lose a side view mirror. But for those in the know, it works.

There are times I’m all for rule breaking. Or dancing. With certain things, I either go outside the lines or don’t participate. Writing could be one of those things. I write for myself with a set of rules I negotiate in my writing universe.

Last week  I sat in a classroom outside of my comfort zone. In a class of English teachers, the rules became more defined, and I revisited my writing inadequacies. Fears that my thesis (did I even have one?) did not match my evidence. Verb agreement and structure all came into question. And in the end, did I say anything? Mind you, these fears were created, and the rules were enforced by me.

The lessons I took away from this writing workshop were profound.

Some writing lessons I knew but needed to be reminded of —

Reading texts as mentors can create joy and skill in writers.  Dissecting writing develops writer-self-awareness and content understanding. Revising with specific lenses sharpen meaning and lift the writer and the writing. Doing this work will take goal setting and discipline I’m not sure I possess. My rule breaking tendencies could conveniently sneak in and sabotage my efforts.

Some teaching lessons I knew but needed to be reminded of —

Being in a writing classroom means being vulnerable and possibly feeling inadequate or distracted by those in similar predicaments. When I teach towards higher levels of writing proficiency, I must remember that students are infant writers, just getting their bearings on their journey. When I ask them to ratchet up their work and set goals, it must be done with their fragility in mind. And, this is when dancing with and perhaps around the rules is necessary.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Dancing with Rules

  1. You came to a profound conclusion, “When I ask them to ratchet up their work and set goals, it must be done with their fragility in mind.” When we experience the vulnerability of writing, we face this same fragility. That’s why I profess, from Donald Graves, that a teacher of writing should be a writer. Whether following the rules or dancing, your writing is a pleasure to read.

  2. You came to a meaningful understanding, Julieanne – for you and for your students. I’ve seen the waltz in person, and had to participate in it a few times…it’s one of those NYC things!

  3. I’ve seen that waltz on 120th St. It’s one of the most artful ones in the City! (I spent about a year moving my car on Mondays and Thursdays for alternate side of the street parking. It’s a true counter-culture!)

  4. I loved the connections and reflections you made in this post. Yes, being a writing student is such a vulnerable position to be in. I loved the way you described your rule breaking/following. It was great to meet you in person last week!

  5. I break rules as well … it might be craft! When we write for the book it is more vulnerable – editors catch the rules and hold us to a higher level of standards — many things we need to be reminded of! I have never seen the dance … even when I lived in NYC. I will be on the lookout next time I am in town.
    Enjoy!
    Clare

  6. Loved this post. The image of the street sweeper was amazing, but what I liked most was this part: “In a class of English teachers, the rules became more defined, and I revisited my writing inadequacies. Fears that my thesis (did I even have one?) did not match my evidence. Verb agreement and structure all came into question. And in the end, did I say anything?” You named my fears perfectly and also gave reminders to navigate beyond the fear. Thank you!

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