Might could be the case I’m into controlled chaos

In the American South, I have learned to say “might could” in a situation that is uncertain. And it might could be that I’ve put myself into a situation, the outcome of which is most certainly uncertain.

I’m taking a MOOC right now (E-learning and Digital Culture) and signed up for one after this (can’t even remember, but I know they’ll send me an email).

Then I signed up for another MOOC that I swore began May 18. I was so excited–that would have been after my spring term ended and just as summer began–perfect timing. I’d be finished with my spring MOOCs and starting my summer teaching (only one class this summer!). But not so. It starts March 18–smack into the middle of my spring term and not something I will be able to work into my routine in a reasonable way.

So. I’ll be unreasonable. I want to take this in a big way: a composition MOOC, “Composition 1: Achieving Expertise.” I’m just going to do it to the best of my ability. I’ll engage as I am with my current MOOC and invest early.

I’m dying to see how composition will be handled on such a large scale and how it might accommodate thousands of students and their writing. I know it’s going to be a terrific experience, because how could it be otherwise if I’m learning something? The instructor is an acquaintance, and I respect her thinking deeply. In fact, it was her article on performance and observation of writing instructors from a year or two ago that is changing the way I do that part of my job.

I know there are MOOCers who take a lot of classes at once, so I know I can do this. Partly, I know this because: 1) it’s free; 2) I don’t have to complete the thing. In fact, I may not have to do much work at all to get a lot from it. It’s not like I’m taking the course for freshman comp. I took freshman comp already (got a C and  a B in Comp 1&2, respectively). What I wonder is this: if such a course as this one might have made a huge difference in my writing life when I was starting college. I was a lousy writer, not because I was bad but because I’d had almost no training of any kind. Writing to me, upon high school graduation, was a mystery that only a few could figure out, or it was a gift that even fewer were given. Writing well was NOT something I could learn to do. In fact, these ideas were reinforced at nearly every step of my educational life.

I wasn’t taught to work on making my thinking clear then correcting for errors. I was encouraged to write it perfect the first time. Perfect. Oh. No pressure. Multiple drafts? What? Never. Multiple drafts were for the weak. We wrote and turned in what we wrote, all first drafts: good, bad or horrific. Spelling mattered right away–in the first and only drafts–and so did penmanship. I actually had a penmanship tutor for a whole school year because I was so lame at handwriting. (I did get to the point where I could write gorgeous cursive–but my “writing” was still crap.)

I was stunned when I finally learned the secrets of writing well (far into my college career): 1) writing can be learned; 2) thinking is more important than correct comma usage; 3) writing takes practice; 4) multiple drafts can be really deeply profoundly madly important; 5) proofreading can be learned and should be done last; 6) writing is collaborative; 7) writers need mentors (human mentors or mentor texts); 8) writers need to know the genres they are trying to write; 9) writers need to read a lot; and 10) writing is revision. This is not all I know about writing now, but MAN, if only I’d known about some of these sorts of things when I was younger.

Now, I try to teach writers these ideas (and more) by allowing a lot of freedom in the classroom. “Just write,” I say. I hope I haven’t swung too far the other way from: “Just write perfectly.” But I consider this chance I have to take a freshman comp class in my PJs for no cost but my time a wonder. Holy composition & rhetoric. What an opportunity. I can see what a colleague in my field is doing–get ideas, share my learning with my fellow students, and maybe even learn more about how to be a better writer. I know I do things in my blogging that might be confusing, so perhaps I need to learn something new/old to help. Why not? (Things I think I do as a writer, or habits, or tics I’m sure I have or suffer from: I write a lot of first drafts and don’t always revise–OMG–yes, I just said that; I overuse fragments by writing in phrases rather than independent clauses; I tend to write like I talk–totally; I think I abuse semi-colons; I write/type fast and make more typos than I care to admit; I will use a single word to make a statement. Nice. Right. Showoff.; I ramble around a topic and sometimes don’t always occasionally once-in-a-while frequently end up wrapping the whole thing up in a tidy bow at the end; I fool around a lot pretending to be a whole lot better than I am by using a $20 word when a $5 word might do (what a brat, right?); I’m pretty self-indulgent, too.

As a writer, I might could use some sustained thinking about writing and being a writer and achieving expertise. What is that anyway? Expertise? It might could be that I could polish off some of my expertise trophies I have shoved onto my shelves and left alone for too long.

I have nothing to lose but time. And really, that’s the only gift I have that I can’t get more of. I’d like to use my time in a positively, forward-movement, open kind of way. Life-long learning–it’s been hip to me since 1990 and a personal philosophy.

Hurricane from space.

Hurricane from space.

So what if my life is chaos? I’ve been called a hurricane and a whirlwind. Okay. I’m down with that. But surely I have some control over when I create or participate in the stormy chaos. Or do I only wish I was in charge of me? Wouldn’t it be great if I was actually making forward progress while storming through life? Might could be the case.

In April, there’s a Writing II class that begins. Taking that would just be adding to the storm, the chaos, the madness. Nope. I’m not going to sign up for it. No way. Not gonna happen. Ain’t my thing. Can’t do it. Never. Shoot. Might could be I’m already signed up.

[Image source: here.]


Filed under Magic and Writing, MOOC Journeys, Open Educational Resources, Open Everything, Open All the Time, Writing is Beautiful

6 responses to “Might could be the case I’m into controlled chaos

  1. Can I give you a hug, Elizabeth? I could spend all day reading what you’ve written. With you on one side and my man, “Pat C” on the other, I am surrounded by words that will caress me, carry me to places that Calgon could never carry me, and cajole me into situations that I might never consider possible.

    Can I come and take a MOOC, sip a MOOCaccino in PJs with you the comely Elizabeth, molder of young wordsmiths?

    • Oh yes. Hugs all around. And come on down to Alabama. It’s pretty great here most of the time (NOT summer). I loved that image on the FB page: MOOCaccino. What an amazing journey we are all on. I never would have guessed this could be such fun nor that I would find such dedicated learners–so many who are serious about learning–not just for fun but for real, life-changing purposes. Inspiring!

  2. Hi Elizabeth,
    There are so many levels of ideas in your blog and I love it. I particularly enjoyed reading your 10 secrets of writing well. I had an interesting experience myself about writing. I used to write a lot when I was in high school in my native language – Bulgarian. My literature teacher encouraged me to develop my own style and gave me freedom to express myself. It all changed in college. I went to an American university in Bulgaria, with all instruction in English. In my first composition class, I received a C because I did not have a thesis statement and my sentences were too wordy, vague, philosophical (an influence from the way Bulgarian writers write and the way I used to write in high school.) I was paralyzed and afraid that I would get it wrong, and my writing became formulaic, stilted. Of course, the other problem was writing in English. It did not feel natural. I could not use the usual idioms I would use in Bulgarian. I could not be spontaneous as you advise your students to “just write.” This is a long story, but my writing actually improved tremendously when I began working as a tutor and, later on, when I began teaching myself. I am still learning and I feel that my level of writing can never be as good as the one of a native speaker, but I keep myself motivated by focusing on the process of learning rather than on the end-result.

    I would like to respond to another major idea in your blog about taking too many Coursera courses at once and not being able to devote enough time to complete them. You are not alone in your anxiety. I think that almost any Coursera student is experiencing the same problem: there are simply so many cool courses, so much to learn, and so little time. My advice would be to try not to be a perfectionist. Take a little bit from every course or more from one and less from other, and if you can, suppress that hidden nagging feeling that there is out there something else (better, cooler) that you could be doing. (It happens to me all the time: I think about what I am missing and what I could be reading or watching at the moment instead of what I am currently doing. ) Finally, many of these courses would be offered again and you will have a chance to retake them.

    I apologize for the long comment.

    • Loved this response, Desi–no need to be sorry–it’s great. Thank you for it. I’m so glad to know of your struggles with writing in English. When I tried to write in French, I experienced a similar thing. I found I thought differently and not very clearly! I’m glad it’s not just me and a second language. I think you’re writing is really terrific and I doubt I would think it was a non-native writer writing unless you’d told me. I totally understand being paralyzed by fear and not wanting to write. I hear that from person after person in all parts of my personal and professional life. And thank you for the tips on MOOCing and the encouragement. I like the idea of putting together my own agenda for learning rather than relying on each course or feeling guilty if I don’t do it the way it’s set up! Power to the students! (Feels weird to say that being a teacher and all, but I do love the idea of self-molded learning in a lot of ways).

  3. I do not know how so many of you take so many courses simultaneously. My brain might could explode! Enjoyed your post, E.D. and all the comments.

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