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THE CHEAT SHEET in the Classroom

Yesterday, I was invited up to Syracuse University as THE CHEAT SHEET was on the syllabus of a class.  But this wasn't just one of those boring classes devoted to contextual studies of some literary work.  You know, read the work, then discuss what it could all possibly mean, relate it to feminist theory, queer theory, Marxism.  For one, my book says what it's about right there in the subtitle:  the sexes, sex, and sexiness in New York.  No, this was going to be a much more interesting assignment:

Select a story from The Cheat Sheet and adapt it into a short film.

With only twelve students in the class, I figured my participation would be minimal and it would be a quick little engagement.  Speak, let them ask questions, snicker in my head at the dumbest questions, bolt after thirty minutes and hit the bar (good practice for when I do eventually become an honorary and lazy adjunct professor).  Instead, this class ended up being super intense!

Before I arrived, the students had already read the entire collection and my manager/producer Craig and I (plus professor Tula Goenka) spent a good two hours with the twelve students discussing their two favorites stories from the collection and what resonated with them most.  They each pitched Craig and me as to how they would go about adapting the stories, and we offered critiques.

The students were sharp!  I can't lie.  A lot sharper than I was when I was their age.  And, based on how acutely they grasped the materials, they seem a lot more knowledgeable about "the sexes, sex, and sexiness" than I did when I was in college.  Bully for them.  (These kids are born in the 1990s if you want to be freaked out.)  Honestly, the students had such great ideas, such amazing insight, that there really wasn't much for us to say.  I was impressed.  They even did some minor "contextual studies" of the material that made me seem a lot smarter than I really was.  ("I just loved how you included that symbolism of the picnic if their life isn't always a picnic like they'd want it to be."  Smile.  Nod.  Enjoy the undeserved ego stroke.)

When all was said and done, "The Ambiguous Woman" and "Gross Humans" were far and away the winners, with 9 of the 12 picking the former, and 5 the latter.  "The References" and "The Boyfriend Trials" were also much beloved.  All eight stories were selected at least once though, which made me proud.  After that it was on the students to turn from a group of twelve individuals into four production teams focused on each making one of the films.  The students were surprisingly wed to certain stories and refused to back down.  It took a good twenty minutes of intense negotiation and putting-foots-down before the groups were finally formed.

Now it's time for them to make the films.  They'll adapt the stories into scripts, rewrite them to perfection, then produce, direct, edit, and make complete 10-12 minute films by the end of the semester.  I'll be Skypeing in with them on most Mondays to go over the work like some futuristic overlord.  I'll return at the end of the semester for a big Cheat Sheet film festival.

It was an exhilarating experience to say the least and I'm starting to like academia.  I'll keep you posted as the films start to develop.


An unexpected highlight of the day was at the end of the class as I was gathering my things.  A polite young woman approached me with a somewhat nervous "Aaron, I just had to..."

I assumed that sentence would be completed with some great praise:

  • "...tell you that How to Fail" changed my life."
  • "...inform you that you are perhaps America's most celebrated satirist."
  • "...alert you that the entire campus is buzzing about your appearance here today."

No.  Instead she completed that sentence:

"Aaron, I just had to ask...why do characters eat Thai food in all of your stories?  Do you really like it or something?"

I'd honestly never noticed I did that.  Curious.  (And, embarrassingly enough true after I investigated.)

Craig and I left to grab some chicken satay and curry before we headed back to New York.


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