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Think of Thoreau, I told them, going to live in the woods to see what he could see and write about it, or John McPhee, setting out with himself and his curiosity. The most perfect expression of the form I’ve read might be Adriana Páramo's Looking for Esperanza, which begins with the author reading a newspaper article about a woman crossing the border from Mexico with her children and having to leave a dead infant somewhere in the crossing. Páramo—with no guarantee of success—simply set out to find her. Other great examples include James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men—a classic about immersion with sharecroppers, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks--a research journey about the intersection of science, race, and society that becomes personal, and Steve Almond’s Candy Freak—a love affair with candy turned into a road-trip to find mom-and-pop candy factories. I usually use Robin Hemley’s book, A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel. Instructors who’ve taught composition for a while will also connect this to the I-Search Paper, a fantastic composition assignment and framework by Ken Macrorie, and my own Backwards Research Guide, which is also centered around the same basic approach for use in composition classes but with more quotes from Buddhists. Click here to continue reading.
There was a moment, a few years ago, when an accidental comparison opened a fast understanding. I was in my office, talking with a student about her manuscript. She had a fine idea but the writing was wooden. Every bit of exposition sounded like speech-making. Every bit of narrative was summary at best. There were statues of information but no movement. We weren’t on the same page about how to get the parts to work together.
“Do you know what hocketing is?” I asked.
I knew my student was in the college bell choir and I had learned the word just the day before, listening to a bell choir on Minnesota Public Radio. Obviously, the announcer said, no one bell carries more than one note. No one bell can carry a melody. But listeners perceive a melody from the interplay of the one notes coming from multiple places. Simply put, hocketing is the technique of making disparate parts create a linear song that, frankly, exists nowhere except in the listener’s head.
“Yes!” she said. The revision was a success.
A short while later, in a meeting with another student, who was working on a memoir of his mother’s cancer, I asked if the disease was a key-change in the existing family tune, or a whole new song.
“Oh,” he said. “Now I get it.” Click here to continue reading.