Walking in the disheveled late-summer woods yesterday was a good way to remind myself at the start of the school year that some of the best writing and reading – and teaching -- occasionally has a scattered look to it, a sense of messy loveliness, a feeling of things falling apart but doing it quite necessarily and marvelously. As hard as I looked, I could see no orderliness in the woods – no perfect patterns, no unblemished designs – and yet all seemed utterly perfect, just as student essays sometimes show a strange kind of muddled elegance. The jumbled rightness among the sticks, leaves, vines, stones, and trees in the woods also reminded me of the peculiarly enjoyable disorder I occasionally see in my students’ interpretations of literature – their ideas that seem to make no scholarly sense and yet shine with a sincere and useful light. It started me thinking about some modifications I might make in my overly attentive approach to tidiness and order in my teaching. I try to always arrange my lessons with as much precision as possible, and will probably continue to do so, but I realized yesterday that I also need to allow for some inspired “scattering” every so often. The universe, it seems, works that way, dispersing its wonders with wonderful impulsiveness and caprice, and maybe I must learn to let go a little and occasionally allow English class to just do what it wants to do. There may be messiness and even the beginnings of mayhem, but, like the cluttered but beautiful woods yesterday, there might also be something similar to splendor.
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