Postscript to Writing Prompt: The Temple of Poseidon

One of the great–and challenging–things about writing is digging deeper. For some types of writing, especially, I procrastinate and only begin writing when I have convinced myself (more likely deluded myself) that the piece is ready, whole cloth, in my mind. Then I write, crafting only the wording carefully as I write, ignoring that the piece might take a different path. I fall in love with what I’ve created, finish it, and declare victory.

Then I read it again.And even then I may still delude myself, convinced of how good it is. Depending on what it is, I might actually be done. If it’s something informal, I can send it along (a memo, a brief report, an instructional note for class). If it’s more formal, and others read it, I then learn what’s wrong. If it’s creative, and I reread it later, I sometimes cringe, realizing what I thought was good really wasn’t very good at all.

I say all this as a preface to the topic at hand, which is that a key piece of writing is revising, and I know this is a difficult step for students. Sometimes their work doesn’t change much from “draft: to “final.” Often, they respond only to some specifics that have been suggested to them by me or a peer. Rubrics help, I think, because if they are short of the requirements of the rubric–or have gone far afield–the rubric can bring them back. Too often, though, revision is not the deep, thoughtful step I would like to see, and I more than open to the possibility that the problem is with how I am asking students to approach revision. Maybe they need to see revision not as a dreaded large step from draft to final but as a process of revisiting, in small ways and larger, something they are working on over time. Maybe revision can even be a pleasure.

My piece last night points right to an example where revision can be a pleasure.

What I realized re-reading last night’s entry is that I had forgotten a key element of why Sounion was so important to me. It took the oblique reference to a poem I wrote about my visit, and that I wouldn’t want to  see that poem again, knowing that it was likely very bad. But then I remembered the concluding line from the poem, “So I focus on infinity and shoot,” and what the poem was about came rocketing back to me.

The real truth of my trip to Greece wasn’t how great it was, or how elevating or edifying. The truth is I was in mourning. I left for Greece right after Christmas in 1980, but in November I had lost my father and one of my best childhood friends. The trip to Greece was already planned, the ticket was already bought, and I felt pressure to go. But for the first three weeks or so of the trip, I was convinced I really shouldn’t have been there. I doubt I was good company for my girlfriend or for her parents. We did a lot–sightseeing, day trips, museums, meals, visiting their friends. The meals were big and long, and I remember hours in the car, making our way around the Greek countryside. I remember the makeshift roadside altars left where accidents occurred, I remember mountains upon mountains, lush green even in winter, grape arbors and olive groves.

If I am remembering correctly, we visited Sounion twice, partly on my insistence. I had indeed been drawn to it. The site itself, the rugged coastline, the lighting. I remember thinking–I like this place. I want to take the memory of this place with me. I want to feel good about this trip despite the fog of sadness I was in. So we went back there, and I made my way to Byron’s inscription. I was trying to get just the right shot for a photography class I was taking the next semester. I took a few shots, but then it struck me all at once that I was standing on this centuries old site, staring at a square foot of marble, and ignoring the stunning surroundings. The complete temple. The promontory. The Aegean. The sun starting to fall to the horizon. So I took a step back. I scanned the horizon, It was a vast sweep of beautiful water. It deserved my attention. So I gave up on Byron, peered through my lens finder, and focused on infinity.

Now I still don’t know if this metaphor works. I started writing about Sounion last night. Then remembered the line and what it meant. Now I’ve spent perhaps an hour recalling the line, the setting, and what I was thinking. Maybe there’s something more here to write about, maybe not. But this is the process–for me and for my students. This is one of many reasons writing teachers should write.

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