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Proposals and Disposals: Fry that Hen

In the great children’s classic “Caddie Woodlawn,” I recall–if I have it right–a painfully funny moment where she stands in front of her class and misquotes an aphorism: “If at first you don’t fricasee, fry, fry a hen.”

I had the same experience Tuesday night, when I took a beloved writing idea I really wanted to run with (a piece about the digital divide), and presented it in Klingon to four students and instructors I needed and wanted to convince. The proposal crashed and burned, and I went into mourning.

All of the advice I have received (on and off this blog) has been wonderful. Write it anyway! Post it on the blog! Write it after the semester! Redo the proposal! Follow your dream! This was all very encouraging. However, anyone reading this blog already knows what I would say about teh digital divide, and I want to write a piece that will break through the complacency of a much broader audience. If I’m going to do that, I need clarity of vision for this piece that carries me beyond a simple narrative that “the digital divide exists.”

I need a forceful story, something that will change people. I began buying free-range eggs after reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. I made a vow to visit Indonesia someday after seeing The Year of Living Dangerously. And I watched Spongebob Squarepants and it made me gay (o.k., maybe I was already gay, but the show did make me more sensitive to the challenges of inter-phylum relationships).

Writing is transformative behavior, and reading is a radical act. I need a focus for this piece that reflects those truths. It needs a clear topic, an audience, timeliness, and marketability. If it doesn’t have those elements, it won’t get read by the people we need to reach.

The instructor made it very clear we don’t have to follow the advice of the “editorial board.” I could write it anyway. But I think the message I’m getting is that another semester of Learning My Craft won’t do me any damage, and meanwhile, I can remain faithful and available, receptive to the emergence of the killer topic that will put a bright light on the challenges facing the folks struggling across the Donner Pass of technology.

I’m still frustrated I’m not where I want to be with my writing and my proposals on the topics dearest to me. I appreciate that you let me rend my clothes and gnash my teeth; I also shared a bit of a story with you about my life that I had never thought would leave my head, and that turned out to be a good thing, as well. Many demons can be exorcised simply by opening a door.

So, shoulder to grindstone, and fry that hen!

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