Our time with Steven Church on Friday was rather enlightening, wouldn't you say? He shared some very interesting insights about writing, about "Auscultation", and about life. I wrote them down as I listened (I had the privilege of seeing his presentation 4 times!), and here is a summary of what I found most interesting and most important, snipped into bite-size bits for you:
About essays in general:
- Church reminded us that the word “essay” comes the French word meaning "to try", and its modern use was coined by Michel de Montaigne.
- We were encouraged to think of writing an essay as "thinking on the page."
- Are you confused about why the essays we write for school are so very different in structure and style from essays like "Auscultation"? Consider this: there are many forms of essays; some are traditional, some are not. The 5-paragraph essay is a form- it’s one of many, and you can do lots with it, or you can find another way to “think on the page.”
- You may protest: "But the 5-paragraph, clear thesis/topic sentence/ supporting evidence/ transitions formula is so boring I can't possibly make something great out of it!" Well, Church has a challenge for us there: to figure out how to write truly beautifully within the limitations of the high school essay form, like writing beautifully within the constrictions of haiku. Figure out how to use this form to your advantage! We must learn the fundamentals before we can break the rules.
- Shout-out to revisions! Church told us something that I think is very important to becoming a person who loves to write, and can do so effectively: "Writing is the process, not the product."
- How can we find interesting and unique things to write about? We were encouraged to always question, always think deeply about things. These things can be as mundane as the telephone pole, the stethoscope, or any object or idea that we might one day take for granted, and another suddenly find to be something of interest. Be, as Church put it, a "collector of ideas," someone who is "pathologically curious." Think about why something is what it is- how did it get that way? How has the general feeling about the thing changed? What do we not know about its past? (Sound familiar? I'm thinking of a certain author who told us to stop and look at words as objects of interest... rhymes with "kerplicity".)
- Finally, think about writing as a conversation between the reader, the text, and the writer. The writer gives their text to you, hopeful that you will respond to it. As the reader, you get to take in their work, chew on it, and impart meaning. But be careful! Just as the writer gives you something they have carefully constructed, you as the reader have a responsibility to try and understand what the author is really saying, not just something out of left field.
- WHAT IS THE MESSAGE OF "AUSCULTATION"? WE MUST KNOW! Well, here is his answer: “There are some ideas that I’m exploring, and some arguments that I’m making, particularly with regard to identity formation … how we use sound to see beneath the surface of things.”
- Put another way: It's about listening beneath the surface- both literally and figuratively.
- Church told us that he didn't actually know the specifics of each heart chamber- for example, when he wrote Chamber 1, he didn't intend for the trapped miners whose oxygen is "dangerously low" to correspond to the deoxygenated blood in the heart. So then: What does that mean for how we approach reading? Is it ok that a reader would add meaning that the author didn't intend (like we did)?
- Think of bats using echolocation to find their way through a dark forest. Now put that idea on top of Church's essay, or perhaps an essay you'd like to write. The essay is like that dark forest, and the different subjects in the essay are the trees you can’t see. The way you move through the essay is to bounce off those objects, and the path that you take as a result is the unifying idea.
- How cool does "Symbolic Logic" math sound?! If you recall, Church explained that "Symbolic Logic" is the practice of converting logical or philosophical arguments into mathematical equations.
Leave any thoughts, questions, or cool bits I left out in the comments!