Coffee Stains: A Haiku Moment

I’m going to avoid a nifty post about how sometimes students’ papers are much like “flaming bags of poop”; partly because my last “Coffee Stain” was about plumbing, but mostly because it’s the humor that my sons really like.

So, instead, I’d like to tell you about what prompted Spencer to ask (or retort):

“So, you should be practicing what you preach, eh?” Or something like that.

I think I blame much of the bad writing in student essays and papers on the film Dead Poets Society. It’s that notion that if one just takes all of that angst and emotive power and focuses it into a poem or a writing, that the “feeling” will overshadow all of the “plumbing” of writing (mechanics, usage, grammar) and a thing of beauty will be called into existence.

“Carpe Diem!” Mr. Keating shouts and now you have the confidence to ask the girl out and act in the play on the heels of “sucking all the marrow” out of life.

Actually, I think what was born in that edenic moment were occasions for Xanga and MySpace.

You see why I wanted to write “flaming bags of poop”? But, I resist.

Spencer was responding to my “working through the editing process” that we English teachers talk about in our classes. For some reason, the last three weeks has had me writing three formal pieces: a conference proposal, an article for an educational writing journal and a grant proposal. All of the writings are done (yes, I met my deadlines) and have been sent to their various locales. The most difficult one was the grant proposal as it took more time than usual to figure out the form of the writing.

At one point I think I actually said to the screen “I hate you.”

I had the “stuff” or the details of my proposal, but the way (or, yes, the rhetorical strategy) I was presenting the case for my grant just wasn’t happening. So I did what I usually do in these situations and found an audience who could hear me out (this conversation usually begins with “Hey, I wanted your opinion on this…”). Of course I don’t want the listener’s opinion as much as hearing my voice talk through the options.

The reason: I want to avoid the “flaming bag of poop” type of writing that sometimes comes across my desk.

Sure, I want the grant, I want the article to be published, yes, I want to present at a conference. But more than those nice things, I write for the same reason I run marathons: to amuse myself. It has little to do with “success” (what an impossible, shifty word that is) nor “fame” (though I might not “live forever” the words still hang around…maybe). No, there’s usually a little nuance or something newish that “happens” when I run or when I’m writing something for my writing group or even when I “twitter.” I sometimes refer to those little ironic times as “haiku moments” (it’s the most Oprahish I get, people).

My understanding of the haiku is just that: not so heavy on the form that we’ve restricted it to, but more how the form affects it’s function. Remember: the first two lines are some observation (many times a common place setting) and the last line grins some bit of ironic twist.

A lot of times it is something of nature that somehow crosses my path (as in Mile 17 in the Sunburst Marathon last June, when in the literal heat of the moment, a turtle crossed my path and I resisted carrying the thing across the finish line: that would be a human thing to do, wouldn’t it?). You can’t anticipate these moments, they just happen.

It’s mostly a Halloween prank, but when you really want to “get” someone down the street from you, I’ve been told what you should do: grab some of the dog droppings from the neighbor’s house, put it in a paper bag, and then place that “gift” on the recipient’s of your passive-aggressive wrath. Light bag, ring doorbell, run. The gag: the person answers the door, thinks there’s a fire and they then step on the “flaming bag of poop.”

It’s not that I’m trying to scrape stuff on my teacher shoes from the papers that I’ve received recently or that I find that writing is worse today compared to the days when students “really cared.” No, I’m merely amusing myself because the 11-year-old just saw a word on my screen and it made him smile and laugh and say with amazing glee “Poooooooooop.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Coffee Stains, Culture, education, Writing

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