My class discussion flopped today. Despite preparation in class and posting discussion questions in advanced, none of my ENG I students prepared. It was a stark contrast to ENG II where the discussions have been thoughtful, deep and my students brave in offering up stories of their own to share. I think if I had showed up with pliers to pull teeth, the class would have been easier.

At first, I thought I might respond with a pop quiz to see if they are even reading the book. A few students displayed knowledge of the story. But pop quizzes feel punitive. I realized, I’m the teacher and I need a different tool. Maybe they aren’t engaged, or maybe they don’t know what is expected of them in a discussion group. That job falls to me.

This is the same class who groans over flash fiction. On Tuesday, none groaned. A few even appeared eager. And I can already see the difference between

Next week we are going to watch Brené Brown’s classic TedTalk on vulnerability and I plan to use it as a practice discussion. Plus, the message might help some get over their reluctance to speak up. For the next book discussion, I’m going to require each student to read one passage (of their choosing) and say why they selected it. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still learning, too! And I understand feeling vulnerable as a new college prof.

Since we can all use a little Brené Brown inspiration in our lives, here’s a refresher on vulnerability.

After class today, I drove to a friend’s house who is also a writing client whom I coach. She’s an authorpreneur working on several creative projects at once and wants to have accountability for her progress. She also knows that she doesn’t know everything she needs to be successful. I thrive on coaching people with a vision. Many people find vision work too vulnerable and prefer stumbling around in the dark. If you don’t know what success and the work is to get there, then you don’t have to be accountable for a lack of success. I get it. It scares me to share my vision work because if I don’t do it, everyone knows I failed. But I believe less and less in failure. (Thank you, Norah Colvin, for introducing me to the growth mindset that says, “not yet.”)

Everything becomes possible when you can say, “not yet,” until you can declare “done it!”

When I was in school, learning effective ways to teach creative writing, I didn’t think I’d make it to a university campus. Maybe, I thought, after I published a few books. Even though many colleges are hiring adjuncts (a fancy academic way of saying faculty hired on contract), they still want to see university classroom experience. I get that, too! My learning curve as a newbie is huge and some days I get butterflies in my stomach riding that arc.

I’m learning technology, systems, access, resources, and responsibilities. I’m finding out that I’m responsible to track academic success and alert the college about struggling students, yet, intuitively, I was already doing that. Now I know there is a formal process. I had already set up a meeting with a struggling student and planned to coach him to get back on track. It is not failure to delay or get lost. Yet, it takes courage to get back into the game.

By January, I plan to embark on a journey with a motivated cohort of writers I’m calling The Thirty. Thirty writers will participate in a group coaching experience for a year to practice craft, strategy, critique and platform construction in real time with real submissions and real feedback. This will be the foundation of an education platform I want to build with writers from our community. Carrot Ranch will remain a place of mentoring and fellowship but also give me a launching pad for my next career move.

But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I’m working on small steps and incremental development. I’ve always believed that we should love what we do and do what we love. I also find it exciting that when we follow our vision, we evolve and what we love becomes more accessible. I don’t believe we ever change dreams; I believe we refine dreams as we grow.

My ENG I class is reading The Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. The author has a fantastic story of perseverance as a writer. You can listen to her here:

Coming off my learning curve this week, I’m going to make a left turn with the prompt. I had been thinking about an event I loved when I worked in the natural food industry in the Twin Cities. The Mall of America, known regionally as the MOA, hosted a live cooking show where local celebrity chefs competed to prepare a series of dishes using a fully stocked pantry and unexpected food ingredients, like beef tongue or purple cauliflower or quinoa. It was always great fun (accept for that one year the MOA received a bomb threat and the chefs and hosts were whisked away to a safe room while the rest of us contemplated our lack of social standing, left to be potentially blown to bits, though nothing came of the threat and the show resumed).

Anyhow, after a week of prompting my students, I’m feeling inspired!

September 9, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the cooking show. It can be any cooking show, real or imagined. Who is there? What happens? Make it fun or follow a disaster. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 14, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

The Cooking Show Bombs by Charli Mills

Carl chewed on his bottom lip. The basket revealed to him contained squid, maple syrup, goat cream, and volcanic black rice. The crowded rotunda erupted as the host of the MOA Cooking Challenge explained the secret ingredients. Sharon, fellow chef-restauranteur in downtown Minneapolis, gave Carl the side-eye. The squid. How in the world…? Ink. Black. Rice. Cream. But goat? He released his lip and ran to the pantry nearly colliding with Li Sun of the Golden Dragon Sushi Bar. She’d be his competition this round. Sharon froze on stage, flummoxed. Then, security rushed the stage. Saved by a bomb.

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