I’m teaching creative writing across the genres this semester, and it is wonderful. My mother, a fluent Spanish speaker and teacher for over 30 years, told me the best way to understand your own language is to teach another. I’ve found this philosophy to be true for the craft of writing, as putting myself in front of eager, already talented upper level students has forced me to not only passionately deliver my own understanding of poetry (which is my preferred genre), but also fiction, creative non-fiction, and drama. Having to shed led light, to question students in order to guide them (as opposed to telling) to what works in a creative piece other than a poem has only made me a better writer and reader of other genres myself. For those of you who tackle a class such as this, I highly recommend Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing, The Elements of the Craft. While I supplemented in some instances with creative works I preferred to teach, the text does an excellent job of explaining the various terms of the craft of writing and how they are used across genres. It also provides plenty of exercises and prompts that support each area covered.
So the other day when a male writer pal used the expression, “balls to the wall,” I began to think of all the ways I could use that expression, preferably in a poem, possibly explaining how the term came to be (or, even better, feminizing the term). But I got stumped. Because other than a bunch of silly, unrealistic images that came to mind, I had to know from where, exactly, did the phrase “balls to the wall” come? I also wanted confirmation that it had something do with the male anatomy. So I did what I encourage my students to do –look it up. I look up words, even if I think I already know the meaning of them. This goes for phrases too, and a quick google search yielded exactly what I needed to know: “balls to the wall” has its origins from airplane pilots (yes, men thought this up – no surprise) who called the handles on their throttles “balls” and pushed them towards the wall of the cockpit (another rich word) in order to go full speed ahead.
While finding out the etymology of this phrase has taken some of its mystery away, the beauty is that my left brain can now relax and be quiet (cierre la boca!), allowing my right brain take over. Now I’m free to create a short story or certainly a poem about balls to the wall that has nothing to do with airplane pilots….for some reason, I feel it may be a humorous jaunt, and I challenge you to join me, full speed ahead/balls to the wall, baby!