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It has been a long time since my last post. Let me begin by apologizing to all the loyal readers of the Fairly Serious blog and thank you for continuing to support what I’m trying to do here and for all the great fanfic that you’ve submitted involving this blog and the casts of Harry Potter and Golden Girls. You don’t know how much that means to me. Thanks for putting up with my nonsense too.

Gratefully yours,

Justin

A couple of weeks ago I was given the opportunity to do a guest lecture for the class I’m TAing. In fact, all the TAs were given the same opportunity so lest you think there is something special about me I assure you there is, but this isn’t it. I’d like to share a few of the things I had jotted down after delivering my 25 minutes about what a different sort of feeling it was speaking in front of a large group of students. In my experience up to that point, I had never addressed a crowd of students larger than about 50 in an “I’m gonna learn you something” mode. I also want to talk about my preparation for this deceptively simple task. I’ll also share the actual lecture slides and notes that I prepared in an effort to share my triumph/shame with the world because that is what we do in the 21st century.

First, a bit of background on the topic of the class. The class had been reading selected short fiction by Eileen Chang and, before this class, I had never heard of her let alone read any of her work, so how was I supposed to give a lecture devoted to her work? I had fretted about this, but came to a fairly simple solution: even though I did not know Chang’s work with enough depth to say anything meaningful about what kind of a writer she was and her impact on Chinese and English literature, I was familiar enough with the stories we had been reading and teaching in the class as well as the mode of writing known as short fiction, so I decided to give a lecture on how we got to a stage in writing where someone named Eileen Chang could write something and we could, as scholars, classify it in a certain way. I would, of course, incorporate examples from the assigned texts so as to have it resonate with the students on the day.

Having never prepared to simply speak for that long a period uninterrupted on any topic, let alone literature, I was not certain how much I should say on each part of my lecture. I knew roughly how long I would need to read a conference-length academic paper, but this was something different. I had to think about what I was going to say and, most importantly, my audience. I was not going to be speaking to a room full of scholars with equivalent or superior levels of knowledge on the chosen topic; I had to address a large group of first year university students with varying levels of interest in the material. I decided on the central question of ‘What is Short Fiction’ and a chronological approach to answering that question. I prepared a simple slide show that would trace the development, as I saw it, of (short) storytelling from about 40,000 years ago to the present. A lofty, albeit fascinating, timeline. You can see all this plus my notes here and here. I took way longer to prepare for this than a seasoned lecturer would; it took me the better part of two days and I put some of my other work on hold while I did this. I reckon that this was due to my inexperience and nervousness in getting this thing right. I was doing corrections until the minute before it began as well. Again, this is all just beginner’s jitters.

As soon as I got up in the front of the lecture hall I began a little fast and then told myself to calm down. I had even practiced through this thing a couple of times, which is something I don’t do ever. I had imposed such a strict limit on my time that I wanted to make it exactly 25 minutes. I managed my goal, more or less. The thing that struck me most was simply looking at the students looking at me. I am not usually a nervous person and I actually like public speaking, but I felt something strange in this room. It could have been the panopticon design of the seating — everyone could see me at all times but there was no way I could see everyone at once — or the fact that I was becoming self-conscious about being a boring speaker since so many students were asleep or tapping away on their phones.

I quickly overcame any of these preoccupations and focused on delivering the information I had spent so long preparing. I found it quite pleasurable. For every student who wasn’t listening, I found, there were five who were and that helped set my mind at ease. Now, I was reading off the notes I have posted on this blog and that presented my next set of challenges. You see, I have never been great at simply saying things with the use of prompts; I always forget to mention something and, what starts as a prompt, turns quickly into a full paragraph containing exactly what I am going to say. I promised myself that I was only going to use prompts and what was on the slides to deliver my lecture. As you can see, no dice. This setup worked out well for me in the end, mind you. I didn’t just read my notes verbatim, but used my too-wordy-to-be-notes notes as elaborate prompts so, in a way, I stuck to my promise. I don’t see myself needing such wordy notes when I lecture on material I know better than that I was delivering on this day. There were also a couple of times that I lost my place and ran into a bit of a dead zone delivery wise. Fortunately, they were quickly overcome and I don’t think anyone noticed. Doing this reminded me of when I was in my junior high school band (yes, I was that cool) and the teacher, Mr. Rusinak, would tell us not to get hung up when he hit the odd wrong note or skip one by accident. Chances are, he used to say, nobody but you will notice it. I’m sure that’s true for 99% of the audience and I am grateful for that lesson to this day, but it doesn’t help me feel like less of a tool in those situations if I think that even one person notices.

By way of bringing this post to some sort of conclusion, I’d like to recap my feelings about the thing.

  1. I think it went well overall.
  2. There’s no way I plan on spending that long preparing for a lecture ever again.
  3. It’d be nice if everyone listened but I don’t care, in a large setting such as the lecture hall, if you have the majority’s attention you’ve won.
  4. I played a mean tenor sax in the first half of my teens and I miss it dearly.
  5. There’s a major difference in addressing students in a small classroom setting compared to a theatre setting. Different skill sets are involved.
  6. I can’t wait to do more lecturing.
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