Five Day Beans


A while back I took a creative writing fiction class in college, where we got to write and talk about stories. I disliked the former, and enjoyed the latter, which was something of a pity, since the actual writing of stories was what the class happened to be in.. In any event, I remember talking quite a lot about the writing process, and how it’s not realistic to expect good writing to spring fully formed from it’s mother’s head. So we read “shitty first drafts” – a staple in classes where it’s important to make students feel better about how terrible our writing can be sometimes (“look! even famous writers feel like they’re terrible sometimes!”) – and some other essays in a similar vein. One that stuck in my mind because it applied to nearly every creative endeavor (and because it’s based on suedo-science, always a fun foundation for any bit of writing) – was on the interplay between the conscious and the sub-consious parts of our minds. I think the writer called them “ted” and fred.” In any event, the point of the story was to say that even if we can make our conscious mind work on a problem for ten hours straight in an attempt to just get it done, it either won’t work (“writer’s block”), or will not be as good as it could, because the more creative sub-consious doesn’t work on a clock like that. It’s better to think about something for a while, and then let it sit and see what happens. Like five day Mexican beans. 

So what am I getting at? Basically, I’m trying to justify why I’m always slower than seems justifiable. It’s been more than a month, and I’m just starting to understand my classes. That’s not particularly good for my students, but I expect it’s understandable. My dad used to be a cook – he was never very fast, but he was good, given enough time and space. I’m just not a very fast thinker. I don’t know why – I’m reasonably bright, but not fast. It would have been really good to have two months in the summer to sit and think about what I’m teaching, but I didn’t have the software or know what art supplies I would have (in fact, I didn’t know much of anything in the was of specifics, other than that people up here fished a lot in the summer), so I doubt that would have done much good. So, after nearly two months, things are finally beginning to make a little bit of sense and take on the faint glamour of organization. That doesn’t mean I can teach those things well yet – more that I sort of know where I’m trying to go with these courses, which is good.

The reason I was thinking about all this was because Dr. Margarita Calderon is visiting today about EXcELL, and I’m just going to try to bluff, because the whole program is just so far back on the burner I doubt it’s even warm. I would imagine that their program is helpful – they have research to show so, and far be it from me to disagree with research. Should I be here next year, I imagine I’ll have an opportunity to find out if it’s useful stuff. But not now. THere is not any extra space in my head, or even my computer desktop, for anything that’s not central to what I’m teaching. I’ve seen what happens when I try to do too many things, and it’s not at all attractive – it generally ends in doing nothing whatever for the next week, while my mind tries to catch up. Cooperative learning, posters, powerpoints, and so on may not be icing (or gravy, or salt, or bacon – depending on whether we’re sticking with the bean metaphor or not), but they’re not at the center of things either. And they won’t be any time very soon, either.


One thought on “Five Day Beans

  1. Its interesting reading your latest posts, because this “doing nothing whatever for the next week, while your mind tries to catch up” actually happens. Note that this is NOT advice, but just brainstorming. If it were advice it would have a connection to what your post says. But there really won’t be much of a direct connection.

    A lot of people think slowly, and a lot of people don’t. Both types are good in their own way.

    For some odd reason this post reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

    A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You’re there now doing the thing on paper. You’re not killing the goose, you’re just producing an egg. So I don’t worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It’s a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I’ve heard about it. I’ve felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I’d much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, “Well, now it’s writing time and now I’ll write.” There’s no difference on paper between the two.

    – Frank Herbert

    Leave it to yourself to see the connection (if any). This quote has so much content I still don’t understand it. But at the crux of it is the idea that writing or teaching or whatever can get done with or without feeling inspired. That leads me to believe that sitting down and working at something is never a waste of time. In fact, it is the only way to practice and improve one’s skills. About working slow, thats where you need to see if there is any connection. Sometimes my brain puts 2 and 2 together automatically but I don’t know why. Sometimes there is no connection, so I leave it to you to see if there is any.

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