Monday, July 19, 2010

The Boys (and Girls) of Summer

In what seems to have been the blink of an eye, we are already into the fourth week of CTY, which, as some of you know, means that the first group of students have been and gone and the second class has just arrived. With an almost instant turnover of students, it is hard the first couple of days to not be looking for a first session student when gathering the class after lunch or a break. Or to be calling one of this session's students by the name of one from last session.

This summer, my perennial teaching partner Lauren and I had separate classes for the first session, but have been reunited to teach a single class for the second. We both used the same syllabus for the first session -- one we collaborated on changing during the past "off-season" -- but each of us chose some different examples and writing exercises to focus on. Now that we are teaching together, we are comparing notes on what each of us did, deciding what worked or didn't, and coming up with a third version of the course. And, of course, we are throwing in new material based on ideas that occurred to us along the way. (This evening I have written a short story using as many cliches as I can, the basis for an exercise on how not to write an entertaining tale.)

The class has evolved every year since we started teaching it in 1993, though there are some things that are always there. CTY kids always ending up glowing green as the result of Ima Server's mishandling of Dr. Wolfgang's jellyfish samples from the Marianas Trench. Walter W. Weebil continues to hawk cole slaw container lids as a fabulous toy. And "Wayward grandfather / Where are you going to now? / Just to the bathroom," a haiku composed by my brother Richie and me during a Father's Day brunch many years ago, remains in my samples of poetry.

But like any piece of writing, the class can always be made a little better with some careful tweaking.


I have on occasion talked about lovely, bucolic Chestertown, Maryland, home to Washington College, our CTY site. I'm sure many of you have heard the old cliche about a town being so small that they roll up the sidewalks at night. Well, that is just what has been happening here this summer.

Since we've arrived here, the college has been systematically removing the sidewalk that runs in front of our dorm buildings and, based on what we have observed, will eventually replace it with a new brick walkway. In the meantime, however, our first two rainless weeks meant that we were walking through a dust bowl that turned us all a light shade of brown. (Those few folks who opened their windows found a fine layer of grit covering everything in their rooms.) We have since had a number of thunderstorms -- including one earlier this evening -- that have turned the entire area into a giant mud puddle.

We are hopeful that this project will be completed sometime before we leave. The area in front of our dorms has always been a social center; staffers traditionally sit outside and chat till all hours of the night. This year, however, the path we have for getting out is barely a wide enough to walk single file and the only socializing takes place when two people have to shimmy past each other.

For now, however, the sidewalks remain rolled up.