Mining For The College Essay (In 422 Words)

It’s not surprising that I have a fascination for Gold Rush Alaska on the Discovery Channel.  Turns out I love to mine.  Thankfully, my prospecting is a lot safer and I get to shower before each extraction, but I’m mining nonetheless.

My students may consider me a little different.  Like Papa Jack Hoffman, I’m eternally optimistic that gold will be struck.  When I reach both arms out like I’m going to hug them from across the room and exclaim, “Yes!, that’s the piece we’re looking for!”; or have them do a quiet meditation that includes visualizing grappling hooks and golden spheres floating above their heads, they curiously oblige. They amaze me further when they launch earnestly into consecutive 10-minute free-writes, without pause (even for a bite of apple or doughnut which I, by force of a mother’s nature, push on them throughout the workshop).   This method of brainstorming is a fast and intuitive process, the goal of which is to find the detail in their stories that get them to hit pay dirt.

It is a great thrill for me to don the miners cap and, by looking at the material students generate, direct and redirect them to go deeper into a memory or moment.  Often, my job is simply to point out a nugget they’ve stumbled upon and bring it into the light.  In two hours of work we’ve usually designed the arc of an essay that has most of the writing – albeit in pieces – complete.

Last week students from four river towns came to my free workshop at the W@tercooler on North Broadway in Tarrytown.  The stories they unearthed in our work together moved me deeply.  A fashion trade student who has inherited her artistic talent from her great-grandmother, is using a metaphor involving fabric samples to illustrate her newfound confidence; a talented musician and athlete with an tranquil disposition, is exploring recent moments when she’s acted on the urge to toot her own horn; a star athlete whose heartfelt relationship with his grandparents is illuminating his commitment to his craft and revealing his unique interaction with his sport; and an artist who is discovering why fitting in is a matter of perspective, which was made clear to her through a recent performance experience.

These stories are precious minerals, and I am looking forward to acting as conveyor for each student, helping move these bits of gold through the editing process and help them stake their claim on a story well told!

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