Friday, May 4, 2012

The X Factor

(Twenty-four down and two to do in a series of posts I've undertaken. Each post centers on a topic suggested by the next letter of the alphabet from the previous post. The posts all have to do, directly or indirectly, with teaching and learning.)

Inside of words, x most often shows up as part of the prefix ex-, meaning "out," or "outside" or "away from," or, with a hyphen ("ex-"), former.

But by itself x comes into its own as a multipurpose symbol, serving by turns as a landmark, ("X marks the spot"), as a indicator of a choice ("[x]"), as teacherly feedback that an answer on a test is incorrect, as an indicator of generic content in consumer goods ("Brand X") and adult content in movies ("X-rated), and, in the world of algebra and the world at large, as an all-purpose signifier for the unknown.

All of which is by way of warming up, putting some words in a row, saying what can be said for certain in order to be able to find one's way to uncertainties, to ambiguities, to questions. To wit:

  • What's one thing you don't know that you'd like to know?
  • What's one thing you'd like to change about your life as it is? (X = what's missing.)
  • What's the X factor in your life right now, the thing that introduces the largest element of uncertainty into whatever plans you are currently making?
  • How do you feel about uncertainty in general? Does it make you uncomfortable? Cause you anxiety? Exhilarate you?
  • What particular uncertainty do you think most about? What is your plan for resolving that uncertainty?
  • Do you prefer to build your life around predictable routines, or do you go out of your way to introduce novelty into your days? Or both?
  • What happens in your head when you encounter something you do not understand? Does that put you off, or draw you in?
  • What do you do when you don't know what to do?
  • What are you an ex- of? Ex-musician? Ex-student? Ex-athlete? Ex-wife? How did you get that way? How do you feel about it now?
  • What is it that you are now that you look forward to being an ex-of?
  • What do you talk about when you talk about love?

So there's a preliminary list. Not what I had anticipated I would write about, but hey, whatevahs. The list has the feel of the kind of thing that I, an ex-teacher (although, truth to tell, I still wend my way into the classroom as circumstances permit, "ex-teacher" being a descriptor that makes me existentially uneasy) might have done by way of setting up a classroom discussion and/or an assignment.

So here's a thought. A game, Gentle Reader, if you're game. Pick one of those questions. Take out your journal, if you are old (fashioned) enough to even have such a thing. Or just take a piece of scrap paper. Or fire up your computer. Write for seven minutes*, using the question you've chosen as a jumping off point. (If you don't like any of these questions, make up a different one of your own having something to do with the idea of the unknown, and your relationship with it.) If you're feeling feisty when you get done, post what you've written as a comment on this post.

* Seven minutes is a carefully chosen number, arrived at as an ideal after many years of experimentation with larger and smaller numbers. Enough to whet the whistle, but not enough to drown in. Short enough not to feel intimidating, long enough to force you to get beyond the first thought, the first sentence, find your way into something you might not have been expecting.

Disclaimer: The title of this post has nothing to do with the television show which apparently goes by the same title. Being essentially an ex-television watcher, I was in fact unaware of the existence of said show until I googled "X Factor" tonight to see if there might be an interesting graphic I could cadge. No such luck. But damn, there are a lot of pictures from that show up there.

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