Monday, September 28, 2009

My personal 20 - a life condensed and potent

Life unfolds in moments of magic and doom, tragedy and euphoria.

We all have stories that are worth telling - the stories that define our lives and our identity. These moments hover in time and quiver with portent. I'd like my students to write from a place of emotional truth. Emotion resists disguise and mocks the trappings of deceit.

My students believe that they have nothing to say and that no one could possiblly find truth in their experiences. Yet, when I ask each of them to think of the five events that have defined their lives, the stories appear out of the mist and take physical, emotive form.

As part of our discussion of Margaret Atwood's "Death by Landscape," we have grappled with the heady theme of identity and its fitful search for self.

What does it mean to be Canadian? How is identity formed? Can story become the truth of our lives? How do the isolated moments that mark our lives, like the bony ridge of each vertebrate, come to form the spine that gives our lives form and function.

As a culminating activity, I was inspired by Kate in the Kitchen, a food blogger whose love of food and words mirrors my own much humbler efforts. In particular, I was moved by the candor, vulnerability and emotional rawness of her Kate's 100. ...a human life, in 100 lines. This was a life condensed and potent. Each item was a story in wait and, together, they form the stories that are worth telling in Kate's life.

I asked my students to extend their understanding of character and the theme of identity formation in "Death by Landscape" by creating a personal 20 for the protagonist, Lois. What are the moments (real or created) that defined Lois' life and identity? As an extension, I also asked students to share the top 20 of of their own lives. What are the stories that are worth telling? How does identity take shape?

Here is my personal 20.

1. I did not learn how to speak English until I was seven.
2. The only thing I love more than cooking is eating.
3. I have always wanted to be a teacher.
4. I don't think I was a very good teacher until I became a mother.
5. Sometimes, after a day of teaching, I go home and cry.
6. I cry a lot - this is a gift and a curse.
7. My temper is fierce and overwhelming; I struggle to keep it contained.
8. I married the kindest and most intelligent man I ever met.
9. We got married at the Chapel of Love in Las Vegas - my marriage may not be legit.
10. I'm energetic and hyper; this makes me lovable to some and annoying to others.
11. When I was 7, I wanted to be white and blond and eat exotic things like meatloaf
12. I named myself Cindy, after Cindy Brady of the Brady Bunch.
13. I know I am my mother's favourite and this makes me feel guilty.
14. When my daughter was born, my heart stretched taut with fear.
15. My father is a story I have buried too deep to be healthy.
16. There was a time when I felt like fraud in both cultures.
17. I spent many years of my life deeply ashamed of my Chinese heritage.
18. I am a boat person.
19. I named one daughter Weijin (imaginative journey) and the other Jian (peaceful journey); their names hold my wish for each of their lives.
20. The wrongs of the world overwhelm me with grief.

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