Today, I am grading essays, and I mean ESSAYS!!!!! AP season is upon us, so my students are fervently writing and reading and studying before their big day. Last Friday, I gave a mock AP exam that counts as part of their final grade; this academic exercise also allows them to practice the long haul of taking a 3 hour exam while providing feedback about their personal strengths and weaknesses. Now I have the joy of grading their tests…and this is why I am NOT applying to become an AP reader any time soon. While it would be amazing to connect with colleagues from around the States and get an inside look at the scoring process, I just couldn’t take all that grading/scoring! If you are an AP reader and want to help me see the brighter side of it, please do so because I’m sure it would help make me a better teacher if I did do it, but at this point in my life and career, it’s not for me. Like my students say, “I can’t even.”
Anyway, that is not the main point of this post; I wanted to share a poem I came across while grading my bazillion essays: John Updike’s “Marching Through a Novel.” This piece resonated with me as writer who just last night stared at my computer screen instead of writing the next chapter in my horrible novel. As I sipped my wine, I closed my eyes and tried to think of who my characters really are. I finally gave up, poured myself another glass, and joined my husband on the couch to watch an episode of Vikings (it was a good one!!!). My poor characters are still trapped somewhere in my mind, and perhaps, per Updike, I need to crack the whip and get a little more forceful with these faceless names.
Marching Through a Novel
by John Updike
Each morning my characters
greet me with misty faces
willing, though chilled, to muster
for another day’s progress
through the dazzling quicksand,
the marsh of blank paper.
With instant obedience
they change clothes and mannerisms,
drop a speech impediment,
develop a motive backwards
to suit the deed that’s done.
They extend skeletal arms
for the handcuffs of contrivance,
slog through docilely
maneuvers of coincidence,
look toward me hopefully,
their general and quartermaster,
for a clearer face, a bigger heart.
I do what I can for them,
but it is not enough.
Forward is my order,
though their bandages unravel
and some have no backbones
and some turn traitor
like heads with two faces
and some fall forgotten
in the trenchwork of loose threads,
poor puffs of cartoon flak.
Forward. Believe me, I love them
though I march them to finish them off.
(P.S. Beginning with the second line of the poem, every other line is indented which adds to the reading, but I am unable to make that visual a reality on this website…to my tech savvy friends, I’m sorry I’m so incompetent…but we all have our limits…computer code is mine). 😉
One more thing…that ancient calculator in my picture is not for grading the essays (I know that it may seem bit out of place), but it is for the glorious mathematical scoring that must be done with decimals and percentages and the like…I really do love math. It was actually my better subject in school, so any time I get to do a bit of math, I get a little excited (confession: I didn’t like reading until I became an adult! GASP! I’m so glad I got that off my chest).
Thanks for reading.