This summer after two months quarantining, I decided to drive across country and back. I live in the East Village, don’t own a car, and haven’t taken many road trips. So I had to do research. I called it SOCIAL LONG-DISTANCING. My goal was to drive to California to stay with friends (and to celebrate one of them being a Pulitzer Finalist!) then drive back, seeing national parks on the way. This would be in a rented van with a mattress in the back. I would sleep in the van at campsites (or in Walmart parking lots, they allow it) when I couldn’t sleep at my friends’ places. I had a cooler for food so I didn’t go to any restaurants. I saw Badlands, Zion, Bryce, Arches, Crazy Horse, Yellowstone, Devil’s Tower, Garden of the Gods, stayed at a farm, a ranch, and a gay CAMPground, etc. And visited 18 states. I was researching so many things, before and during trip. Which kind of vehicle, how much it’d cost, where to rent it. What kind of mattress, futon, air … What parks to see. What route to take. How long to leave for visits, for driving. I used the internet. I asked my friends. I called the campsites and Walmart and the national parks. Some weren’t opened now, most were. I asked many questions. I found if I didn’t ask follow ups, things like parks having limited hours would not be mentioned. I asked my friend in Wisconsin about driving to the Badlands as he was a geologic engineer who researched the Badlands. He prepared me well. I found personal interviews the best. It took 8 weeks. I drove 8,000 miles. Best thing I could have done this summer. I saw my friends. I wrote some. I taught on the road. I used the research and stayed very flexible as weather and lockdowns would happen (that meant research too, what weather would be like when I would arrive somewhere). I made it back, last day driving in the storm. And in time for this training!
I like the idea of letting students pursue their own passions. Making research a hobby instead of a chore. I like the idea of having the project be about finding topic, sources and analyzing them, not about writing the paper too. That takes off pressure and lets them learn about researching.
I’m Michael. I am a writer with a couple books out (poetry and non-fiction) and one coming September: Daddy (NYQ Books), my second full-length poetry collection. I’ve taught writing for 20 years at college level, including composition, literature, public speaking and creative writing. I have taught at Hofstra University, CUNY BMCC and New Jersey City University. I’ve taught online for Gotham Workshops for years which helped me greatly in moving my classes online this year. I kept it simple as Gotham has done. Announcements, Discussion Boards, Content, Collaborate and Grade Center. Students appreciated that approach and succeeded. I prefer being in the class and miss the students. But Collaborate was helpful, and though I didn’t make it mandatory, everyone showed. I think they were bored during the quarantine. Being in the class is fun. Online avoids the commute but somehow seems like more work than face to face. But it provides flexibility. I like that I can post examples and videos and such very easily to enhance the lessons.
One thing I do in all my English classes is connect writing essays to interviewing. I ask who is afraid to interview for internships/jobs? Then I go over some of the questions, hearing answers and offering some advice. Then I compare answering interview questions with essays. Proving by example, organization, detail rather than generalization. Then we answer the questions again, using the essay techniques. The answers improve substantially. They make a connection between being a better writer and getting a job. Maybe that is transfer I have been doing. They see the class as relevant to them after that first discussion, or most students do.
I am a poet. I studied fiction writing but wrote poetry secretly. The rules of poetry, who knows. That varies from poet to poet. I emphasize compression and imagery in my poetry classes. Using an organic voice is important. Being poignant, not sentimental. Being specific, not general. Being imaginative, not cliche. Saying something. Being accessible, not simple. I learned to write poetry from Stevie Nicks. I was a kid, entranced by her style, how she conveyed emotion but cryptically. I was an expressive boy who knew he was gay, so it was hard being secretive. Expressing myself using code, like Stevie, helped me get through. I wrote bad lyrics. That became bad poetry. Now hopefully better poetry. I write about Stevie. My essay about her turned into my first book MY DIVA, an anthology about gay men being inspired by women. I have poems about her too in Daddy. Her vagueness breaks rules of poetry. Her imagery, something, carries her through.