“This is the most interesting part of digging into the mind shafts of the people that experienced the era.”

This is #2 of the three newly-discovered Horrors in the old gradebook I came across yesterday. And THIS (finding the Horrors) is far and away the most interesting part of digging around in old gradebooks!

I wish I could persuade myself that my student was trying to evoke a complex image here. Possibly, yes, she wrote “digging” and decided to follow the metaphor. But I’m afraid the probability is that she was just confused.

Neurosurgeons might equate “mind shafts” with the nerve networks that carry sensory (and other) impulses to receptors in the brain. Psychoanalysts might think of dream-tunnels that lead into the unconscious, where a person’s memories await rediscovery. Literature professors might think of the texts that serve as conduits for us to enter other lives, other times, other consciousnesses.

My student might have been thinking of this last idea, text-as-conduit. Then “mind shafts” would be a conscious pun on “mine shaft,” implying riches to be found at the end of the conduit, evoking a certain darkness of the way. Perhaps the professor would be the miner’s headlamp, then?

Or she might have written “minds” and thought, “Oh, my, I don’t mean I’m interested in digging into people’s minds! Gross!”

Or she might have written “mind” and thought, “that doesn’t feel finished; I think there’s more to the word I mean.”

Or she might have thought the actual term was “mind shaft,” not “mine shaft.” In that case, are all those photos of coal-blackened faces depicting men who went on journeys through the imagination? Well, possibly she heard the phrase as “mind shaft” and never wondered about it at all (like an old wise tale).

I’m not going to quibble with the idea of “experienc[ing] the era,” beyond noting that an era is probably too complex for any one person to experience it fully, or to experience it as an era (until it’s over). I never knew, for example, that I was experiencing a certain part of the ‘Sixties until the times changed direction (and, in fact, the era we refer to as The ‘Sixties didn’t start until about November 1963, and didn’t end until spring of 1971—or until 1980, depending on how you see the ‘Sixties…).

Because I love few things more than a good image, I’m going to choose to believe that my student intended a pun on “mine shaft” and appreciate my role as headlamp. That is, after all, what we hope to find in student writing: some cleverness, some insight, some vision, some playfulness. I’ll take whatever I can get.

"Kansas coal miner," from http://www.miningartifacts.org/Kansas-Mines.html. Digging into the mind shaft?

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

4 responses to ““This is the most interesting part of digging into the mind shafts of the people that experienced the era.”

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