Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sadistic Holistic

For the composition classes I teach, the students take a common final in which they have an hour to write an essay. By hand. In an exam booklet. What is this, 1959?

Then, a few days later, this mountain of essays needs to be read twice for an ostensibly objective scoring. We do a "holistic" score, meaning we keep all criteria in mind and score each paper on a scale from 1-6: "1" being the student's hangover was so bad she could barely eke out a cramped sentence or two...and "6" being that this student never should have had to take frosh composition in the first place. Many of the faculty are writers, and when we come across a "6" paper we are generally so jealous we give the paper a "5" out of spite.

Grading these papers takes hours. Hours and hours, we sit, slumped over bad handwriting. And I mean bad. These students haven't written anything by hand since they were forced to sign their driver's licenses. That is why I call this experience the Sadistic Holistic Grading Event.

The only saving grace is that sometimes we come across passages that are so funny or bizarre that our fried brains fire up, and we smile. Here are two examples from yesterday's reading:

* In the category "I Guess Everyone Has to Start Somewhere":
As a student, a woman and a good driver with no tickets, I consider myself to be good at all things I do.

* In the category, "Is This Really the Only Example You Could Drum Up?":
People admire those who were dedicated to their cause. Hitler is an excellent example of that. Although I don't agree with his beliefs, he was a very determined man.


Next week I give three finals. Two of the three are taking place at my apartment because a) I need to vacuum and will be forced to do so seconds before people arrive, and b) These are creative writing classes, and we're doing a class reading as the final...and I hate to do readings under fluorescent lighting. So instead we'll read our work by mood lighting as we sit on the floor with food and drink.

This has been a hell of a semester. Thank god for my students. They kept me semi-sane because they are full of life and energy. For those not in the loop, I was essentially homeless late spring/summer because of the end of my 15-year relationship...not to mention the financial, legal and emotional crap that has bled over into my life this fall.

It's not been pretty, but then again, so many great things have entered my life--namely an awareness that other people are generally kind, loving and supportive. Without my friends, family and work life, I think I'd be curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor of my former house. Instead, I feel life's goodness and possibilities swimming through my veins.

My main practice right now is to be in the moment as much as possible. The moment is life, breath and balance.

I also like to have a few future points to look forward to, such as Christmas with family, perhaps a short trip in January, and some readings in spring semester:

* On Wednesday Feb. 24, I will be reading from my new novel, Complementary Colors, from 4-5 p.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in rooms 225/229.

* On Thursday March 11, the poet Cecilia Woloch ( and I will be reading in the MLK Library in rooms 225-227 from 4-5 p.m.