Friday, December 12, 2008

Visiting Writer: Rick Strong

Rick Strong taught high school English at Padua for two years, and Junior High English at Columbiana County. Rick went to Law School at Case Western Reserve University. He was a trial lawyer representing doctors, hospitals, rail roads and car manufacturers for many years, and recently completed his MFA. Rick taught composition during his MFA process and now teaches composition at The University of Akron and writing at the law school. Rick’s wife taught first grade in the Brunswick school district, and his daughter works for an environmental organization. Rick has one dog (Casey), one cat, and drives a Toyota Prius.

I found out more about Rick’s fascinating life over a Greek Salad in the cafĂ©. Rick worked in an aluminum foundry, an emergency room, and at a McDonalds, among other places.

Though Rick considers himself a writer with a lower case “w,” he read a piece composed in a Cleveland State workshop under the guidance of Sheila Schwartz titled “The Shovel.” The assignment was to write about an object. Rick’s piece opens with a man who has fallen on some icy steps and hit his head. The individual, we discover, is a retired lineman who had taken some things before bowing out: a chainsaw, a picnic table, a coal shovel, among other items. He tells the reader that he took the items because he felt as if they were his due. For service. For instance, he was once almost crushed by a falling tree while clearing debris after an ice storm. It becomes clear that he sees his rights to these items as some form of hazard pay.

The narrative is retrospective, so we learn that he came to repent and feared reprisals of the spiritual variety, therefore under twinges of conscience, gave the stolen items away either to Goodwill, the Haven of Rest, or, in the case of the picnic table, a needy boy-scout troupe. The coal shovel, on the other hand, was chucked into a river. It’s a shame, we’re told, because those shovels last forever. It’s also a shame because the narrator had used the shovel to clear the ice from his steps, and its absence is the indirect consequence of his fall.

It seemed as if the short showed a man who had felt his duty as a linesman entitled him to certain perks. It’s unclear if the story is a morality tale or not—if we are to interpret it as such, “though shall not steal” seems to be the proverb that rises to the top, yet it’s the narrator’s conscience that seems to get him in trouble. If he hadn’t felt rotten about taking the shovel in the first place, he never would’ve felt the need to toss it into a river, and his steps would not be icy. Such a clever Catch- 22 for such a short piece.

Rick designed an in-class writing assignment for my fiction students. Students chose objects from a box—items included a mini-flashlight (my item), Christmas candy, a gold coin (“Can I keep it?” one student inevitably asked, but returned it all the same at the end of the period), a mini-cassette, a cell phone, a small hammer, a yellow Livestrong bracelet, a chew toy, a tennis ball, etc. The students were directed to write a short that revolved around the object (I think of Chekhov’s ashtray) and were encouraged to use a character they know well from their other stories. We wrote for a good 20 minutes, and I’m looking forward to see what comes from the exercise.

In the meantime, Rick, like the rest of us, is working toward being a writer with a capital “W.”

Thanks for the reading and the lesson, Rick!

1 comment:

Jennifer Sullivan said...

I haven't looked at blogs for a while. I am so happy to see all of this visiting writer stuff.

Love the commentary and the pics. Hope you are well:)