Mentor Text: Just a Girl by Elizabeth Ditty
- Writing memoir
- Creative Transitioning
Background- I’ve pretty openly expressed my love for Memoir Mixtapes here. As their header states, they’re “The ultimate mashup of the two things we all love to talk about: ourselves & music.” This makes them such a lovely source to mine for mentor texts. (And reading material.)
I have a lit class at the end of the day where we’ve been balancing literary analysis and creative writing. To drive this, I’ve used themes. As I write this, we’re in the midst of some music inspired work, using Memoir Mixtapes pieces as mentor texts.
Elizabeth Ditty’s piece inspired by No Doubt’s ‘Just A Girl’ was an easy choice to include in our work. It’s not so much what she writes, though it’s fantastic, but how she writes it. The No Doubt lyrics about how women are perceived anchor Ditty’s ruminations on motherhood. Those ruminations may be partially lost on my students, but they can see the way that the lyrics drive the piece, which is what I wanted us to explore.
We read and discussed Ditty’s piece. What actually served our analysis was the student’s unfamiliarity with the musical stylings of No Doubt, as it meant that they approached the text without preconceived notions. Rather, they were able to look at the lyrics peppered throughout at face value, which helped them identify their purpose, to act as transitions within the piece, moving it forward.
How We Might Use This Text:
Writing Memoir – Music and memory, in my opinion, are inextricably linked. That’s why pieces like this call to me. They allow us to use music to write memoir.
What’s great about this piece is that the song actually serves as “connective tissue” between a couple of memoir moments. Ditty reflects on her own childhood, muses on her own motherhood, and expresses concern for the world her daughter lives in. Reflection and reaction are two cornerstones of memoir, and this piece includes them.
It’s beautiful because it also features that sense of disjointedness that comes with listening to a song, and the different things a single song can evoke. Often, when students are writing alongside a piece of music, I find myself encouraging them to focus on a single aspect of this – a single memory or idea. Ditty’s piece models a way for us to use more, and go deeper into what a song can evoke.
Organization – Albeit loosely, Ditty’s piece is organized chronologically. From her past, to her present to her daughter’s future, she moves through seeming disparate ideas using the “connective tissue” of the song.
The piece is also structured around the lyrics. The lines that are quoted serve to introduce the idea that is coming next. “Guess I’m some kind of freak ’cause they all sit and stare with their eyes” introduces the idea that Ditty and her daughter aren’t going to simply conform. “Your rule of thumb makes me worry some” is a wonderful way to introduce the worry that she, and many parents, have for their daughters in the times it seems we’ve got to live in.
Creative Transitioning – The use of the lyrics as transitions allows the various ideas the song evokes to be presented in a single piece. As we looked at the piece, my students felt that it “sort of rambles” and was made up of pieces that were “not totally connected.” However, it was clear that the use of the lyrics to connect the pieces, to transition between the different ideas drove the piece, and made it work. We discussed how the different ideas belonged together, as the song connected them. We discussed how they might use lyrics to achieve a similar effect in a piece of their own.
Pieces like this one are my favorite kinds of mentor texts. Full of elements I want my writers to play with, to emulate, yet not full of things that are instantly relatable to them, allowing them some freedom to put their own spin on things. This isn’t based on a song they know, and it features experiences that they haven’t had. That’s almost as cool as blowing their mind with what Gwen Stefani was doing in the 90s.
Are there similar kinds of organizational structures that you use with students? Do you let them write all that something like a song evokes, or do you encourage them to have that singular focus?
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