Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Outside the Box: Door or Trap?

By chance, out of the flurry of news and information, a phrase that delighted me, by artist Grace Hwang: "Which of these leads to a door and which of these leads to a trap?" Underneath, a list of words. As a young student, I was the person who saw an assignment as a trap, and I worked hard to subvert it. I resisted, not understanding that an assignment can be a door to a new way of looking at something. I wish one of my teachers had asked me that question back then. I started this semester using the phrase in my classroom, and I refer to it as needed. I also applied it to my new practice of writing inside the box.

I've written about assignments previously in this post from 2011. Because I tended to balk at assignments, I'm reluctant to give them. The ones I do give are fairly open; this is for them, not for me. They should be able to spend time and focus on something that is meaningful to them, not what I think should be meaningful. Occasionally, this is too open-ended. They want closer boundaries. For some people, constraints are freeing, because choices take energy. Choosing from five things instead of one hundred can be liberating. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King writes that he works better with constraints and better with the door closed. Not everyone does.

These posters were taped on walls and benches throughout CCA Oakland campus last fall. Is the box a door or trap? You can see the resistance. The accepted challenge. And how some students accepted and claimed it for themselves.

Door or trap? It's a good question, applicable to life in general.
Thanks, Grace!
You can buy her flip book Movement Scores for a place, for a body with the question mentioned and thought-provoking quotes inside here.
Grace Hwang's work will be included in the next issue of Star 82 Review, Issue 5.1,
due mid-March, 2017.

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