Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Reading Papers

I was going to start by saying it's the grading jail time of the semester.  But really, other than the first week or so, it always feels like the grading jail time of the semester.  (I tend to give small, low stakes writing assignments spread across the semester, so it's my own fault.  But I think these assignments are valuable to students.)

I'm reading poetry papers right now.  I gave them three topics to choose from, and many are writing about the poetry book we read (whose author skyped with our class), and mostly, these are really good.

Yes, some could use a stronger thesis, and many could do better if they embedded quotations to give them context. 

But their writing really shows that they're reading these poems as poems, and thinking about them well.  And that's very good.

One of the things that strikes me about these papers is that they tend to read grief as "depressing" rather than as "grieving" or "deeply emotional."  For me, "depressing" is more existential, more a matter of despair and hopelessness, while grieving, even deep grieving, is less hopeless and more just dealing with loss.  I think.  I'm not sure how to express this.

Is Lear depressing?  Or deeply emotional?  or something else?

Does grief feel depressing to you folks?


  1. My students regularly use "depressing" to refer to anything that doesn't have a happy ending, or to historical events that involve violence and injustice. So student evaluations of our first-year seminar tell us that reading The Latehomecomer is "depressing," and learning about the Vietnam war and the bombing of Laos is "depressing," and thinking about the plight of refugees is "depressing." So from now on we'll just show them Spongebob cartoons instead.

  2. Blogspot keeps eating my comments, on various posts. I left one earlier that I will try to reconstruct. I think Americans in general are ill-prepared to identify, accept, and deal with 'negative' emotion. I don't know if that's because Big Pharma has conditioned us to believe anti-depressants are the answer to any sort of unhappiness, or if the anti-depressant craze arose as the answer to our obsession with being Happy all the time. It's not only that it's hard to address negative emotion with any nuance; the degrees of 'contentment' or 'satisfaction' also seem to get blurred out. The Oatmeal has a good comic about absorption in meaningful tasks (rather than being Happy): http://theoatmeal.com/comics/unhappy

  3. I think other people's grief can be read as depressing. But I think that's because we often don't know how to deal with grief, so we just get sad. But I think Pear is profoundly moving, not depressing, so I don't know. I guess I'm contradicting myself...

  4. To add to Fie's comment, I think also, for most of us, we learn to do grief as we get older. It doesn't mesh with American optimism/ things will get better. Sometimes they don't.

  5. Thanks for your responses. I do think we're (as US culture) bad at dealing with grief, though many people get lots of practice as they get older.

  6. I think "depressing" is the un-nuanced version of the other feelings you're describing, and they're not quite there yet with the nuanced versions.

  7. I also think depressing has become a sort of catchall term for 'makes me feel things that are not fun' - I agree with you that linguistically grief is about loss, but is a more complex and richer and more dynamic emotion than straight depression. Depression is unremitting grey apathy with a side of self-loathing, whereas grief is a journey about loss and anger and processing and changing. But both are probably hard for most young people to really articulate - even if you've experienced both, I think there's a lot of challenge in articulating them which takes time to develop, time and maturity and reading a lot!