Fear and Confusion: My Two Best Friends

IMG_2050The title of filmmaker Werner Herzog’s book A Guide For the Perplexed could also be the title of my autobiography, except I’m not brilliant and often quoted by the literati. I do, however, reside in the state of Confusion (CI because CO was taken by the state of Colorado) where all of the citizens feel perplexed all of the time. E.B. White called it “chronic perplexity”. I love it here. We have both mountains of discombobulation and oceans of befuddlement. The view’s always spectacular although often foggy. And when you come out of a store, into the parking lot and you can’t find your car, no one else can either. Everyone’s holding out their key fobs, pointing them in random directions and clicking. We’re all smiling at each other’s forgetfulness. We’re not mad, only a little bit frustrated but we’ll get over it.

During life’s dynamic journey, you’ll be holding hands with a big, frightening giant called The Unknown. Make him your best friend. It’s all about failure and resilience. As you’re creating and experimenting, anxiety is your fiercest enemy, your most formidable barrier, your highest wall to climb over, the treacherous rapids, the deepest, darkest, coldest part of the ocean. Don’t let your worries win because then you’ve lost. Fall in love with fear.

Herzog calls his life and career “a never-ending educational experience, a way of discovering in which direction you need to take your own work and ideas”. Vygotsky called it “the zone of proximal development”. If your true state of mind is befuddlement, confusion and flabbergasted-ness, and you’re excited to be there, in that state, then you’ve achieved the status of STUDENT. (I like all caps almost as much as e. e. cummings liked all lower case.) (I also like parentheses.) The learner, the studier, the STUDENT is a seeker who pursues not only knowledge but also truth. They are definitely related, if not the same. This seeker, this student-person, constantly strives to become a better thinker, an improved citizen of our planet.

If you’re not confused, then you’re not learning anything new. You’re stagnating, merely showing off what you already know. Being the smartest person in the room is not only boring; it’s impossible. Each human in that room possesses insights you’ve never thought of before. Your job is to find those insights. Root them out. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Don’t respond with a statement or a judgment. Respond with another question; a related question, one that proves you’ve been listening. Vygotsky believed that true learning was “socially co-constructed between people as they interact”. Listen to the person next to you, observe, remember what you see and hear, process it and make it your own.

Although it’s not a substitute for real-time real-life experience and face-to-face interaction, the internet is here to stay. Celebrate it and use it. Don’t let it use you. Google has taught us that we don’t know everything (And wouldn’t life be boring if we did? It wouldn’t be life at all; it would be death.), but all knowledge, all secrets, all esoteric facts and theories are accessible to us with the click of a mouse. Exciting but also frightening. If you’re not scared, you’re not living. You’re not learning anything. Your journey isn’t even a journey at all; it’s a nice comfortable rest someplace boring. Get up and get going. Free fall into a state of confusion. Climb your way out. And then dive into a mystified state of befogged-ness. You won’t be too scared if you’ve fallen in love with fear.


Why I Love My Day Job

My Fifth Period Class

My Fifth Period Class

larissa d

June 13, 2014 – 9:09 PM (10 hours ago)

to me

Mrs. Larrabee, I would like to inform you that my friend and I are so inspired by your work Enter If You Dare that we decided: why don’t we write a story ourselves? So we’re getting to work! It’s going to be a bit like the format of Nothing But the Truth by Avi, (which our class is reading now) because we are going to change the P.O.V. (Point of View) between the two main characters who are a girl named Ariel and a boy named Edward. Here is basically a summary of our story (We haven’t come up with a title yet.):

“Ariel is one out of three children and having divorced parents isn’t the easiest, especially when you’re the youngest and still living with your parents; or shall I say parent? Ariel moves across the country from a small town in Massachusetts to California with her Dad while her mom and siblings stay in Massachusetts. Ariel meets a boy named Edward who doesn’t have it so easy either. He lives with an alcoholic mother and his father left him when he was just a baby. Edward is considered the “Emo” of the school because he feels hurt by the words of many of the students. Ariel and Edward’s friendship grows closer, as do their feelings for one another, but they make a promise. As much as they love each other they can’t show it because they don’t want their friendship to end. But Ariel smokes and ends up dying and Edward is in great grief and so are Ariel’s parents and siblings. When Ariel was alive he showed his love for her and it grew stronger everyday as she grew weaker 😦 but he couldn’t do anything to tell her but hoped one day they would be together. But now that she’s gone he has no chance, and still loves Ariel and only her. So Edward comes up with an idea to write her letters and read to her at her grave site and he always brings her some sort of gift and tells her he misses her and that he loves her. While Edward knows Ariel’s physical appearance is gone her spiritual one still lingers in the lives of her loved ones. Ariel tries to communicate with Edward but always fails. Ariel also regrets not telling him she loved him while she was still living……” that’s the idea of our book so far. I was wondering if you could give us some tips and stuff because our moms think that we could actually publish this (but with our parents) and people could read it. I came to you because I love your work, Mrs. Larrabee, and I honestly can’t wait to read it in August while I’m in Brazil. But if you could give us some tips about our book that would be great!


Larissa D and Her Friend Sarah

Alyson Larrabee

8:16 AM (0 minutes ago)

to larissa

Dear Larissa and Sarah,

Number One: The fact that you’re writing to me on a Friday night in June (when many students are not thinking about their English teachers or writing) inspires me beyond anything most people can imagine. Your idea for a story is original and interesting. It has both physical action and an emotional and spiritual message. Mark Twain said that every good book should have action, adventure, romance and a lesson about life. (I’m paraphrasing.) Lesley Fiedler was an American literary critic and we had to read his book Love and Death in the American Novel when I was in college. He basically said, in his book, that all great literature is about Love or Death or both. You two girls seem to understand this, even though you’re not in college, yet.

Number Two: Here are a few words of advice.

Begin your story with an action scene that no one can turn away from. The reader will only want to turn the page to find out what will happen next. Make the stakes high for a character who’s important. Make the readers care about your character immediately by having her/him do something everyone can relate to right away. Something that makes her human (awkward, bumbling, idiotic). You have a great premise (basic inspirational idea) and it’s filled with opportunities for high stakes action. You have an alcoholic on-board, a rocky marriage. People can scream things and throw things. Go for it.

Change the way Ariel dies. I think it usually takes a lot of years for someone to die as a result of smoking cigarettes. You want her to die young, right? Not when she’s fifty or sixty? Also, cancer has been done big and recently, by John Greene in The Fault in Our Stars. Brainstorm some good death ideas: accidents, illnesses, murder Then choose one. I think that you want her to linger? Is that right? Not a sudden death? And that’s cool because then the two main characters can have some emotional scenes together and you can wring some tears out of the readers. People enjoy crying, especially teenage girls, hence the success of The Fault in Our Stars.

I LOVE the Point of View idea. You’re really challenging yourselves with that one, but it’s a great idea. And you can do it. I have confidence in you.

Also, change the guy’s name. The romantic interest in the Twilight series is Edward. Your ideas are unique and exciting, so let’s take out anything derivative (copying other famous, popular books).

I would like to publish your email to me and my response to you in my writer’s blog. Do I have your permission? Let’s get this thing going and keep it going. I’m PUMPED!

Mrs. Larrabee

PS. There are a lot of good blogs, written by writers that might help you. I’ve read some blog articles on co-writing books and I think you’ll find them both helpful and inspirational. I’ll give you some blog web addresses in school next week.