This summer, I decided to hop on board an online course and community of educators led by teachers and authors Cathy Fleischer and Sarah Andrew-Vaughan called the Unfamiliar Genres Project. Their book “Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone: Helping Students Navigate Unfamiliar Genres” is the basis for the course.
Part II of the course/community is active during the month of July. Each participant chooses an unfamiliar genre to research and to write in. I’ve chosen vignettes since most of the students I work with are training to become clinical psychologists and therapists and they write papers in which they are learning to assess clients by reading and responding to vignettes. But I’ve learned through my research that vignettes are also used in Psychology and Sociology research in surveys. And I’m knee-deep in reading journal articles that describe the research and reveal the vignettes. And I’m loving it!
Of course, rereading “The House on Mango Street” is a great deal of fun as is reading “Deer Table Legs” by Katayoon Zandvakili and “Slide” by Monica Zarazua.
Katayoon’s poems are vignette-like which may be directly connected to her other creative pursuit, which is painting. And Monica’s short fiction has vignette qualities. Until I did a reading with these two writers on Wednesday, I was unfamiliar with their work. So, I’ve had pleasant synchronicities occur with this project. And I have two new books!
I was brought to tears by an essay by the writer Natalie Diaz. She writes of the dilemma that most of us who write and speak face: What do we mean when we say or write _______? However, those of us who are monolingual don’t have much to compare our language limitation(s) to. Diaz is multilingual and she shares the limitations of English through the lens of Mojave. After reading the first paragraph of her essay I wanted all of us to speak, write, read and understand Mojave. Or any language that could express in an active and visual way what I really mean when I say anything heartfelt, true, or real. And no, I’m not entertaining a desire to leave or deny my roots. This post has nothing to do with that. I proudly, solidly and gratefully stand on my ancestors shoulders.
Diaz begins with: “In Mojave, the words we use to describe our emotions are literally dragged through our hearts before we speak them…” I only write and speak English, but I feel more than I can often write or say and I often feel keenly the limitations of the language I have access to.