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A Month In Lesson Plans

or, Arts And Crafts For The Spiritually Drained Post-Graduate

or, Non-Alcoholic Drinking Games For The Graphomaniacally Inclined

Another Web Tutorial

These are my last days at the workshop. I have driven the last of my kids from web staff to the airport, some of the same kids I had “brought into this world” when I picked them up at the airport three weeks ago: the cocky punk kid who spent his last minutes at the workshop giving his counselor tips for landing as many women as he had at the workshop, and then tried to kiss me when I complained about not getting enough action; the heavyweight slam poet in the fedora and overcoat who made out with about a dozen stuffed animals in the final video our web staff made.

I didn’t cry with the fury I did when I left here as a student. I know I run less risk of losing contact with these kids than I do with my closest lifelong friends: they’ll be on AIM every night. I wasn’t sad. I felt lighter — not like a weight had lifted from me, but rather like every cell in my body was expanding and rising, full of warm air. I feel grateful that I met these people, that they showered on me the kind of admiration kids do for counselors they like even when I was feeling like a miserable excuse for a teacher; more so that they shared with me their unfettered passions for music and knowledge and each other.

What I’ll miss most about this place is the creativity of it. That should be obvious, right? Not that this place was at all good for my writing; to the contrary, I think I’ll take months to get back to the contented writing place I was before I got here. It’s the collective creative endeavors that I’ll miss, the creativity in everyday human relationships. I worry I’m going to lose it again, so I want to share what happened with you. A number of the things listed here was ceremony surrounding our nightly counselor meetings. We had an invocation at the beginning, where one counselor would have a brief creative project for us to undertake, and we would end with the reading of a poem. I’ll miss that ritual.

Swapping Writer’s Block

Leanne, who was a friend of mine when I was a student here, and was now a counselor, arrived the very first night I was in town, before any of the training started. I told her I had writer’s block on a fiction piece I was trying to write about a family that has an unwanted nude portrait hanging in their dining room. Why don’t I write it for you, she said, and you can write the poem I have been trying to write as a response to one I wrote years ago about being sixteen. We read them to each other afterwards. It was remarkably useful; though I got hung up later in the piece, the initial details she gave me sparked my imagination and I got a few solid pages out of the exercise. The novelty of the swap was foreshadowing of all the other great innovations of this place.

Exquisite Corpse Poem

The counseling staff wrote one daily, each of us adding a line if we remembered to when we stopped through the office. Some of them were lame, some turned into inside jokes, and some were strikingly beautiful. Jeff Miller, one of the songwriting TAs, kept insisting our contract from Penguin Books was in the mail.

Magnetic Poetry On The Bathroom Walls

made so much more sense than on the refrigerator.

Tattoo Poetry

Someone found temporary tattoos of teletype words in a local boutique, and had us tattoo the person sitting to our right for one invocation. I put “born radiant / essential” on Jen Rose’s neck. My co-TA, Cahill Zoeller, gave me “no televised freedom honey” as an armband. god bless her, even though she claims to be a Republican.

Nightly Jam Sessions

I’ve got the chekere. Allison Taylor’s on the mic. Carlos is doing beat box. Suffice to say you can’t top an acoustic version of Baby Got Back.


At some point Laura introduced me to the idea that everything you say can be made to sound dramatic and profound if you prefix it with “America.” We’d have whole conversations this way. America, look at me, I’m up too late again. America, I ought to be packing and getting ready to go.

Quote Walls

Every suite had a big piece of butcher paper tacked to the wall where kids could write funny things people had said. We had these in college, too. I wonder if they would work with elementary school kids in the home: a way to nurture comic talent in your young ones? You know once you put one up everyone’s angling to get on it. I guess that’s fine, because then we all laugh a lot more.


One of our counselors was Catholic and obsessed with saints, so we made small devotional cards for each other one evening, each of us considering what the person to our right needed saintly oversight for. Sadly, I never received one. There was also talk of altar-building in the air — the twig shrine to a fallen dining commons banana out front, and talk of using the urinals in the women’s bathrooms as some kind of devotional area.

Five-Minute Musicals

The songwriting staff was fond of having people pick a topic and write a musical about it in five minutes. Last year’s topics included someone’s mom and muscles.

Double-Blind Postcards

We sent anonymous postcards to an unknown partner through the head counselor. My person never wrote back to me after the second round, but the possibilities of the excercise remained intriguing.

Notes On The Way To Your Grave

This was another of Leanne’s innovations. One night I found her gathering old receipts, bits of tampon boxes, post-its, pieces of ribbon, old xeroxes, etc. together into a vintage suitcase. The idea, developed for her poetry class, was to walk to the graveyard and on the way write something they might write to themselves on their way to the grave. I should check with her and see how that one went.

Rolling Down A Hill

Cahill and I had our class do this to focus on physical sensations in their writing. They loved it. One of the most striking things about rolling down a hill when you’re twenty four and weigh 140 pounds is how uneven your body is: your legs roll faster than your shoulders, and you usually end up going sideways.

Neverending Tye Dye

The front steps were littered with rubber bands and multicolored clothes for much of the week. At all hours you’d find someone squeezing out a newly blue set of underwear. I got a great-looking bra out of it.

Freestyle Scrabble

OK, so this is my idea and I still haven’t pulled it off, but if it would happen anywhere it ought to happen here. I talked about it with Eleanor and Jessica on the last day of nonfiction class as we played Scrabble, and they think it’s a good idea, so you should try it. The idea is to make up words and score them on three qualities: plausibility of structure (based on prefixes, suffixes, pluralizations), plausibility of definition given, and moxie.

Poetry Slam

We were so g0dd^mn lucky — a kid who’d built up some cred at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe was a student this year, and he led two poetry slams, with votes by student judges egged on by a crowd yowling for poetic justice. Did I mention two web staff kids tied? I couldn’t have been prouder if they’d crawled out of my own womb.

White Pennies

This is an older one: When I was here as a student, we started finding pennies around the dorm which had been painted white on one side. A single word was written on the white paint. Old pal Kube and I snatched up as many as we could find and tried to make sense of them. Then we tried to make sentences with them. In the end we took them home and sent them to each other and other workshop friends, one by one. I think they were intended as writing prompts, but they made for great reasons to correspond, too. I don’t know if any of them were ever spent, but if they were it is somehow also right: this time, as last time, I am coming away from this place with its creative currency, wanting to spend it on everyone I know. (you’re not all too mature for that, are you? if I love you, I will try this out on you sometime soon, because I worry we’ve all lost our ability to cut loose and have a spontaneous parade or write a script together, the way these kids do.)

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