Sometimes, You Learn by Writing
Far, far away, in a distant galaxy, I taught writing.
I worked as an adjunct instructor, so I usually taught one of two introductory composition courses with an occasional developmental writing class thrown in for good measure.
The one thing my classes all had in common was this: none of them were an elective.
When you teach non-elective — aka “required” — courses, most of your students don’t want to be there.
All of them have a real life somewhere else that they dream of and want to be, and that “real life somewhere else that they dream of and want to be” is never the classroom in which they find themselves.
The class you are teaching is a stop along the way; not a destination. It is a stepping stone they must traverse to get to where they want to go.
So one of the first things you need to do in a non-elective course is to persuade the students in the class that the material you are presenting will be of value to them, and that it will — despite what they think at the moment — prove useful in their life after college.
To that end, in the first lecture or two of every class, I always told my students that the magic of writing was this:
Writing allows you to think about what you thought about.
Writing and thinking
Writing and thinking go hand in hand.
In a time before paper and pens people had to hold all of their thoughts in their heads. Rumination was possible, as was — to a lesser degree — reflection, but extended thinking about what you had thought about was possible only to a gifted few.
Recently, as I was writing something, I was reminded of this fact when a realization washed over me. I had been typing along, minding my own business, determined to get to the end of the sentence I was writing with my thoughts intact, when new perspective suddenly hit me.
It was not unlike looking at these two photos:
The one on the left is a street view from Google Maps that shows what the address 752 Agua Fria Street looks like from the curb.
The one on the right is a view of the same address, but from above. You no longer see how 752 Agua Fria Street appears when you are walking down the road, but rather you see it in relation to everything else around it.
It is the same place after that it was before, but your view of it has changed, and that is what happened to me.
My true crime infatuation
I have read true crime for decades, but I have only recently begun writing about assorted true crimes, and it was while I was writing about a particular crime that I had what seemed like a sudden insight about crime victims.
I haven’t had time yet to look into this “insight” to find out if it is accurate or if I was just coincidentally looking at cases with similar victim profiles, but either way, I am thinking about what I thought about, and I will continue on that path as I move forward.
Learning is not something that happens overnight.
It is an accumulation of the experiences we have and our responses to those experiences, the so even when we do have an insight — or moment of clarity — that change in our point of view isn’t just that one moment; it is all the things that came before it that allowed us to see the world in new and illuminating way.