While watching the Olympics last summer I saw an interview with an American water polo player who said that he spent three hours every day exercising only the small muscles in his upper back and his shoulders. When questioned as to why he spent so much time targeting smaller muscle groups, he responded that he never knew what he was going to need in the pool. This immediately reminded me of a graduate school writing professor that would have us choose a random year from our lives and then make us list all of the things we remember. We had to do this every class. After a while, when we questioned the exercise, she would tell us writing is a muscle. You never know what you will need or what you will find to help you later on. It turned out to be true, because one of those exercises led me the idea that became my first book.
This semester in my writing classes we started class blogs. Every week a few students write for the blog and then the rest of class goes online and comments on what was written. Though the blogs are separate from the academic writing in class, the hope was they might provide a way to work those smaller writing muscles that could help with larger assignments or papers later on. At first some students were nervous about the format and unsure what to write about, but once they began the quality of the work and the variety of the topics has been quite amazing. Students have used the blogs to explore everything from part-time jobs, to social issues, to childhood memories, to research topics, to internships, to travel experiences and daily random thoughts. In responding to the blogs, other students have given advice, shared similar stories, even helped first year students adjust to Tokyo life. Some of the ideas end with the blogs but others have grown into critical essays or research papers. Now towards the end of the semester everyone seems less hesitant to write and a community has formed where students in class have begun to identify more with each other after reading the blogs.
Because fair is fair, I promised to participate. My turn is coming up soon, but I admit that I am also having a hard time choosing my subject. Though I write often, I do not have a lot of experience blogging. I think I am going to write about summer reading, which is something I always look forward to. This summer there are two books in particular I’m excited to read; a new book by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and a young adult novel by the Native American writer Sherman Alexie that I might use in class next year. I haven’t written the blog yet, but I’m excited to get started and join the community. Maybe while writing it I will find an idea for a story or article or book that I want to write next. Like the water polo player and my professor suggested, and many of my students discovered, you just never know.
Perhaps I’ll have the chance to read some of your work in the years to come. (Marc Kaufman)