Sunday, September 4, 2016

On finding shacks

In my teaching life, synchronicity happens when all my classes simultaneously read the same essay. Last week, it was "Shacks" by Edward P. Jones. I love to give this essay to students on the first day of class, since it's about Jones' experience as a lonely college freshman.  And it provides good food for thought: how do we create places of comfort for stressful times?

Jones found his comfort by writing volumes of letters to a girl back home. The letters, he knew, were hardly read, yet he held out hope she would respond. It was only when he was ready to let go and move on, did he see that the activity had been his shack. He encourages students to find their shack, for his led him to realize his writing talent (and got him through freshman year). 

This essay brings interesting responses from students, especially when they ask, "Can a shack be negative?"  This takes us from the standard comfort zones like music and friends, to discussion of taking risks and being uncomfortable in order to grow. The word "shackles" came up, with references to slavery and also feeling tied inside a shack This is when I get reflective and wonder about my own shacks--my tendency to self-analyze (huge time waster) and to live in a risk averse universe.

When in Prague this summer, I found, of all things, one of my very favorite city shacks, a Starbucks (actually dozens). And, in the spirit of truthfulness--I caught my breath in one or two (possibly three), found a sense of home as I checked my email, caught up on the news. I don't call it a "bad" shack, just a nod to how welcome it was to capture a sense of home. (FYI, The SB at left was about 100 yards from the castle..Prague Castle!).

My teacher shack is essay writing and reading. It's my comfort zone. I have one developmental class that starts this week, and I am shack-less. I need to prep...in a hurry, but am having trouble settling into it. It's a new class, new book, new everything. I'm having a sick day--a real one--and I'm tempted toward my at-home shack, my art-table. 

     

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