Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Art of Tracking

At the risk of being yet more unpopular in my mother organization, let me be blunt. A colleague of mine submitted a proposal to present a workshop at the next National Conference and though he had recently given one of the finest workshops I’ve had the pleasure to attend in the conference last year, his proposal was rejected. In explaining why, the committee shared their decision-making process. When considering a proposal, here’s what matters to them:  

·Objective is clearly stated and matches focus and description. (5 points) 

·Outline is clear and complete. (5 points) please upload in PDF format.

·Outline lists sequential learning process. (5 points)

·Outline includes media transfer if applicable: sing, say, dance, play. (5 points)

·Outline provides detailed material for a successful 75-minute session; too much, or too little detracts from your score. (3 points)

·Material and scores are of high quality. (3 points)

·Material matches selected age level. (3 points)

In short, though this teacher had proven his worth by hosting a sumptuous meal, they were mostly concerned that the menu follow all the correct guidelines. I find this disturbing.

Imagine my delight when I happened to be browsing through a book by the poet William Stafford titled Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer’s Vocation. Stafford was an extraordinary and humble poet who trusted his intuition. He woke up early every day of his life and sat before a white piece of paper, picked up his pencil and just started “crossing that unmarked snow” without a plan or purpose beyond setting his foot down and start walking and see what comes up. 

One essay is titled Interviewing Tracker Dog: A Fantasy Before the Daily Craft Lecture at Any Writer’s Conference. It brilliantly captures the dynamic above:

“Tracker Dog, Tracker Dog, what are your plans for finding the little child lost in the mountains?”

Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff.

“Tracker Dog, you are not answering my question. I suspect you of being a romantic, some kind of modern ignoramus. Maybe you haven’t studied the tradition that worthy tracker dogs before you have established.”

Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff.

“Now wait—surely you see the advantage of outlining your objectives, of a rational approach.”

Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff.

“You ungrateful tracker dog, pretending you never studied T.S. Beagle, or W.B. Setter, or learned the trochaic lope in order to have a foundation for running.”

Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff.

“All right, Tracker Dog— you’ll never learn the elegant line, the turns that make a trail that we can admire and study. You’re not a worthy model for us.”

Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff.

And so a word to my colleagues in the organization. When the lost child is found in the mountains, all are besides themselves with joy. No one cares about the details of how it was done. While some were writing impressive plans as to how one should do it, the other followed his nose and got the job done. That’s what counts. 

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