What I Hope My Students Got

So here is what I put in my Canvas for today, the last day of classes at Northeastern University:

Week 14 Overview

To-Do Date: Apr 19 at 11:59pm


Welcome to Week 14.  This semester, you learned a lot of things. Some of it I might even have taught you. Some of it your peers taught you. Some, you taught yourself. That is pretty much how life works.

Learning Objectives

What I hope you got from this class:

* We write alone, but we can’t only write alone.

* The world wants to tell you what to think, and sometimes that is a helpful shortcut, but when it isn’t helpful, you don’t have to let it.

* Writing can be hard, frustrating, and boring, but it doesn’t have to be.

* You are not always in control of your writing tasks (assignments, audiences, etc.) but you are in control of your writing process.

* Don’t write to make enemies or to change anyone’s entrenched ideas. Write to make allies.

* Write to make the world a better place. You might have to make yourself a better person first. The work is worth doing.

* Much of what you got through your education will prove useful. Reject anything that doesn’t help you repair the world.

* Who you are will always inform your writing, but you are in control of which bits to put in and which to leave out.

* We are firmly integrated in the material world, for better and for worse. We can try to make it more better and less worse.

* Thinking about the language you use, and being more intentional about choosing words and guiding metaphors, will improve your precision and persuasiveness.

* Also, ethos, pathos, logos and kairos, because those old Greek guys were hella smart.

*AND FINALLY, sometimes you just have to go into your back yard and spit.* But then put your mask back on.

*This is referencing David Huddle’s amazing essay, “Let’s Say You Wrote Badly This Morning.” 10/10. Highly recommend.

The Stories We Tell and Live Into

As a writer who is also a Christian, I find I think about Passover and Easter as being about the Story. We tell the stories of Exodus and the Passion of Christ at this sacred time of year to remind ourselves of who we are. That is what ritual is for: we eat specific food and tell specific stories and sing specific songs and we know ourselves as a people descended from the people who chose those foods, stories and songs, gathered or invented them and gave them meaning.

I think of this in the context of the popular cultural narratives that have been occupying my thoughts these last few weeks, in particular, the two separate and very different first century CE localities of ancient Greece and Rome, brought to us by Renaissance Pictures, Rob Tapert and Lucy Lawless, Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Xena: Warrior Princess. The more recent Spartacus (2010 to 2013) was about men (and women) bound to the gladiatorial arena. It was about despair and meaningless death. In contrast, the earlier XWP (1995 to 2001) was about changing one’s way and rising from death into something better.


I have binge watched XWP more than once. I rented the DVDs of Spartacus once; while the half naked gladiators were nice, there is no way I would watch those shows again. They are too much like Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, in that when blood sprayed across my computer screen, I automatically found myself throwing up my arms to keep the blood from splashing across my face.

Yep. That bad.

I think about all this now because of the two major interpretations of Christ’s death and resurrection. There are people who talk about Christ’s dying for our sins, as if God was so pissed off with humans that he (it is always he in these readings) needed to kill his own Son to make up for our sin. Weird shit, that. In contrast, a more liberal reading says that humans killed Jesus, but God the Father/Creator/Mother resurrected him to prove to us lame humans that death is not the end, that God can overcome this enormous problem.

So when I look at the stories I use to constitute my identity, I often choose the ones that are not about characters trying to see how much they can get away with but about characters engaged in rescue and redemption, rather like the Jewish idea of tikkun olam, the repair of the world. It is an ongoing project, a battle that never is entirely won. All you can do is stay on the road, take good friends with you for the journey, and keep telling yourselves the stories that remind you who you are, and how strong you can actually be.