A Teacher's Writes

One teacher's thoughts on life, literature, and learning

Experiencing the Revision for Publication Process

Recently The Curator published an essay of mine (have you read it yet?) and I continue to find the process a of writing for others challenging and thrilling. Derek Rishmawy nailed part of this process in this tweet recently:

editors at Gospel Coalition

Meaghan Ritchey, Adam Joyce, and, Laura Tokie helped me rework my essay from a mess to a presentable coherence, and it took me only five months to do so . . . In the process I’ve learned much more about writing than any teachers’ class could have taught me, and I look forward to revealing to students what I went through.

My first draft was long but lost. I had conceived of an idea that Meaghan liked, but when I wrote it I found it difficult to achieve what I’d pitched. She suggested I rework it, gave me some ideas about directions to take, and waited to hear from me again. This is a view of that draft with a few highlights of what I ultimately kept. The yellow highlights are ideas that, in their essence, made it into the final draft of the article. The blue highlight indicates material I kept for the next draft but eventually cut. Everything not highlighted is material I dumped for the next draft.

version 1 articleI did nothing with that draft for months, completely befuddled about how to fix it. Then I heard an old interview with David Foster Wallace that brought me an ah-ha moment. His comments led me out of the cave and lent me an angle from which to view the idea I’d originally pitched to Meaghan. I rewrote the article and sent it to her, and since her duties at The Curator have changed, she also involved Adam. Adam sent the draft to Laura. This next image is that draft, where the green represents lines that made it into the final draft in basically the same form in which they appear here.The yellow are areas where the ideas made it to the final in a different form.

version 2 articleWith this draft, Laura asked me two questions:

1) What do you believe this essay is about?
2) What do you see as the payoff of this essay for the reader?

The first question I was able to answer fairly succinctly and I found it helpful to be forced to answer it. The second question scared me, because it is why I have not written much in the last 15 years. I’ll go to write something and think, “People don’t care about what I have to say. Their existence will be wonderful and maybe even more wonderful if I just keep quiet and read a good book instead of writing something.” But this time I had committed to the process, so I answered the question. Based on my answers, Laura suggested an overall famework for organizing the article. She then, on Friday, asked me to send her a new draft by Monday.

I worked on the article for six hours over the weekend and sent her a new draft, significantly expanding the sections that appear in yellow in that previous image, cutting out an entire section, and admittedly leaving the overall piece too long. What I sent her reached 1,700 words, and though I knew The Curator aims to keep articles under 1,500 words, I hoped that Laura could help me judge what to cut. This next shot is what I sent her, with the green indicating the parts that stayed in for the final copy and the blue showing what I’d added that stayed in for the final.

version 3 articleJust like the other images, everything not highlighted did not appear in the final version. Laura cut most of that and I cut a few additional sentences, but the final version reached 1034 words. Each cut, I am convinced, helped focus the piece on the heart of what I wanted to communicate, and the final version is something I am happy to call my own.

But now I realize why writers thank their editors so profusely. I get the byline on this essay, but without Laura, Adam, and Meaghan, how could I have changed this article like I did?

Like I said, I learned a ton from this, and I look forward to doing it again. Hopefully the next piece will not need quite so much reworking, but if it does, at least I now know it’s possible to work it into something…

Alex Miller Jr. observes: Poetry will survive, in part because it is useless

The Swedish poet Thomas Tranströmer likened poetry to the notes kids pass back and forth in the classroom while that teacher History drones away at the podium. Robert Hass noted that now they are texting each other instead, but the intimacy and irreverence of poetry is captured well by either metaphor. It may be that under the pressure exerted by the Internet’s swelling hegemony, the value distinctions between print and aural cultures still so thoroughly propped up in educated minds will begin to crumble. If so, poetry only stands to benefit, because its relegation to the page of the academic journal is a tiny span on its lurid and decidedly unacademic timeline. It is not absorption into lowbrow culture that endangers poetry, but imprisonment in the highbrow. In any case, despite the loud and worried voices of its advocates, poetry is in no danger of extinction, because nothing so fine and so useless will ever be abandoned by young students once they’ve gotten a taste for it. Nothing is as essential as the inessential.

I’ve emphasized my favorite sentence from Alex Miller Jr.’s essay about poetry at The Curator. As a teacher I’ll continue to test ways to help students develop that taste, and I’m convinced it is not an impossible task.

Matthew Crawford sees that the space for sociability in public spaces is disappearing

BD: What you mean by a political economy of attention?

MC: A few years ago I was in a supermarket and swiped my bank card to pay for groceries. I then watched the little screen intently, waiting for its prompts. During those intervals between swiping my card, confirming the amount, and entering my PIN, I was shown advertisements. Clearly some genius realized that a person in this situation is a captive audience. The intervals themselves, which I had previously assumed were a mere artifact of the communication technology, now seemed to be something more deliberately calibrated. These haltings now served somebody’s interest.

Over the last ten years a new frontier of capitalism has been opened up by our self-appointed disrupters, one where it is okay to dig up and monetize every bit of private mindshare. And very often this proceeds by the auctioning off of public space; it is made available to private interests who then install means for appropriating our attention. When you go through airport security, there are advertisements on the bottoms of the bins that you place your belongings in. Who decided to pimp them out like that? If my attention is a resource, and it is, then the only sensible way to understand this is as a transfer of wealth. It is an invisible one, but the cumulative effects are very real, and a proper topic for political reflection. Maybe for political action too.

BD: And people who want to guard their inner life are forced into themselves. It forces you to put a book in front of your face.

MC: Right, that’s one of the hidden costs. What’s lost is the space for sociability in our public spaces. Like you say, we’re driven into ourselves with sort of an arms race between private attention technologies versus the public ones.

Of course there’s another solution. If you have the means you can go to the business class lounge which in some countries like France is silent, there’s just nothing. That’s what makes it so incredibly luxurious. When you think about the fact that it’s the marketing executives in the business lounge who are using that silence to think — to come up with their brilliant schemes which will then determine the character of the peon lounge — you begin to see this in a political light. When some people treat the minds of other people as a resource, to be harvested by mechanized means, this is not “creating wealth,” as its apologists like to say. It is a transfer of wealth.

Matthew Crawford in an interview with Brian Dijkema for Comment Magazine. I find that idea about the loss of space for sociability fascinating. So often when folks rage about manners and the change in what is polite, particularly regarding phones, I find myself thinking there must be something more–that this will all move in a vastly different direction than we anticipate. Crawford’s insight, I am convinced, captures something that is crucial but difficult to recognize–the nature of the public space we’re used to experiencing is changing. In much of my experience, for example, I have to spend some good money to find a restaurant without a TV hanging in the corner. So if I want to live as one who prays constantly, or one who stops to converse with others, or one who simply sees more than what is thrust before me, I am facing a difficult obstacle–the very nature of the space around me–and as I am finding, choosing not to own a cell phone has not exempted me from these challenges.

David Gushee observes why Christians might be suspicious of the death penalty

I urge my fellow Christians to contemplate the unjust use of the death penalty to kill the great majority of the leading figures we meet in the New Testament, including John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, Stephen and, yes, Jesus himself. Closely studying these abuses of state power recorded in the New Testament might incline my fellow Christians to be much more suspicious of state claims that it is time, once again, for the state to kill one of its own.

David Gushee in a letter to fellow Christians concerning the execution of Kelly Gissendaner in Georgia. As it concerns our society, I really hate the death penalty, though, I might add, that Gushee’s letter doesn’t really address many of the reasons I dislike it.

Latasha Morrison suggests Christians should discuss issues of race from outside politics

We try to attack these issues from a political standpoint, and politics are designed to be divisive. We need conversations that unite. You can’t jump into a conversation on race and the very next thing you jump into is affirmative action. The process of reconciliation includes righting the wrongs, but it also includes repentance and forgiveness. In those processes, you will deal with the injustices and the marginalization and the disparities, but that’s not where you start. You start from the standpoint of “Lord, we want to represent who you are. We want to be one like you and the Father are one.”

Oneness doesn’t mean me being one with everyone who looks like me, talks like me, acts like me, comes from the same community as me. We’re reconciled to Christ so that, in turn, we can be reconciled to each other. The ministry of reconciliation—that’s who He is! That’s what we do.

People try to approach it from a political standpoint, and when you do that you’re going to fail every time because people are going to put up walls and barriers. There were so many political things that were going on when Jesus walked this earth. The Pharisees tried to pull Him in on some of these political issues. They thought He was the king that was coming to set them free from the Roman Empire, but that’s not the path He took. He took a different stance, and the Church has to be able to lead in that neutral standpoint.

A lot of times people, especially as a white male, they feel like “I can’t address it,” but that’s when you lock arms with another church or another pastor maybe of a different race to help you. But if our lives are separate, and we don’t have Asian friends or Latino friends or black friends, we’re in this little box where there’s no understanding. . . .  So that same sin that divides is going to perpetuate itself.

Latasha Morrison in an interview with Relevant Magazine. I don’t think I’d suggest that Jesus was taking a neutral standpoint–I’d agree he was taking “a different stance,” one different than those people wanted him to take, but it wasn’t neutral. It strikes me that his positions superseded the positions the Pharisees were trying to get him to take, as if every time the Pharisees or even Pilate paraphrased a position to him, his response implied, “You don’t get it. That’s not what I’m talking about at all.” “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks, and Jesus responds, in essence, “Well, I know your comment is not grasping all I intend to mean by that, but since you’ve said it that way, Sure, it works.”

I might sound like I’m nitpicking, but I don’t think I am in an irrelevant way, because in these conversations about race, we’re not saying one has to be neutral about politics so much as saying a Christian should understand that the ultimate importance of these issues far outstrips any political expression of them. Is affirmative action or another racial political issue important? Sure, but not nearly as important as the oneness of the body of Christ, as reconciliation in Christ.

Leon Morris describes a few of the details of Roman crucifixion

Very simply Luke tells of the crucifixion of Jesus, the supreme sacrifice for the salvation of sinners. In this form of execution a person was fastened by ropes or nails to a cross (which might be shaped like our conventional cross or like a T, an X, a Y, or even an I). Jesus’ hands were nailed (Jn. 20:25), and probably his feet also (cf. 24:39), though none of the Evangelists says so in set terms. There was a horn-like projection which the crucified straddled, which took most of the weight and stopped the flesh from tearing from the nails. The discovery of the bones of a man crucified at about the same time as Jesus raises the possibility that the legs may have been bent and twisted, then fastened to the cross by a single nail through the heels. Such a contortion of the body would have added to the agony. Crucifixion was a slow and painful death, but it is noteworthy that none of the Evangelists dwells on the torment Jesus endured. The New Testament concentrates on the significance of Jesus’ death, not on harrowing our feelings.

Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. Print.

Much work is toilsome and we may not be able to make it “meaningful”

We need to be careful that our faithful valorization of work doesn’t turn into a realized eschatology. When we forget that work is “toilsome” we presume to be able to achieve a vision that cannot be fulfilled until the Lord returns—as if we could root out the thorns of the curse by making our work “meaningful.” But this is vanity, a chasing after the wind.

Instead we should try to work faithfully among the thorns. Sometimes that means taking delight in our creativity. Sometimes it means speaking loudly against injustice. Sometimes it means doing awful work for the sake of another. Then, in expectant hope of the time when the thorns will be burned in fire, we can find satisfaction in the work of our hands, for it is from the hand of God.

Brian Dijkema at Comment Magazine, pointing out the reality of work that is often missed in conversations about work and faith. It’s also an aspect of work we don’t discuss much in schools, but we should. The notion that you should do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life is nice but not realized by enough people to be much more than cute. It can even be insulting to the person who doesn’t have that opportunity. So though I hate that it’s our reality, I have to admit that one of the most important lessons anyone can learn in school is how to work hard even when you don’t like what you’re doing–because for much of the work force, that’s likely the most practical skill we can acquire.

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