Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ethics and all that

I was struck, reading Kop and Hill and esp. Downes, of their subtext of the need to respect learners, and how many questions that raises. What does it mean to respect students? I think about the teachers' lounge (or blog equivalent) and the utterly necessary freedom there to say what drives us nuts about students. Even as I engage in that, it feels disrespectful-- like gossip. But maybe it's also constructive somehow. I don't know. I feel like I learn a lot from interacting with students, and I don't know if I'd learn as much if I were really idealistic about them. So still thinking about ethics of describing writing/learning communities, but how do you avoid it? Using the people who confide in you? Students, colleagues, clients? I don't know what it means to respect their privacy, or whether I'm violating that privacy when I discuss their work or their behavior. I try to mask the identity and usually revise whatever the question or issue is so that even they wouldn't recognize it. 

I have always TRIED to come up with my own "teachable moments", but I don't have a great imagination, and a client or student or friend will have a writing or editing issue-- like a sentence even-- that is so perfect, I want to talk or write about it. I always try to change the wording or something so it's not traceable. But sometimes--

Once I got an email from -- (you get to recognize this sort of subterfuge after awhile... that really annoying commenter on my editing blog who disagrees with everything I say about commas? That was a woman using a male name, and I only know that because my co-blogger traced the IP address, and really, that should prove I am not the nibby one in our partnership :)-- a man who was trying to sell a romance novel and so wrote under a woman's name (ask Nicholas Sparks... a man writing a romance novel is cool! Keep the male name, fella!). Anyway, this guy obviously-- again, you get to notice this sort of thing-- loves loves loves flashbacks, or anyway incorporated one in a scene and wanted to justify it, and wrote to me asking for my thoughts about flashbacks. Well, I knew she/he just wanted to hear that "flashbacks are awesome," but I actually think flashbacks are lousy plotting, and wrote a long honest answer, and when she/he wrote back and said that surely there were good reasons for flashbacks, and I wrote another achingly earnest reply about how flashbacks disturb the chronology and everything in the book ought to contribute to the character change and flashbacks (which, like dreams, don't actually happen), and of course I referenced Oedipus the King (aka The World's Greatest Plot Evuh), and he/she wrote back a response dripping with contempt (because, after all, after 30 years analyzing fiction, I don't know as much as he/she who just started writing, which makes me wonder why he/she decided to ask me anyway), "Well, that is all well and good for Sophocles, but that was a long time ago, and I'm not Greek, so who cares."

This was SO PERFECT. I mean, really, how totally new-novelist (again, have encountered many) to sneer that Sophocles is outre (only they wouldn't know the term :) and who cares, and "I'm not Greek."

You know, because only GREEK NOVELISTS can learn anything from Sophocles.

So I couldn't help myself! When I gave workshops about plotting, and someone asked about flashbacks, I'd say, "Well, let me tell you about someone who loves flashbacks, and told me, when I explained about how Sophocles used a flashback, 'I'm not Greek, so who cares!'"

It was like, you know, the perfect comment from the scornful sort of writer who refuses to learn from other writers, like, you know, SOPHOCLES.

So once I was saying this line and everyone was laughing-- because it's that sort of awful arrogance we have only when we're just starting to write fiction-- and I noticed that one guy wasn't laughing. And afterwards he came up to me and said, "That wasn't what I meant. I meant just that what you were saying didn't apply to me." IT WAS HIM!

(Well, it did apply to him, but I recognize that most writers have to insulate themselves from influence in order to find their voice, and that very few are like me-- trained in literary analysis and never actually freed from the need to analyze. So he couldn't see that Sophocles's use of doubled roles and revelations-in-flashback really did illuminate his own situation, and anyway, duh, he asked me about flashbacks.)

But instead of snapping back that he should learn more about his craft, and that western lit was based on 3000 years starting with those Greeks he scorned, I ducked my head and apologized for using his very funny line.


But, you know, ethics? I don't know.

It sure is easier to do research about EA Poe than to write about actual writers I encounter in my life.

(BTW, I just proofed the galleys of my mystery book coming out supposedly in two weeks, and IT HAS A FLASHBACK! On page 3! I can't believe it! Are we sure I wrote this book?)

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