17 June 2008

"Exercising the right not to walk. . . "

My mom told me that the last post I wrote made her feel depressed. I suppose that's what happens when you title something "failure". All those negative connotations. But I promise you I'm doing alright. I'm doing really well, actually. Thanks to a bit of inspiration and a kind friend I'm involved in a play and have found about a dozen new friends to hang out with. And with the end of the term rapidly approaching, my stress level will go down significantly by the end of the week. Yay!

For my Teaching Writing class right now I'm working on a unit on Individualism. The idea is that students will improve their narrative writing skills. Granted - the unit may never actually come to pass. I would need a fairly large supply of books and/or a school district that allows me to ask students to purchase their own copies of books. I have divided the students into three different lit circles, each studying two different books that address the different aspects of/challenges inherent to being an individual. There's House on Mango Street and Night for individuality and family relationships/culture clashes, The Giver and Stargirl for individuality vs. conformity, and The Outsiders and The Chocolate War for individuality and oppression of your peers. These are all really incredible books largely based on personal experience (with the potential exceptions of The Giver and Stargirl) and I think it has the potential to be a really good, interesting unit once I iron out the specifics.

The trouble I'm having with all this intellectually is that I don't really have my mind wrapped around this whole concept of what it means to be an individual yet myself. It's driving me crazy, actually - because there isn't an "answer" to any of my questions. Is it good or bad to be an "individual"? What does it mean to be an individual anyway? Surely there's someone out there in the void or wide expanses of past/future people that thinks the way I do? Is anyone truly unique? And what about the people who "go against the grain" but really just end up running with the crowd? What's so bad about conforming? Robert Frost talks about how taking the road less traveled makes all the difference, but is the road less traveled always the best road?

I think this is going to be another one of those concepts that I don't fully understand until I have a nice long chat with the powers that be after I die. There seem to be so many conflicts. Because you don't want to conform for the sake of conformity any more than you want to go against the grain for the sake of being different. This whole idea of disturbing the universe presented in The Chocolate War, for example - the main character of this book ends up into a kind of isolation of his peers because he "disturbs" that status quo. Is it worth being so "different" that you don't have any camaraderie? It reminds me of the movie About a Boy and the theme of no man being an island.

Bah. Now I'm just frustrating myself some more. I think in the end this whole concept of being an "individual" - whatever that means - is maybe more at the cusp of our existence than we give it credit for. We can spend our whole lives defining and re-defining ourselves in relation to the way we think or in relation to our position among our peers or in our jobs or. . . whatever other social circles we run in. It's a lesson in generally being more socially aware and recognizing the consequences of our actions and our power for change. Sucking our individual marrows out of life but not choking on the bone. We need to know our own limits.

I don't think any of this made sense. That's what happens when I try to think this early in the morning.


Liz Busby said...

What? There are high schools where you don't have to buy your own books for English? I've been robbed!

(More serious comments forthcoming--I'm at work, so we must be brief.)

natasha said...

Ms Joni Girl - I told your mom when I was in Iowa that I love reading your blog - it always makes me laugh, and think. Though this doesn't qualify you as a "writer" in grandious terms and certainly doesn't give you "acclaim", know that you're writing does reach and touch people. You have grown bunches since Young Woman's and I am so proud of you. Let me know about your next play so that I can come check it out, now that I'm in the valley -

tasha watson (barber)

Rachel EM said...

I think the point with conformity is to know what you want and do it-- whether it's "norm" or not. That way whatever happens is you. "You don't have to perform, just make it for yourself."