Teaching at TAFE forced me out of my comfort zone and into the uncomfortable world of all-things, grotesque and hilariously implausible.
After seven years of teaching creative writing at TAFE I became a reluctant expert on zombies. Even though my young students were encouraged to read literature other than genre fiction it remained hard, initially, to get them to write about anything beyond the speculative, surreal or plain scary.
During workshop after workshop – this is where students get to read their writing and then receive ‘constructive’ feedback from class colleagues and bemused tutor – I was presented with a smorgasbord of foreign delicacies such as: sexually ravenous vampires; perambulatory zombies with a penchant for small children; alien monsters posing as benevolent maternal figures and lesbian cyborgs with anger issues.
My Certificate 4 students were a magnificent and motley crew of the young, the adult and the not so young. From kids straight out of Year 12 or VCAL, to mothers wanting to return to the work force and needing to retrain – these forty-something women often served as surrogate mothers to the more spiritually wayward younger students, and were people for whom being a writer had been a dream kept on hold for years – to elderly gentlemen and gentlewomen whose initial know-it-all-ness belied a poignant fear of failure.
But by the end of semester the sixty-five year old grandfather and former IT consultant’s hard-earned resistance had transformed into a newfound pride in the discovery that 1. He could write. And 2. That being in class again after forty years was a beautiful thing.
I just looked up the definition of motley crew and apparently ‘Archetypical instances of the “motley crew” overcoming adversity are commonly found in fantasy and science fiction.’ Perfect.
The 19-year-olds made up the bulk of a class, with the middle-aged women (and occasionally men) and the hexagenarians in the minority. And ever since those supremely dumb funding cuts to TAFE and the attendant rise in fees, mature age enrolments have dropped considerably.
Needless to say I was not the only one in for a fast track course in lesbian cyborg short fiction, the other ‘olds’ amongst us were similarly flummoxed while we continued to do our grown-up best to respond helpfully to the latest 1200 words of blood, sex and chaotically constructed nihilism.
‘Well you have created a strong sense of tension in your story and the central vampire protagonist is vividly described.’
‘Although I don’t really understand why her eyes change colour or why she needs to eat her lover’s liver?’
It’s tough to create an alternative world in fewer than 2000 words but these young students who’d survived on a high fat diet of fantasy and futurism since they were twelve, did come to learn how to write and read outside their comfort zones. And I did too. Did you know that the word zombies first appeared in a 1929 novel, the year the stock market crashed and the Great Depression started?