Here’s a handmade response to some reading I’ve been doing in the graduate class I’m teaching on composition studies this spring semester 2011. It was inspired by a sentence in Peter Elbow’s Everyone Can Write wherein he reflects on what is sometimes called the prewriting or invention stage in the writing process.
I can’t let go of the sense that the central mystery in writing is the business of trying to fish words and ideas from your head (82).
I was particularly taken by this idea of unravelling the mystery of writing because it reminded me that any search for knowledge about this or that or the other thing (such as how to best teach writing) is an attempt to shine the light of understanding on what we do not know. Giving our imperfections, these shinings must be imperfect as well; the candle is just so long and it can light our path only so far. A university education (any education really) has as one of its assumptions that perfect knowing is possible, and that’s a necessary human desire and honorable goal, but we should also carry with us that other necessary human virtue as well, humility. For more, see an article I wrote a couple of years ago on the connections between a college education in the Catholic tradition and humility.