I’m teaching students to write this year.  I’m back in the classroom where I belong, have always belonged, and I’m showing the world to students who have been trapped inside a five paragraph essay.  For some of them, it’s like they just discovered there are more crayons in the box.  All of a sudden these students are learning that they have a voice and we’re working on fitting their voices onto paper.

I love watching this change in them, the reprogramming that goes on in their minds.  I remind them that we are born to question the world around us and how we aren’t born with a thesis.  We explore our worlds with the desire to find answers to questions and look for more questions.  How the “why” stage is a beautiful stage.

Our textbook uses the phrase “wallow in complexity”.  It’s my favorite phrase by far.  I love the image of getting filthy dirty with a topic or question.  Wrestling in the mud with a concept until you have more clarity in something.  We don’t do that anymore.  We don’t spend time wallowing in complexity as a society.  We crave simplicity and quick answers.  We want things that are fast and at our fingertips.  We have a 24-hour news cycle that gives us answers immediately.  We have drive-thrus that have two lanes so we can’t get fast food even faster. (What joy!) We can stay up obscenely late for midnight premiers of movies so we don’t have to wait until a normal time to watch the latest film.  People don’t have conversations anymore; they post statuses and like each other’s sentiments.  We don’t discuss things in depth, we shout talking points that have no real meaning.

There is no time to mourn, no time to celebrate, no time to think, no time for joy, sadness, this or that.  Nothing gets solved because nobody wallows.

In writing, we wallow.  We mull things over.  We turn thoughts over in our minds.  We shoot the breeze and spin yarn.  We collect moss.  And so it goes.

My students grappled with this at first.  How could this be?  So confined to the five paragraph essay, with the thesis at the top — problem solved! — they didn’t know what to do.  How do we teach wallowing?

Slowly, they’re beginning to catch the vision.  It’s not about getting the right answer all the time.  It’s about spending time with possible solutions.  Entertaining the thoughts.  Shooting for the sky, the moon, the ever afters and then getting it all down on paper.

And I love it.  Maybe, just maybe, we have a chance after all.

C. Streetlights
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Published by C. Streetlights

I wrote and illustrated my first bestseller, "The Lovely Unicorn" in the second grade and I've been terrified of success ever since. Published by ShadowTeamsNYC and represented by Lisa Hagen Books

6 thoughts on “wallowers”

  1. Sara Rose says:

    My very best writing teachers always told me “There are more complexities to anything than can be put on paper.” They usually would then toss me a book or an essay or quip “You need to think about these things (insert topics) too. So read and think some more, even if you do or don’t write more on this topic.” It stuck with me. Whenever I’ve signed off on a post or a piece I am writing, I’m nerver truly done mulling over everything that can go into it, that could be made different by simple words used differently . . . and I love it. I love being a writer. I love teaching writing too, much as I whine about it at times. I’ve got some students willing to go outside the box and bend forms so they can create a new way of thinking about their world. It’s amazing to read.

    1. It’s fantastic. Wallowing is not waffling, which is what talking heads will say it is — especially in this political climate. And it isn’t even flip-flopping. It’s turning things over and over, coming up with one solution, and then another. it’s what great discourse should be.

  2. Tim says:

    I agree 100%. People laughed at me when I told them I went to college to learn three things: 1. to think, 2. to write, 3. to read. Each, in its own way, when done correctly, is wallowing.
    I think one of the unique challenges you probably face in [**] Valley is that many members of the academic institutions are also members of popular religious culture. I feel safe assuming this as a [**] graduate. The temptation in such a culture is to form opinions simply based off of what one is told over a pulpit. Although most of my opinions coincide with what has been taught over many a pulpit, the reason for this agreement is not the pulpit, or the person standing behind it. It is because somewhere along the way I was fortunate enough to find myself in completely broken circumstances (or what felt to me at the time like completely broken circumstances). And in those circumstances, I began to learn about wallowing. Said differently, I learned to “study it out in [my] mind.” Discomfort was the impetus for my own wallowing.
    What a job a teacher has! To administer discomfort in sufficient doses to induce wallowing without overwhelming.
    Props Mrs. [Streetlights]. Props.

    1. Amen, Tim. To wallow is to study things out in all dimensions. Sometimes one will find oneself in accordance with the common culture’s opinion, and often one will find oneself thinking differently. This is completely okay and even refreshing.

      Broken circumstances is a blessing in disguise. To be broken will often allow ourselves to rebuild again ever stronger before, each chip and glued together seem a testament to our resilient selves.

  3. kelly says:

    I love love love this. I have never thought of it in quite that way, wallowing, but yes, that is exactly what it is. Perfect.

    1. Thanks! Isn’t “wallowing” just the greatest image? I love teaching students to wallow.

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