I always remind my writing students that they should choose interesting topics based on their own life and experiences. I try to give them examples from my own life that I think might engage them. So when we begin discussing how to write a “process” paragraph, I tell them about how to catch a scorpion.
Let me explain… During the summer, my wife and I regularly find scorpions that wander into our house. I say wander because I know that they’re not doing it maliciously (even if they do have menacing pincers, a poisonous stinger, and armor that always makes me feel that I’m face to face with a creature from one of the Alien movies). They just happen to wander through a crack while looking for water, a cool environment, or a bug to eat. But most of my life, without giving it a second thought, I would smash any six- or eight-legged creatures that wandered into our house.
Then one day, I questioned myself: Why was I automatically defaulting to smash-bug- scrape-remains-off-the-floor mode? I realized that, 99% of the time, I didn’t really have to kill them. So I decided to devise a catch-and-release method. The next time I saw a scorpion in the house, I got a clear plastic cup and covered it, slid a heavy sheet of paper underneath, then flipped it right side up, allowing the confused creature to fall into the cup. I then took it outside and tossed it over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Just kidding – I tossed it in the farthest corner of our backyard where it could hide in the bushes or under a rock.
So last semester, when I introduced my students to the process paragraph, I began by discussing my scorpion-catching method. To make it engaging, I brought in a real scorpion to class. Just kidding again – I brought a rubber scorpion, a plastic cup, and a heavy piece of paper and then demonstrated the steps of how to do it. I then asked for a couple of volunteers to try it. They were a bit uneasy (a fake rubber scorpion can be almost as scary as a real one) Then, as a class, we worked together to craft an example of a process paragraph outlining the steps.
For more than a year now, I can proudly say that I have no scorpion blood on my hands. When I told a friend about all this, he commented, “That’s very Buddhist of you.” Yes it is, although I’m not a Buddhist. I’ve just become more conscious of how we treat the creatures among us.
But before you begin complimenting my humane treatment of arachnids and other critters too much, I must also let you know that when it comes to flies, it’s a totally different story. I catch them and pull their wings off, then watch them hop around trying to get airborne. Once again, just… you know.