Saturday, December 12, 2009

Finishing Thoughts?

Now that the semester is just about over, our group has finished working at the youth center. And so I’ve become, as one tends to at the end of things, introspective and retrospective. Outrospective?

I’ve been thinking about the words we use. “…our group has finished working…”

“Finished” has such a finality to it, along with an implication of a task being completed. As in, I finally finished that paper. I see the word there and, for me specifically, it lacks an appropriate sense of accomplishment. I recall racing through tests as a kid and slapping it down on the teacher’s desk, saying, almost yelling, “Finished!” I would do that smiling and happy, but the glee was more from completion than the journey. “Finished,” then, strikes me as a combative word. What else could I say though?
I’m done working…
I’m through working…
I’ve terminated working…
I’ve ceased working… That might work, but the sentence then feels like we faded away, like an over-irrigated stream fades into the desert. “Concluded” could work, but it’s awfully sterile. I know I’m being picky, but the though process is the point.

“Working” has been more problematic all semester. I resist using the word “teaching” because that carries more weight than I’m comfortable with, and often what we’ve been doing resembles leading them through activities. Some might say that’s teaching, or even better, facilitating. That’s better (the kids, by the way, will not like the idea of the group being a class), but it still feels off. I’ve been having a lot of feelings lately.

I’ve settled on calling them, generally, “sessions.” Not classes, meetings, or otherwise. People have asked what we do at the youth center.
We have sessions…
We do sessions…
We have a writing group…
We lead a writing group…

I had to stop myself several times from saying “volunteering.” We don’t get paid, of course, which is the main definition, but we do this work for a class. Even though one we elected to take it, there work is ultimately mandated.

The kids (students? members? attendees? So many word choices!) understand this, I believe, in a strong but unspoken way. Ultimately, the method for getting the writing group to work was simply showing up continually. This raises more questions, especially with continuity and the end of a semester.

But I want to talk, only briefly, about the last activity/thing/lesson/work we did. We did a Pass-around, six simultaneously. Each person wrote a line or two to start, and then passed the paper to the left. Each person added a line or two, and this process continued until we got our originals back. Then we each finished/ended/whatevered the story we began.

It rocked. It was a great way to end, as it reinforced the idea of a group, even as we prepared to leave. It also mirrored how we began 10 sessions ago, which was a communal poem about Pennsylvania (see earlier post). It was also, finally, the right balance of levity and work. Even the unevenness of having 6 different writers of different ages and style and skill added positively to it. It’s an exercise I wouldn’t recommend for an introductory or early session—people need to be comfortable, and the kids need to trust you. Once again, those things don’t happen at the beginning, even with a true volunteering relationship. But it’s a great way to finish.


  1. Thank you for this post!
    I have had a similar problem when I try to explain to someone just what, exactly, we are doing in these sessions. It's almost like the vocabulary doesn't quite exist. Or is it our own failure to establish what our role(s) is(are) in these meetings?
    I think the problem (no, that's too strong--"situation"?) we share is largely due to the age group we work with ("work with" sounds like what one does with Play-Doh--do we mold these children?) Children, ages 10-14, are used to the classroom setting and so readily assume we are teachers of some sort. But the academic setting presents particular restraints that we want to avoid--grading, evaluation, classroom politics, the need to put creativity on hold (sometimes). Even "leader" sounds too authoritative--or at least implies a hierarchy based on age and writing skill.
    "Facilitator" is pretty good. But so clinical sounding!
    But I wonder about referring to our role as "peer writers." I am thinking back to our final session--the pass-around story--and how beautifully that worked. I agree with your advice not to do this exercise early in a group's history; it demands a mutual respect and a sense of community. But our final session, more than any other this semester, felt like peer-writing to me--not just because we were building off of each others' words, but because each writer seemed to have a sense of authorship ("I wrote this," "I want this story to be about this") mingled with a curiosity for another's addition. We were all authors--on the same level. No one needed to lead because we all did.
    Peer writing at its finest.

  2. I <3 Andrea's love of peer writing. I also <3 time travel.