Pendulum

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Once again, a month has passed since my last post. And, as usual, too much has been going on to easily recap. A few highlights:

1. We got a note from Andrew’s old boss (from when he was 21 years old! — one of his first programming jobs) that he and his wife were visiting their daughter in France. She was wrapping up a year of studying abroad, and they’d be in Lyon for the weekend. Could we come see them? We checked our calendars and booked train tickets for a spontaneous trip to France! How cool is that? This was actually my first trip to France (beyond a few 7-hr layovers at Charles de Gaulle en route to Senegal), and we stayed overnight with their host family and enjoyed a wonderful backyard barbecue. The couples had been friends for years, and there was lovely camaraderie and excellent food. This is one of the things we miss most in Switzerland — the casual gathering of old friends because everyone here is new and interactions tend to be more formal. We all really enjoyed Lyon, which is big and busy but not overwhelming.

Basilica in Lyon
Basilica in Lyon

2. The following weekend we went to St. Petersinsel, an island I’ve been excited about visiting since I read about it several months ago. Now it’s technically a peninsula, but in 1765, it was an island, and  Rousseau lived there for two months when he was fleeing the authorities and called his time there the happiest in his life. It’s almost entirely carless with miles of hiking paths and marshes and forest. People have lived in the area since the Bronze and Iron age pile dwellers, and in 1127, a Cluniac monastery was established there. Rousseau stayed at that monastery, which by his time was a private residence, and we also stayed there at what’s now the Klosterhotel or “Cloister Hotel.”

Klosterhotel
Klosterhotel
View from Rousseau's room
View from Rousseau’s room

It only has 13 rooms so it books quickly, and the hotel makes its own island wine and has a gourmet restaurant. We spent a day hiking and reading and exploring, and then a huge thunderstorm blew in from across the lake and knocked out power on the island. The hotel ended up firing up some grills and still managed to put together a spectacular four-course meal (even dealing with dietary restrictions!). It was fun to see a team of professionals adapt to a new situation and make it work, and the power failure broke down some of the formality. At dinner, staff outnumbered the guests, and afterward, the waiters escorted us back to our rooms with dinner candles. The power was out for 5 1/2 hours, so it was quite an adventure. The next day we hiked more and then took a boat to a tiny medieval town across the lake, explored a little, and headed home.

Forest hike
Forest hike
Marshes
Marshes

The Guardian posted an excellent essay by W.G. Sebald on Rousseau’s stay on the island and his own visit in 1996, which I recommend.

3. Other than that, I’ve been fighting with my revision. After figuring out the plot snarls and mapping out everything I’d like to add/remove/change, I thought the actual writing would go quickly. Usually the pre-writing takes forever and the actual execution is fast. Not this time. Yesterday I figured out the problem. When I’d train new tutors, most were comfortable with older students and needed help figuring out the younger ones. One of the keys to working with younger students, I’d tell them, is understanding the pendulum effect. Younger students tend to over correct in sometimes extreme ways — for example in writing, if you ask them to use more quotes from the text, the next paper will be all quotes and no analysis. Then you ask them to pull back a little on the quotes and add more analysis and they swing wildly in the other direction. After a few rounds of back and forth, they find the right balance. Sometimes grown-up writers do the same. My first drafts tend to be fairly skeletal, and in revision I add layers and texture. This time, I had started overwriting, so the voice wasn’t working. Now I’m undoing some of the revisions and am much happier with the results! Note to self: leave time in both teaching and writing for the swinging pendulum.

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
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