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Atwood's Admonition

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  • Atwood's Admonition

    Posted by Barrett<script language="JavaScript1.3" type="text/javascript"> document.write(timestamp(new Date(2004,7,10,21,44,0), dfrm, tfrm, 0, 0, 0, 0)); </script> (Member # 67) on 11-08-2004 04:44<noscript>August 10, 2004 09:44 PM</noscript>:

    It’s been a quiet week in Cuyahoga Falls…

    “Poets are magicians without quick wrists.”
    Gwendolyn MacEwan

    Margaret Atwood’s book, “Negotiating with the Dead-A Writer on Writing” travels with me these days. I got the quote above from it. It’s one of those books that needn’t be read in sequence. Every chapter contains ideas about writing that do not depend on something discussed earlier in the book. Unlike therapy, the writer’s craft doesn’t depend so heavily upon your knowledge of the materials or the predictive power of certain findings. Writing allows you to make things up as you go along. You can create a world where the customary laws of nature don’t apply or where the social order depends upon behavior totally foreign to the world in which you live. It’s neat, but it isn’t like the clinic.

    For many years I’ve jumped back and forth between a clinical and writing life. One fed the other and I was able try ideas out on my patients before I committed them to paper. They suffer though this patiently enough I guess. Of course, they are sort of a captive audience. I try to make it up to them by doing a little therapy from time to time.

    Now I’ve added all this teaching to the mix. Three straight days followed by six days in the office, a day of travel and three more days talking and demonstrating; I haven’t yet found the rhythm in this and find myself falling behind in my responsibilities to each job. I’ll get it though, I’m pretty sure.

    Somehow this addition to my career has made something that Atwood writes about in the center of her book jump out at me-the magician’s nature. Anyone teaching manual technique of one sort or another will tell you how easy it is to appear remarkably skillful and effective in front of a class. You appear almost, well, magical. Atwood describes the Wizard of Oz in this way: “(He) exists at the intersection of art with power, and therefore with moral and social responsibility…If you’re an artist being a good man is pretty much beside the point when it comes to your accomplishments…if you’re good at creating illusions that can convince people of their truth, then power of various sorts may well come your way.”

    I stopped and sat quietly after reading this and then read it again. There’s something here about the teacher’s power and the art of care, I think. Perhaps this is the intersection Atwood refers to, and those of us who stand in front of our colleagues performing our illusion of competence and confidence need to keep in mind the responsibility we have. We shouldn’t hide what we know in hopes of gaining some more students at yet another “advanced” course. We shouldn’t hide information we know reliably refutes our theory. And we should work every day to make the course new again.

    If you see a teacher doing less than this-me, for instance-say something. Remind them of how much they can hide if they aren’t careful, and how much you’re paying to see as much as they can reveal.
    Last edited by bernard; 30-12-2005, 05:58 PM.
    Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. L VINCI
    We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. I NEWTON

    Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not a bit simpler.
    If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. Albert Einstein
    bernard
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