Monday, October 15, 2007

Syncopated Laddie

I once told a dean that I teach the way a jazz musician plays, always improvising because repetition bores me so. Perhaps, it's a bad comparison because I am not musical and am thus not entitled to the metaphor. Perhaps I teach like a junior high school marching band, full of surprises, many of them loud and not all of them good.

But I do throw into my "lectures" -- my mad riffs; my rants; my earnest pleas for world peace and AP style -- certain familiar exercises and insights. I may go two or three semesters without including one of these, and then I may use it three times in a particular semester, to my kids' amusement.

Today I did the "Sam Donaldson," which may or may not have originated with him. I'm sure even if he recommended it, someone else had been doing it for a hundred years.

The Sam Donaldson is the Serial Why, the notion that you can get something good out of an interviewee if you keep asking why? as if the answer to the first why? is somehow insufficient. It creates a kind of boring in without your knowing what it is you are boring for. As I said, it's one of those suggestions I make when it comes to mind, and sometimes it doesn't for months at a time.

Today I asked Caitlin to ask me a question and then to bore in with the whys. She asked me what I had had for breakfast. At first I said that's a bad question, but quickly I recovered, realizing it was, in fact, superlative.



Because I got up late.


Because I got to sleep late last night.


Because I couldn't get to sleep earlier?


Because my wife and I have been married for 42 years and she is with her sick mom and sis and Florida and I can't sleep without her.


Because I miss her so...

At which point I ended the exercise because we were on the verge of blundering into "Because I *can't live without her*," which might inaugurate a subsequent series of whys that should be elicited by someone who charges $85 an hour and after 50 minutes says I'll see you next week.

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