Today was another jammin day at the Writing Center--virtually non-stop for four hours with me working in-depth as needed with several students with a little "triaging" on the side for waiting students completing final assignments for the semester. I'll concentrate here on my first two students.
My first student wrote a spiffy essay about "living on the edge." It had a few ambivalences built into the piece, which at this late stage of essay development can be difficult to untangle. Under such time constraints that both the student faced as did I, with students waiting, it often seems better to work with the draft largely as written rather than asking the student to rethink the piece in any fundamental sense. To be sure, when the writing assignment simply doesn't work--one that I encountered today—I work with the writer in a more foundational sense in engaging the hard work of radical reconstruction.
The ambivalence in this essay was my uncertainty as to whether the writer, reflecting back on his childhood, actually thought his father was a "cool guy" or not in bringing his young son to the bar with him. One of the key points of the essay is his recounting in favorable, even exciting terms, the theme he was writing about; living on the edge. The ambivalence I picked up was based on his first sentence where he recounts being raised by his mother and his "so called father." Even with the ambivalence unsettled the essay captured what seemed to me a very authentic voice, including such gems as a child "throwing glass on the floor" and "hitting people just for the hell of it."
The student finished the essay recounting that as a kid how initially having ridden on "the stupid tricycle" without head gear he became socialized to ride without protection once he graduated to a bicycle and how when he fell off the bike he would "cry the pain out and continue on riding...like nothing happened." In short, he liked "being a little adventurous" and loved how he "lived on the edge. We worked a bit on grammar and I told him I liked the essay a great deal.
The second student (the first and second student were together) had the same assignment (funny how that works), though he took a different slant. His essay was titled, "A Risky Childhood." There was also some ambivalence in this piece, which, if more time were available, I might have explored it with him--though here there was enough uncertainty on my part that I did ask for some clarification of meaning. The student recounted his experience as a child growing up in Puerto Rico where parents didn't make a "big deal" of kids not riding bikes without helmets, driving in cars without seat belts, and leaving the doors to his home unlocked.
Where I thought he was going with the essay was noting that in Puerto Rico such precautions were unnecessary, which when he came to Hartford, he realized they were here because of the different way of life in the two areas. Thus, in P.R. his family didn't worry about locked doors "because we knew everyone in the neighborhood." As I probed with him where he was going with the piece, he eventually concluded that in Hartford he learned that his way of living in Puerto Rico was dangerous once he noticed the various customs, laws and safety precautions that were evident in Hartford, which he didn't notice in his homeland.
I'm not sure what would have developed had I pushed him further to explain the various perceptions that he was seeking to convey as he described his experiences in Puerto Rico and Hartford (attempting to capture them in real time sequence) and how immigrant memories can subtly shift in various recountings based on an emergent socialization which perhaps never ends. In short, while both of these students constructed interesting essays, a bit more time for deeper probing may well have opened up some even richer reflections that might have emerged with another substantive draft. Whether my imagination was possibly suggesting more than what seemed evident on the surface in each of the papers is also an issue worthy of much deep explication--a thought for another day.