The Right Kind of Hard

After the 12th graders in my class read The Handmaid's Tale, they write a critical analysis essay that takes a deep dive. From a single passage in the novel -- one chapter or just a part of it -- they complete a close reading and determine a thesis that captures the impact of the author's choices and their greater significance to the text as a whole.

They really dig into each word and read in between the lines.

It's a tough assignment.

The Deep Dive Essay has even developed a bit of a reputation, or so I hear.

So. I set out to do it myself.

I don't often get to do my own homework. There simply aren't enough hours in the day.
And I don't think I have to, really, to prove that the work makes sense.

I set out on this particular journey to be able to provide better support for the writers in my class. I hoped that I would be able to use my process as a model; I wanted to show students how I went from point A to point B.


It was tough. Really, it was.

I shared them into this document to show them my process for the close reading and how I tried to arrive at a functional thesis statement. It's comically chaotic.

It took me forever, too.
And I still don't love what I've got so far.

from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake -- figures

In class today I talked about how writing is really hard.
Even for me, who's naturally fairly decent at it and finds it enjoyable.
And who is way more educated than they are.

There were some dejected faces in the room.

Which didn't go away when I compared it to running or working out.
I said something like, "You know, you get better at it, and you get a lot stronger and faster and you build your endurance, but you never really finish a worthwhile workout and think, 'Whew! That was so easy!'"

At this point their looks were somewhere between dejected and downright agitated.

I regret not kicking off the semester with Anne Lamott.
(I should say that about any course, any semester.)

from Aldous Huxley's manuscript for Island -- more rejects than keepers

All of this to say:

It's hard.
It's worth doing.
Maybe those two ideas go really well together.

Regardless, kids. I'm right here with you on this journey.

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