Category Archives: Writing and Identity

Writing makes us who we are; it also can mask a great deal if a writer is facile enough; so beware the words you read, the paths you follow with an author, you may wind up a stranger in a strange land.

What did I just say? I can’t remember but WordPress will

The EDC  MOOC begins in just under a week. Various sites have been abuzz: Facebook, Twitter, Google+. I’m impressed and inspired. Today, I spent a couple of hours playing around with Google+. I’ve been an active FB user. I’ve not been a very active Tweeter. I find I love book for education: I FB message my students updates and suggestions for reading and heads-up notices for what’s coming next. It’s easier than using our university email–really. I get to them immediately and I immediately see if they got my messages. I like to use Twitter in class for students to share responses to a discussion, presentation, video. I forget to use it sometimes, but it’s been such a great tool for memory. Search for the class hash tag to find everyone’s summary of learning for the day–that’s learning like a boss. I also love to have students take pictures of what we write on the board. Sometimes I write a lot, sometimes they write everything. But we need evidence. And we need to post that on FB or through Twitter or on our blogs. Memory is vital to learning–but how much room do we really have in our brains at any one time?

I can’t remember what I’ve said from one day to the next (I guess this is what Plato feared would happen when we all started writing everything down–or I vaguely remember something like that from classical rhetoric class). How do I deal with my memory being sometimes lame? I write notes in my iPhone. I write blogs to remind me what I said was due (hoping it’s not too far from the original syllabus!). I record voice memos to remind me of points I think are important, things I must due, projects that are due, reports I have to write. I used to call my home answering machine (or my work voice mail) and leave myself reminders. That was the only way I could do it other than writing with ink on paper. Now I have options.

1-4 of 7 Skills Students Need Now and in the Future (Tony Wagner)

1-4 of 7 Skills Students Need Now and in the Future (Tony Wagner)

I still use ink on paper, but I tend to lose those notes–I’ll never give up doing it–that kind of physicality triggers a different kind of remembering for me, but the phone is great. And I have never misplaced my phone. Like my keys and sunglasses–never lost a one of these things. Never. (I know–knocking on wood right now.)

So, for students who are social media savvy (at least), here is a way to remember what’s happened–pick your way of remembering–use the digital online “sticky note” of your choice. By linking all the students together through several media, though, we stand a better chance of actually learning from one another. Like the old school taking of notes with pencil on notebook paper, it’s a crap shoot if they actually take advantage of the technology to learn. But I can try, can’t I?

The two images I’m including in this blog post are from notes I took today while watching a video posted in Google+ by a student enrolled in the EDC MOOC community. Tony Wagner is the speaker in the video–he talks about what students need to learn in order to be successful–not content but skills. I cannot find a single thing wrong with this list. I took handwritten notes because that was handy (left my dongle at the office for my dual screen, so I’m stuck with my laptop only–such a first world problem). I didn’t feel like working on my iPhone or my iPad. I didn’t want to hunt and peck for letters, but actually write out what I was hearing. I could actually go to the web and cut and paste his seven points–there are lots of locations where these could be found, but I liked writing today. It felt good.

5-7 of the 7 Skill Students Need (Tony Wagner)

5-7 of the 7 Skill Students Need (Tony Wagner)

Mainly, it felt great to hand write notes because I haven’t done it much lately (I’m regularly without a pen in public), and I find it sort of makes me think differently–engages a different part of my brain, I guess–like it’s important to lift weights with your arms AND legs so your body doesn’t get oddly proportioned!

Notice: number 5–obviously going to be my favorite. Wagner says students need “effective oral and written communication.” Yup. If I was a cowboy, I’d say, “Damn straight.” Every set of learning objectives I’ve ever run across lists this as crucial. Is it not the case that fuzzy writing is emblematic of fuzzy thinking, that lack of voice leads to boring prose (and loss of reader interest), that persuasion and point of view are too infrequently managed well and with grace. I get it. I teach writing. I am a writer. I am also a writing consultant. I see it all, from basic writers to grad students to senior civilian and military global leaders–brilliance must be articulated and communicated to truly be brilliance. Innovation and creativity? Not going anywhere without articulation and communication. Want to be a leader? Good luck if you can’t say what you need to say to the right audience in the right way. Want to capture and keep a reader’s attention? You’re not going to do it with painfully dull prose littered with jargon and acronyms. For a MOOC learner, I think number 5 must be the most important point–mostly what we have is writing, some oral communication (Google+ Hang Out–which I’m trying tomorrow)–but a LOT of written communication. I’m betting the farm that MOOCers who are successful, have most of these seven skills. They are motivated and savvy learners already, or they have what it takes to get that way in a hurry.

For instance: I didn’t want to learn Google+ because I’m busy. It’s the first couple of weeks of the term, and I have had a lot to do. I am overwhelmed by paperwork, class work, my own work, publishing, innovating, etc.–all the things teachers and administrators do at the beginning of a semester. I whined online that I didn’t have room for one more thing in my brain. I couldn’t learn one more thing. (And if I forget I said that, I have an archive of my complaining. Great.). But my blog group for the EDC MOOC is going to Hang Out tomorrow on Google+. Today, then I decided I’d spend some time learning. And it’s not hard. I was just too scattered to handle it. BUT here’s what I knew would save me: the internet. I just “Googled” how to use Google+. There are tons of videos online. I watched a few. Done.

I did the same thing when I needed to learn WordPress–I watched a few videos then dove in. Nothing is impossible. Or it feels that way. The only constraint for me is time now. And do I need to remember everything about how to FB, Tweet, Google+ or WordPress? No. The internet is not only a repository for information, it is my memory, too. I know. It’s risky. What if all this cyber existence ceases because of an apocalyptic event? So what. We’ll have a few hearty folk who will survive and pass on the few books that make it. I have total hope for the preservation of humanity–perhaps not all humanity, but some, surely will get past a meteoric collision.

The point is that our students don’t need to remember everything anymore. But they still need to think. They need to be able to use everything they can find out there in the very big and wide world in positive ways that will enhance the conditions in which they can acquire these skills and increase their ability to acquire these skills (thanks, Tony Wagner):

1. Problem-solving and critical thinking;
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
3. Agility and adaptability;
4. Initiative and entrepreneurship;
5. Effective written and oral communication;
6. Accessing and analyzing information; and
7. Curiosity and imagination.

It ain’t easy–that’s for sure. Just look at the MOOCers who have been most active. No slackers here. No one asking others to learn for them or spoon feed them the content. Did they get that way in the last two months. Not likely. Chances are they came to this MOOC with the desire to learn, so that’s what they have been doing, in order to get ready to learn in the course. “Overachievers,” one could mutter and dismiss it at that. But there’s more to it, I think. There really isn’t any content to learn when the class hasn’t even started. But there is a condition which now exists, which everyone has created, in which we can truly “get” and use all seven of these skills to be better learners, better workers, better employers, better citizens, better people.

We are peer teaching ourselves what we know about e-learning and digital culture–we created the content, and we are making it possible to do more than any one of us could do alone. I’ve learned more from my peers’ posts than I could have in a traditional f2f class in this amount of time–even with an expert leading the way–because the knowledge they’ve shared is vastly different from vastly different perspectives. We are all teachers and learners at this point. Would all students do that–be this active? No. And not all of the EDC MOOCers will either. Some will fade, just like in any educational situation. We are all capable of self-failing. But we are also capable of so much more. It’s like watching a perfectly timed rock concert to see how everyone is working together BEFORE the class has even begun. The Beatles after 10,000 hours of performing. Inspiration times infinity.

In the meantime, I have to transition to getting ready for my coming week at school. I have to let this thinking go. Wait. Wait. How will I remember what I was doing? What I was thinking? What did I just say? Check my Facebook status if you want to know. Read my blog. Check my Twitter. Find me on Google+. I love that I don’t have to remember any of this post. It will all be here for me tomorrow to check (perhaps, to my everlasting shame I will have said something idiotic, or committed the heinous of all errors: the typo; I know I will have included several fragments; they bubble up or burst into my writing like hot, boiling sulfurous geysers from the bowels of the planet–oh well, no pain, no gain).

And when I despair that education is sliding down a slippery slope into intellectual chaos because of all our online shenanigans–Johnny can’t Read/Johnny Can’t Write because [fill in the latest literacy depleting demon]–I remember that all of this work I’m doing online, writing, reading, posting, updating my status (and the work that I’m making my students do) is sometimes actually based on thinking. OH MAN. How cool is that? I totally don’t care what Plato might think.

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Filed under MOOC Journeys, Writing and Identity, Writing with Heart

Administrators write. I mean that two ways.

I mean that in a declarative way and as an imperative, too. Perhaps I mean the second more forcefully–I’m in an imperative mood.

Administrators write. We write a lot. If I counted the letters of recommendation, the emails, the notes, the reports, papers, presentations, or proposals I wrote each year, I would be in the 10s of 1000s of words. (If only I were paid by the word, everyone would want my job as an administrator.)

I can only say that writing, as a distraction from the rigors of administration, is extremely therapeutic–as in narrative therapy. Best part: it’s cheap. So administrators out there, you should write more.

I’m working on a book about my writing as a teacher, a scholar, an administrator. And since I decided this was a grand project, I have written three letters of recommendation, a few hundred emails, one huge degree/certificate program proposal, edited 12 essays, worked on three of my own, started a review of another essay for a journal, and blogged a bit for my two classes. Lots of writing that has nothing and everything to do with the book I want to write about living a writing life.

A haiku seems apropos as I have about 1,000 words left to craft before the end of the night on Sunday for one project. I’m so meeting that deadline even with one hand tied behind my back, or if I have to write upside down, backwards, wearing an eye patch.

a day of writing,

with any kind of writing,

is a splendid day

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Filed under Celebrate Like There's No Tomorrow, Showing Up, Writing and Identity

The trouble with writing is

The trouble with writing is:

I think I get it;

Then it skitters off.

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Dodgers around the world unite

Nope. I don’t mean the baseball team. Though I was thinking about them just a bit ago–what a sad state they appear to be in at the moment, by the way. Specifically, I was thinking about their name. They went through a few names before becoming the Trolley Dodgers and then just the Dodgers. It’s the trolley dodging that got me thinking.

I am a dodger. Not exactly an Artful Dodger, but I am dodging a few things at the moment. (I’m finding that writing is a great reason to dodge other work. Who can blame me for writing? It’s my job.) I don’t think I’m the only one in the world who is dodging this very moment. Or it’s more like procrastinating, but I prefer dodging as it seems like a more active endeavor, like it might burn more calories than procrastinating… like dodge ball is more active than say, golf.

I must bob and weave some in order to juggle a modern over-committed life, but artful dodging? Not so much. But in the spirit of openness and clarity of purpose that this thinking has brought to my life, I embrace the fact that I try to dodge at all, and I, therefore, propose an international fraternity of dodgers. (And if some of us become artful, then so be it.) I know such an organization will hearten and uplift many a saddened soul who believes all dodging is evil, hiding their dodging from fear of judgement and reprisal. All dodging isn’t evil.

I propose that all we dodgers form an organization in which we can take pride that we dodge things: trolley cars, stalkers, ex-boyfriends, ex-spouses, angry students, fussy parents, fierce hummingbirds, soccer balls, demanding co-workers, hail, speeding cars in a school zone, robber barons, and so on. Before the group is officially formed, we’ll need to decide if we shall admit political dodgers or not (you know, draft dodgers, Republicans, Anarchists, the French, etc.). But no matter what, let’s get rid of the stigma of dodging already and separate the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, the lambs from the sheep, the Romulans from the Vulcans.

The International Fraternal Order of Dodgers needs a motto.

How about this: Ever Thus Dodging, Ever After Dodging.

Of course, we’ll need someone to translate this into Latin. And we’ll need an artist to create a coat of arms. All the English majors dodging math classes can write the basic code of the dodgers. The accountants dodging English classes can handle the financial business of the group. (I’m thinking we recruit first at colleges because there is a LOT of dodging happening on campuses.)

What do you say? Are you with me on this?

Before I organize this group, though, I need to teach two classes for the next couple of months, complete an article with a friend, write another article with another friend, present a conference paper on geographic information systems and writing studies, attend a regional workshop for writing program administrators, finish the spring schedule, write a memo for the dean, write another paper for a group (I promised), give a talk on Dracula, ask for a change to our program web site, get going with some web guru work of my own, write for another two blogs, edit some writing, and do a whole heck of a lot of research. Oh, and I’m trying to finish reading a book I started on July 26.

How about this for a t-shirt? “Dodge This.” We include a blank box underneath so we can all insert our own particular dodgings. Yes. It’s brilliant. (I’m currently dodging a t-shirt design that is strikingly similar to this very thing. Thank goodness others haven’t dodged this work and came up with the idea. Real dodgers know to surround themselves with brilliant folk.)

Ever Thus Dodging, Ever After Dodging. Long live the dodgers, huzzah.

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Filed under Totally Self-Indulgent, Victorians Everywhere, Writing and Identity

How I really write

I’ve been working as a writing consultant with a lot of successful adults. These are folks who are in the very tip top tier of their professions and manage huge numbers of others. They are all the way grownup and so am I.

Interesting that I am finding things out about myself, though, as a teacher while working with these adults. Here’s what I mean:

I share ideas and strategies that I use as a professional writer because they want and need me to do so–it’s my job. I explain ways I have used to do extensive research, talk about brainstorming for developing an idea, name apps that I use for productivity, discuss format and documentation techniques, share proofreading strategies, suggest ways of dealing efficiently with on-demand writing, recall approaches for undertaking other tasks, and on and on. I refer to books, to web-sites, and more. And they take notes, or I send URLs to them. And we talk a lot.

Many of the things we talk about and the questions we ask each other in consultation sessions seem sophisticated to me; I think this is true because it really is sophisticated chat. I’m sharing professional writing knowledge with professionals who are writing. Some haven’t written extensive prose for years (many have said they are ten years out of grad school); some have never loved writing; some have forgotten how to get started; some have simply wanted to talk through ideas–and yet, these writers are grad students who are well beyond the regular grad student in professional experience and, typically, in actual age. However, many of their issues about wrestling with writing process or production are not dissimilar to any writer in any program at any age.

The major difference is that these professionals have authentic audiences and usually clear purposes for their writing. What a difference this makes. It might be the case that I, as a writing consultant, might need to tease out the exact specifics of this information as we talk through ideas, but the fact is that real writing is really a lot easier to conceptualize: what do you want the reader to know or do as a result of your text? Badda-bing-badda-boom.

Another side effect, or bonus, is that I realized fairly shortly after undertaking this endeavor that my teaching for freshman has been materially affected by this other experience. I am far more engaged with my professional writing in front of freshman than I have been before–much more willing to share who I am as a writer. I usually try not to intimidate freshman by writing well in front of them (I always write with them to some extent), but my writing always starts out as coal and grows into a bigger pile of coal until I wrestle into some form or other and rearrange the atoms with heat and pressure to turn it into diamonds. I like to write with students but it’s been the case that I’ve dashed things off to get writing handled, rather than really worked the craft of it all. And I haven’t always talked about what I’ve done in detail–as a writer.

That’s changing. I still write seemingly frivolous things to have fun with the freshman (or other undergrad students), but I’m much more serious now about explaining how I work, how writing BEGINS as opposed to how it ENDS. Explaining to professionals a process that is expressivism in the beginning and pragmatism at the end–well, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game. But the thing that I can’t get away from is that writing has to mean something to the writer. Or why bother? It’s just a meaningless exercise that one can master but never has heart. I got the five-paragraph essay down. I could write one in about twenty minutes. But who would care? What would the purpose be? (I could use it to pass an American history in-class on-demand exam, but I just get the grade and move on–I wouldn’t be a better writer because of it… necessarily.)

I want to work with writers who have heart, like in baseball musicals (because that’s so real); you gotta have heart. And what I’m finding is that the all-the-way-grown-up writers, and my consultations with them, have reminded me that my freshman need me to be just who I am–not a teacher only, but a model of someone who writes and has worked at it a long time and who has heart even when things look grim. Writing is gut-wrenching work and all my students need to know it.

My freshman students, especially, need to see that I can have no audience and only write for me, that I can write for one person alone, that I can write for a whole class of students, that I can write for a specific audience that I choose, or who chooses me: faculty, administrators, sailors, baseball fans, Victorianists, astronauts, and/or chefs.

How I really write is with heart. My writing matters to me–it has to, or I can’t get motivated to do it. In truth, I tend to put off the writing projects that don’t matter so much to me: technical reports, end-of-term/year reports, journal articles. No matter who the audience is and whether they are real or not, or whether the words I use are meant to be fiction or nonfiction–I gotta have heart. Whatever I might find is my purpose, no matter who I try to be as a writer… I see the heart thing matters. Heart really matters when I work with another writer. That’s intimate and colossal and harder still than working alone. I need to bring a big heart to that sort of endeavor–and so do my students. They need to see what that’s like. Perhaps I need to write WITH them, truly collaborate, not just assign group work, projects.

All the writers I work with need to know this one thing about how I really write. With heart.

"You Gotta Have Heart" from *Damn Yankees* film (1958)

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Filed under Surprising Information, Writing and Identity, Writing with Heart

Kick Buttowski: Not what you think

For those in the world who do not watch children’s cartoons–I’m so sorry for you. There’s one I just encountered this summer called Kick Buttowski. He’s a 12-year old boy who’s a suburban daredevil. His name is Clarence Buttowski. “Kick” is much better than Clarence.

Kick Buttowski... on the Disney Channel. Tune in and see daredevil greatness.

Kick has a suburban family: mom, dad, sister, brother, best friend.

  • His older brother, Brad, sings in a boy band (at least once) and is as obnoxious as the older brother in Weird Science (which I’m sorry to admit I’ve seen): Chet (I even remembered his name).
  • His younger sister is evil but looks so sweet.
  • Parents–don’t really know much about them (the dad really likes his car “Monique”; the mom was a former boat racer).
  • Kick’s best friend, Gunther–a rotund blonde-haired kid is as funny as he is unaware and strangely clever.

Kick goes to a suburban school. He’s great at stunts and not so great at school. One of my favorite episodes is when Kick’s dog eats his homework. (That actually happened to me, only my dog, Friday the 13th, ate a student’s paper. Also had some cats attack a few student papers. Turns out Elvis and Col. Parker–who were my favorite cats ever–really enjoyed stalking alligator clips and occasionally the student papers got in the way.)

What I love about Kick is that he embraces his daredevil desires and lives each day with abandon.

A body could learn a lot from Kick; I actually have. If I forget that I’m watching a children’s cartoon and think about being mindful of what I’m doing–being present in the moment–not such a bad thing to remember. And if I can achieve that sort of out-of-body experience with my writing and my teaching–then I have done something grand indeed.

Pucca ready to eat noodles.

I had a similar experience when I watched Pucca. Again, if you missed this, you have missed something special. She is a young girl, perhaps 10 or 11 and the niece of three bachelor noodle makers–she works in their shop. Not only is she present to the noodle making (and delivery of the same), her uncles are masters at noodle making. She’s adorable, but when provoked, she is a bad ass ninja who cannot be defeated–greater than even the ninja boy she is entirely in love with, Garu.

She’s got some friends (a crazy girlfriend, Ching, a sweet sword-fighting girl who carries around a magic egg-laying chicken on her head) and Abyo (he regularly rips off his shirt when practicing Kung Fu–think Jacob from Twilight).

Pucca lives in Sooga, a village that includes every conceivable type including Santa who hangs in the village when he’s not working, a Jewish deity who was a former ninja, villains and good folk, and Policeman Bruce, Abyo’s father, who utters “over” whenever he speaks: “Pass the cereal, over.”

When I first started watching this cartoon, I was annoyed that Pucca doesn’t speak, that there are visual punctuation marks (sort of) to signal emotions, that there were all these nutty characters that I couldn’t really get a handle on. However, I soon came to love how odd the show was and to particularly appreciate Pucca as a strong and capable female character. I can’t say how much I loved taking a sword class (Haidong Gumdo) at about the same time in my life when Pucca was regularly available to me, because I cannot find the words to describe the HUGE powerful amazing remarkable incredible way it felt to yield a sword and smack Bob’s torso with it… Bob, the Body Opponent Bag. I love weapons and forms. I do not love hitting real humans.

Pucca kissing Garu--Garu alarmed... always.

But I liked Pucca for the way the characters (mostly children) totally focused on martial arts–not to say that’s all they did–but they focused on the study of martial arts and worked at it and pursued prowess. I also had a soft spot for the way Pucca was mad for Garu and tried regularly to kiss him. Sometimes he was angry to be kissed and sometimes it actually turned him blue (ill), but no matter Garu’s reaction, Pucca was triumphant. It was a running joke that Ching had a crush on Abyo and Pucca liked Garu–though Pucca’s passion for Garu was an awesome thing to behold. Often the four of them saved the village, the heavens, the world. But Pucca’s kiss was the most spectacular moment of the episode.

Pucca and Kick are much alike in their single-minded pursuit of a goal. I appreciate that very much. I like watching children characters work in this way, bringing every ounce of their beings to the action at hand, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but always there–in the moment with something less than fear–in the moment with bravery, courage, total commitment.

That may be what I like about these cartoons the best–the commitment. I do commitment weird. I commit to some activities with passion and no fear and for years I bring the love. Then it’s over–people scatter and it’s not sustainable. Or I move and my relationship with a group is no longer sustainable.

What shapes me now is the digital world of a commons. I do not have to be apart from my commons should I actually physically move–I’m not physically with my commons now. If I chose to live in New Zealand, I could still work with Writing Spaces. If I decided I wanted to teach literacy in the Yukon Territory, I could still work with Writing Spaces. If I wanted to live in Greece and sail around the islands, I could do that and still work with Writing Spaces. If I no longer worked with Writing Spaces, I could still advocate for it, use it, and be proud of the work that group created–wherever I lived. Like Kick has daredeviling, like Pucca has Garu and her ninja skills, I have writing and editing and thinking and growing and being part of something that doesn’t have to keep me rooted to one spot. It might be the ideal project for a person like me who has a lot of rabbit in her. Admittedly, the rabbit is less spry and less likely to bolt than in the past, but Writing Spaces and the writing that experience has prompted me to undertake, the ideas I’ve mashed up over the last year–better than being in one place for 25 years (something that would never happen). It’s a comfort I haven’t ever known before professionally. Never.

And on top of that, my teaching has changed in deep and profound ways–not outwardly–but inside where I was regularly unsure of what I was doing. Not now. I have 35+ other teachers working with me in that OER alone. If I include other teachers who have created other OER, we’re talking now thousands of teachers supporting me. And the style of teaching I advocate with my practice is loose and dynamic and demanding–it just keeps getting better and better the more OER I know, adapt, and use.

I said yes to Writing Spaces just about a year ago, and it’s been transformative. I’ve written about that before here and in other places. I’ve shared it with friends, all my students (and I mean all), college writing teachers, college WAC instructors, high school teachers, middle school teachers, USAF officers, welding teachers, and more. I do often sound like a preacher… So what. Knowing this OER, knowing the ideal of the commons, knowing something about intellectual freedom, understanding how the world has changed because of open… it’s like being a suburban daredevil who amazes his less fearless peers, and it’s like being a little Korean girl who kicks ass and kisses the boy she likes.

That is exactly what it’s like. Who gets to say that about their jobs?

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Filed under Cartoons and Composing, Open Educational Resources, Open Everything, Open All the Time, Surprising Information, Writing and Identity

Word by word, composing myself

I write about 3-4,000 words a week. At least. Some weeks, more than that. How do I do it? Word by word.

And I don’t watch much television.

Most of the time, I don’t worry too much about what I’m saying. I just find the most intriguing thing rolling around in my brain, a puzzle that’s killing me, an idea I can’t tease out by thinking alone, the thing I’m compelled to write about, the irresistible factor that I must understand that is pushing me forward, or what I’m fussing about and… just splat it out on the keyboard: bleh. There it is. Not lovely. Not organized. But it’s out.

Most of the time, this writing is highly unreadable and deeply unattractive. Still. It’s there, and sometimes I can pick from it for other work I need for my life: teaching, essays, smarty-pants-work scenarios (where I need to be the smarty-pants). It’s worth doing even if I never use any of it. The fact that it exists is proof that I’m alive, and furthermore, it’s proof that I’m willing to keep changing (unless I say the same boring thing over and over and over and over and over again). I have a focus of a kind: I love writing and this blog is about me writing and being a writer and making writing happen, but I try to let change infuse who I am and allow me to grow in new and unexpected ways–though growth is uncomfortable sometimes (just like ugly first-draft writing). Writing just flat out makes me grow, damnitall. And then I’m in the middle of changing before I know it. I have a friend who says, “When you’re through changing, you’re through.” Right on, sister. I’d like to be far from through, thank you very much.

Most of the time, I just let the writing happen. Most of the time. And even though I do write a lot, sometimes I have to throw things away: e.g., a blog post I started that was about visioneering. I just couldn’t make it work out; I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I love Disneyland, grew up not far from it, visited 1,000+ times, and it says it’s the happiest place on Earth on the sign out front, but the connections I was trying to make between Disney’s imagineers and the visioneers of open educational resources, like Writing Spaces, wasn’t working. The good fight was not staying good. In between the time I started writing that post, and when I had to kill it, I watched RiP!: A Remix Manifesto, learned about the Mouse Liberation Front, and I got tainted, or turned left, or fine-tuned. (Watch this film and learn why the Victorians are everywhere, by the way. And when you do watch this, as you should, be sure to check out the MLF founder, Dan O’Neill, because, ripped from the Wikipedia page for Air Pirates is this possibly life-altering quote from O’Neill for those of us who consistently do stupid things: “‘Doing something stupid once,’ he said, ‘is just plain stupid. Doing something stupid twice is a philosophy.'” Ah. I knew I liked him right away.) I couldn’t keep writing the imagineers/visioneers story–it had to go. I still think Writing Spaces is visioneering done right, but Walt Disney can’t be part of that conversation.

Writing a lot, then, does not mean I’m good at it. It just means I do it a lot. Or doing it more than once might mean I have a philosophy. (I write; therefore, I am. Is that it?) And heaven knows, not all of my writing appears here or is fit to appear here. In fact, most of it doesn’t and isn’t. It’s hard to commit to writing for the public. I worry about typos and heinous errors in syntax and mistakes in fact and graceless moments when I might reveal too much about myself. Sometimes, I write just for me (hard for you to imagine that, isn’t it?) and then come to this space to think in a more accountable way because it is a public location. Still it’s a good place to work out the next level of some idea or thing I’m thinking about–or to compose myself–this is a place that forces me to be true to a writing effort.

Some of my writing is slow and wobbly; I can certainly go to the place where my text is sprinkled with meandering thought bubbles of nuance, similar to the thinking of Harvey Korman’s character in Blazing Saddles (1974), Hedley Lamarr, who utters, in an epiphanic moment: “My mind is a-glow with whirling transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.” “Ditto” says his evil henchperson, Taggart (played with glee by Slim Pickens). I am sometimes my own Taggart, too. Ditto, I have told myself after I’ve written something I really like. Why not be my own supporter when I need to? Writers can be so hard on themselves. We should stop that and let the words out and see what happens. Sometimes I write a really fine sentence or paragraph. I need to remember that. Once I had a boss give me a little hug about the waist and tell me, “Sugar, that’s the best damn memo I’ve ever read about sexual harassment and why it’s so wrong.” I live for the ironic. It was a damn good memo.

Despite my willingness to be my own cheerleader in writing, it’s still really hard work. It’s grunt work as much as it is: “Wow, I have something really important to say and this really marvelous way to say it… I’ll just sit down at the computer and the words will simply flow.” Inspiration can come to me but only occasionally. It’s not something I can rely on. Years ago, I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994) and still think it’s one of the best books ever written about getting over the fear of writing and about how it’s vital to just get the writing done, stick-a-fork-in-it-done. If you want to write, own this book. It’s worth having. The title comes from a report on a bunch of birds her brother had to do for school and put off until the last minute. (I’m only vaguely recalling here… be warned.) Their father tells him he must do the work; her brother asks how he will ever get the work done in time; the father replies, “bird by bird.” Bird by bird. That’s the only way.

And she’s funny. Writing advice from someone who’s funny: it’s priceless. Pay whatever it costs to own the book. (Or get see an excerpt on “shitty” first drafts from the WAC Clearinghouse.)

In as much as I can choose inspiration, I have been inspired by that as a writer and as a human: Lamott’s “shitty” first draft concept. I can indeed eat the whole elephant, but I can only eat it one bite at a time. So I write word by word. And sometimes it’s awful. I suppose one way I think is in phrases or clauses and string them together in sentences and sort of arrange those into paragraphs and occasionally link a few paragraphs together with transitions, and hope it all makes sense somehow, but mostly it all comes out in a big whoosh, word by word, stumbling and chaotic, occasionally airy and light. But usually I have to revise to the point that the writing becomes something new again, something fresh, something liquid that moves smoothly (I hope so) on the page or screen and peacefully into the eyes and hearts of readers.

My process is mainly about getting it out, down, away from myself, because any additional thinking I engage in might just muck up the works and keep the ideas in my head where they do no one any good, including me. In this way, writing also works as a way to “compose” or calm my wild, uncharted heart. (“Wild” because I am willing to let “free” rule my very being–it’s not always about being free, though, because free costs a lot sometimes. “Uncharted” because I do believe the world is made for those not cursed with self-awareness, and I am NOT one of them, but I can dream, and I can try to not focus too much on the inward. Ha. Like that’s going to happen to someone who writes a blog about writing and process and myth and the Victorians and Star Wars and open… and baseball. If you hadn’t noticed the Bull Durham (1988) reference, I bring your attention to it now: Annie Savoy about Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh and his gift of being not cursed with self-awareness.)

Focusing then, on the inward, I say, with no irony at all: “writing is definitely an emotional business for me.” Even when I write dry as dust administrative memos or reports–I’m very passionate about how they sound and what to include in just this way or that way to be firm or forgiving or to wheedle or to be just precisely grateful enough for the moment. Hard stuff, man, hard stuff, no matter how or when you write or for what audience. It’s just like Red Smith said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” At least he didn’t say artery, though I admit, my writing is arterial in so many ways: bleh. There it is: bloody chaos on the page.

It’s not hard getting words down for me, or getting words out; the hardest part is having the discipline to clean it up and make it pretty. I like pretty. Pretty feeds my soul. It nourishes the part of me that needs visual delight to go along with powerful words and language structure. And with practice I can write first drafts sometimes that work for a singular purpose–down and dirty emails, quick notes for teaching, a swift-kick-in-the-shins reminder of work that needs doing. These can be artful moments, too, even without revision. Art for art’s sake; I’m okay with that. Writing for writing’s sake, too. Learning for learning’s sake. I’m down with all the sakes. Even Pete’s. But it needs to mean something, too. A good crafting of prose can be as cleansing for the writer’s soul as sweeping out the cob webs by brain dumping. Revision gets at meaning in deeper ways, richer ways, fancy ball gown for the Academy Awards ways, and winning the Oscar for best original screen play ways.

Some idea must matter and be apparent when it’s over, for a clear message to be conveyed, short or long piece. But composing myself word by word is calming no matter the purpose, the audience, the genre, the length. I feel better for having done some clarity work. Yet, no matter what, I feel horror after it leaves me and goes into someone’s possession to be judged. Despite the stunning dress for the red carpet and the awards show business that I try to bring to a text in the revision process, I still feel naked sometimes. Ick. I want to be adored and told by the editor that despite the lone typo on page 14, “Your text is the best text ever–moved me and transported all our staff to the next realm of divinity toward nirvana, we had to share with accounting, now the CFO is mad in love with you, every one in the world will want to read this work, just as it is, because (we worship you five times a day) this is perfection.” You see how sick writers get in the head when the sweeping out of gunk doesn’t happen. It’s not really just like that; though, I must confess a weakness for CFOs at nonprofit companies, bean counters who care–hard to beat that.

This reaction might come from the damage of having a bad reader more than once. For instance, having a valued friend read what I thought was a masterpiece say: “I liked it, but you have a comma error on page 3.” Nothing else. Or the time I had a boyfriend read a short story that I dreamed was truly fantastic: “I liked it expect for the cussing. That’s not very ladylike.” Crap.

Even now, after years of writing for a variety of people and diverse audiences, friends and foes, employees and supervisors, family and lovers, I cringe a little bit over how, You, Gentle Reader (please be gentle), might find this text: 1) you see this post as almost self-indulgent crap (Bull Durham reference again); 2) you think I’ve been helpful because you suffer from writing fears and have just read Anne Lamott’s “shitty” first drafts and feel oh so much better about writing; 3) you love this post, love the blog, wish I’d write more often.

No matter what the reality is, I’m going with 3).

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