• Brian Kelley

The Slow Burn of Analysis


Adolescents spend time outdoors. At least they used to. I have been thinking about tapping into experiences in nature as a source for writing--especially for middle school students.


I spent several days sketching a "neighborhood map" or a collage my recent experiences with nature. The act of focusing on what I see and know now allowed some more distant memories to make it to the page. I am not talking about earth-shattering stuff. I am suggesting teaching giving value to all of our experiences.


Annie Dillard's narrative prose does this for me.


I do not know how Dillard words, but the slow form of analysis that comes to me when I read her, arises during my sketching, coloring, and annotating my thinking. Slow analysis appeals to me--and I wonder if we can't teach that to adolescents? Too often, adolescents want to launch themselves into analysis and then frustrate themselves immediately when each detail writing is not clear, is not planned.


Analysis doesn't always have to be called--or thought of--as analysis, does it? Not that analysis is a dirty word, but certain academic vocabulary seems to trigger certain acts. We teach what analysis is by definition and by practice with a short shelf life, but do we teach the underlife of analysis?


Analysis is a slow, slow burn fed by tinder gathered as we willingly travel greater and distances to discover.


I have written about the blue owl in the center of the page. When I first sketched it, the owl was only a light pencil sketch. Over time, I colored it as I thought about the night when it startled me. When its head turned towards my noise. When it fell forward like an uprooted tree. When its great wings expanded in silence. When its great wings caught an invisible track of air. When it glided, in silence, only a few feet above my lawn, up the slight rise, over the post and rail fence, into my back yard, and vanished through the weeping willow and then the darkness. All in utter silence. It was all effortless.


My thinking about that owl from 2012 is still not finished.


Yet, what I have done and what I am doing right now is a part of the journey of analysis so often squeezed out of our classrooms.



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