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Spinning Rhetoric

First of all, if anyone is paying attention, I apologize for missing the last two Fridays. I realized I just called attention to my negligence, but it is what it is. How long do they say it takes to establish a life habit? 30 days? Give me awhile.

A life habit I’ve had for about four years now is spin classes. At my gym last week, I had an instructor I’d never had before and I was struck by her word choices. She kept saying things like, “I want you to be uncomfortable right now” and “If you are happy right now, you do not have enough resistance on. You should not be happy.” And simply, “This is work.”

I had enough resistance on, but I was hard pressed not to react to her phrasings. I questioned the impact of her methodology. I looked around at my fellow spinners and saw their faces grimacing, their exhales determined, many sets of eyes squeezed shut. I believe I’d never seen them all in such pain.

Other spin instructors use phrases more like, “Your time; your ride.” And about as aggressive as they get it is, “Come on, give me another turn” or “Speed! Speed!” But all through their classes, they are saying, “You got this!” “We’re putting on more resistance because….we can!” “Here comes the best ten minutes of your day!”

Of course, this all made me think about projection, perception, about the power of suggestion, and of course, about teaching.

I get these students who have been ruined by their high school teachers. I’ve read studies that discuss how students get more and more discouraged as they go on in their education, more and more anxiety-ridden about their own work, their own ability.

We all know if you call a kid a stupid jackass enough times he will come to think of himself as a stupid jackass. If we say, “This is hard. This is hard,” doesn’t it become harder?

So, teachers with a positive outlook, a certain methodology, try hard to make work feel like play? Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, the teachers intent is too transparent; the exercise not fun enough to “forgive” that.

During grad school and my TA ship I was told the secret of the inner circle—when you write your comments at the end of the paper, find something positive to say, then tell the student what they should work on and fix, then end with something positive.

Sugar with the medicine; hello and goodbye with a friendly smile and a hug, even though our time together is all bad news. This positive bread sandwich is probably just as transparent, but I would still contest that it’s better than all bad news. At least give me a hug when you’re done.

How do teachers of writing break through all of the morass we must, the basic resistance to assignments, the fact that we’re dealing with individuals who have their own approaches, the damage that other teachers have caused, the fact of writings very subjectivity.

If you’ve taken a spin class or do any other physical work or exercise where you need to break through the “wall” to get to the other side, you know. That metaphorical wall is similar to writers block:

That feeling of “I am never, ever, ever going to make it today. I am just too tired. My legs simply do not have the energy.” Is the mantra for the first ten minutes of the run, the spin class, and then, even as I’m going for my towel draped over the handlebars I’m thinking, “Yes, yes. I could do this all day.” The body fills with joy, something close enough to joy.

The writer sits down at the blank screen or page and says, “I’ve got nothing to say.” But if she starts writing anyway, starts saying anyway, eventually she’ll break through the wall and be saying something and her fingers on the keys or her hand holding the pen will barley be able to keep up. The body fills with joy, something close to joy.

As writing instructors, we need to walk around the room as they write, and shout, “You got this.”

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