The Heart of Characterization: Teaching 101
by Jesse Loren
Yesterday, during a particularly simple lesson on direct and indirect characterization, my brother texted me to inform me that my mother found a lump in her abdomen.
It was about the 13th slide on the PowerPoint presentation. I was demonstrating how Chaucer not only changed the perception of English by writing in the vernacular, but that he deftly used indirect and direct characterization to paint his medieval characters in the Canterbury Tales. Maybe it was because I started the class with a refresher on feudalism and the feudal hierarchy of the Catholic Church in The Middle Ages, maybe it was the Baroque, black-and-grey scroll background I used as the template for my slideshow; my seniors seemed bored.
There are only 2.5 months of free education left, then bam, out into the world, the seniors are tuned out. But then, it is almost prom and there are important things like nails, hair, dresses, and jobs to think about. I get it.
With ten minutes left in class, a student came in to get a pass. “Get a pass off my desk,” I directed. I was at the back of the room using my recently-purchased laptop and my new remote control for the slideshow. “Ms. Loren, your phone is vibrating, it looks like you got a text from a ‘Ray’,” my late student said.
I asked her to bring me the phone. Any text from my brother was going to be about mom.
“Mom said she found a lump in her abdomen. Taking her for chest x-ray tomorrow.”
My heart sank low into my guts. The walls began to slide a sloopy slide down and around my students. I managed to say, “Please copy these notes without my narration,” and I stepped outside.
My student with the pass came out and gave me a hug. I told her I would be alright.
Class was silent like silicone dolls propped pale into desks.
Against my will, fat tears flew like water balloons splattering the grey tiled floor.
It is a lesson on characterization from the middle ages. It is a lesson about characterization for the middle agers.
My brother, a straight shooter, not mincing words, texted me to expedite an action. I knew what he meant without it being said. He meant to add ‘get a test to check mom’s lump’ to the list of tests mom needs. If he could have done it himself, he would not have texted.
This is the part where I think I will say on Monday, “You already know indirect characterization because you can judge a character by her speech, gestures and actions. When I checked my phone and tears crashed to the floor, for the whole time I couldn’t speak, you each inferred that something was terribly wrong. It was obvious I strayed from my usual self because you already understand indirect characterization.”
Maybe art imitates life, but life parades itself, displays itself, in all its twists and turns. And knowing this, somehow I know that I am a daughter soldier like so many other daughter soldiers standing strong to help mom as she ages. Character is the heart of action. I think the students get that, even if they are only seniors.