Thursday, September 24, 2009


(The following was written outside, then transcribed here afterward)

Today was an experiment for me. I haven't taken kids outside for class in decades (yes, I've been teaching for decades. Plural.). Recently, however, I've been thinking that taking a group outside would be fun -- it's just been a matter of getting up the nerve. My Creative Writing class is small and filled with upperclassmen, so a good opportunity to let the squirrels scold and the ants explore us.

Of course, I wore my white pants today -- and I gave my two car blankets to the kids. So I'm sure I'll teach the rest of the day with grass stains on my rear end.

Interesting. Two students immediately separated themselves and headed away from the group to write. One of the others made note of it and called them "the real writers." The stereotype of the solitary writer haunts even these 17-year olds. Another girl is near me, but faced away from the group in a world of her own creation.

The others have all clumped together, but even there the dynamics are interesting. The two boys who do not feel creative or comfortable are sitting on the rocks together in conversation. There's a girl sitting somewhat solo, facing another group of three and who is regaling them with stories -- not realizing she's actually involved in creative storytelling by her very nature. Two others sit with their backs against different sides of the same tree, listening, writing, looking, writing. In the midst, yet separate. Jouralists in the making.

So why do I find myself sitting in the sunshine on a beautiful late summer/early autumn day writing about them instead of starting my own story? Because as a teacher, my attention is divided. To my left my solo two -- to my right all the others. They are my responsibility and while I'm not worried they'll escape on me, it's still my duty to be aware of their existence. But when I write fiction, I notice so little of the world around me. I get so involved in the story unfolding inside my head, letting the words flow down through my hunched shoulders and along my arms to emerge on the computer screen via my flying fingers, that it, in fact, takes a scream from one of the girls to bring me back to their fears of a creepy-crawly that turns out to be an ant.

The other reason I can't write fiction lies in the fact that I have no computer in front of me. I'm writing long-hand and I've long since lost patience with how long it takes for the words to get out of my head and through the pen/pencil. And why no laptop? It wouldn't be fair to the kids. I didn't let them bring out the school's laptops as they can't save anything this far from the server and I don't trust the batteries. And its hardly fair for me to sit here with one and not allow them. So I'm writing the old-fashioned way for an hour or so of time.

Okay, so what does all this have to do with virtual worlds? I posit the question, what are stories if not the original virtual worlds? The stories told around the fire centuries ago are no less and no more real than the worlds we create inside a computer, for all our modern stories are written with zeroes and ones. The stories have meaning in both media -- and so my Creative Writing class is as much a class in virtual worlds as my Virtual Worlds course in Second Life.

Funny, I'm getting flack from three students who don't want to be out here. Have I moved them too far from their comfort zone? Do they not like the ants or the fuzzy catepillers? My upbeat mood is rapidly deflating. Only three of them seem to have gotten any inspiration -- or even tried. The remaining six are just glad I'm not watching them too closely and are enjoying their conversations. I'm thinking I have to call this experiment a failure.

(back in my room, having posted and asked for feedback from the kids)

I'm not far off. Most of them enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the building and enjoy the weather. Only a few found it conducive to writing. Of the three who expressed dislike outside, one said he finds it difficult to write with a pen (a physical difficulty) and would enjoy it if he could take a laptop out with him. One of the girls said she would like it if she could sit somewhere other than the ground. Picnic tables were mentioned as a solution. So not as much of a failure as I thought. I might do this again...