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The Narrative Arc of a Semester

By John S. O'Connor

3387189144_955030cc27_mOne year I hung a giant sheet of pink butcher paper outside the Writing Center with an invitation for people to jot down thoughts of the day as they walked by. (I guess it was sort of a Stone Age, pre-Twitter feed, come to think of it). The responses were amazing to me and followed a pattern throughout the term that I believe to be nearly universal: delight, discovery, distraction, denial, despair…followed by delight, etc. when the next term starts.

Here is the list in the order in which they appeared accompanied by my annotations in bold.

Early in the term — Delight and Discovery:

“The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember.” — Frankenstein

“ And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes & gives to airy nothing a local habitation & a name.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (v.i.18)

“So much clarity taking its leave of you as if you were on fire from within. The Moon lives in the lining of your skin.” — Pablo Neruda

Distraction:

“Happiness is food”

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-Lee-ta.”

Vladamir Nabakov

“That Ralph Fiennes is one good looking man.”

“Penetration— That word is so sexual. In like a bad way.”

“I believe you are more mine than my skin.”

During Final exams:

Regression, perhaps: A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil, assaulted by bears.”

Teachers get in on the act, too:

“If you have to retire, don’t go quietly. Offend everyone!” — Mr. J.

Denial: “Most of our assumptions have outlived their usefulness.” Marshall McLulan

Despair: “Turn up the lights; I don’t want to go home in the dark.”

“Perhaps blind people aren’t really blind, maybe they just have x-ray vision and can see through everything and thus seeing nothing at all.”

“I hope today isn‘t a day like tomorrow”

From an end of term Student Evaluation form:

“We must dance as though no one is watching”

Comments (3)

  • On January 5, 2010 at 5:53 pm Mark Mitchell wrote:

    I don’t totally understand your annotations. Can you explain?

  • On January 5, 2010 at 6:41 pm John S. O'Connor wrote:

    Thanks for writing, Mark. I did not mean to be cryptic. Early comments, it seemed to me, were full of wonder, eagerness to “divine secrets” etc. As the term went on, subsequent comments suggested distraction from classes (food, sex, etc.). The deeper into the term we went the more people started to deny the possibility of attaining truth (assumptions outliving their usefulness, e.g.), and the more they seemed to withdraw from school. Does that help? Does this pattern seem typical to anyone out there?

  • On January 5, 2010 at 8:02 pm Joelle Biele wrote:

    Thanks for this, John–what a great idea for a class!


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by John S. O'Connor.