Identity

A little Latin is a dangerous thing. Once you start realizing where words come from, you’ll never be able to utter a sentence again without thinking about what these words ‘really’ mean. I, who have acquired more than a little Latin, am a linguistic terrorist. I blow up entire sentences, leaving verbal debris.

More often, though, I just run around in circles, chasing an elusive insight through the tangled underbrush of meaning.

For example, I started this morning with the word ‘identity.’ We talk about identities being stolen, when what we really mean is numbers have been stolen, particularly that unique identifying string of digits we call a Social Security number. Society is much more secure now that we all have numbers.

Except when they are stolen. If I lose my identity, I am no longer unique. Possessing this, another person can steal other bits of my life — credit card numbers, checking account numbers, passwords.

But ‘uniqueness’ can’t actually be stolen, since what truly makes us all unique is DNA. Unless you’ve been cloned, no one has DNA identical to yours.

Linguistic point of order: No one is more unique than anyone else, or any less unique. That’s because unique is an absolute. You either are, or you’re not.

If we’re all unique, then none of us is really special. More

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Writer’s Eyes

The first year I taught Creative Writing, I was frustrated with students who didn’t use dialogue and had no concept of a scene. It didn’t matter how many times I explained the difference between showing and telling, their stories were still mostly telling.

So I created exercises, presented examples, wrote feedback on their stories: more description, use dialogue. They improved a bit. They made their characters talk to each other and described what they were wearing in great detail.

But many of them seemed to lack any idea of what a story ought to be. They were non-readers and reluctant writers who had been placed in my class to fill a hole in their schedules.

Anyone can tell a story. Believing this, I set out to bring out my students’ inner storyteller. Under the pen-name Anonymous, I wrote terrible stories for them to critique. They could tell when a story was bad, even point out what was wrong, but they had no idea how to fix it. In the lab I sat with them and asked them about their stories, praised what was good and made suggestions for improvement.

And I improved my lessons.

Their stories were short, so they wrote Flash Fiction.

Their stories lacked theme, so they wrote fables with morals.

The protagonists of their stories were all the same – beautiful, popular, and incredibly lucky – so they invented unlikeable characters with major problems.

We discussed why a character must have a problem to solve, why it can’t be a foregone conclusion that Kayla wins the scholarship or Trey gets the girl.

The following year I decided the problem was that they didn’t write enough. More

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