Tag Archives: freedom

The open WPA: Dancing around in open land

WPA is not an acronym for Works Progress Administration (later the Work Projects Administration)–which some folks have suggested when I casually mention, at fancy dress-up cocktail parties, that I’m a WPA. WPA means Writing Program Administrator. But I can understand the confusion. WPAs often do a lot of progressive work (and projects from now until the 12th of forever), things that mean forward movement, going places, building programs, and such.

Though FDR’s WPA is an fairly old entity that was part of the New Deal, I’m okay with the comparison. The work the WPA did was needed and good (millions of Americans found work through that agency for eight years from 1935-1943), and benefited, I’m sure, my own antecedents. So. I’m not at all offended by anyone thinking I might be affiliated with such an important movement/agency/group/organization, though I do usually end up explaining what my WPAness means. Sometimes I just say I’m a writer. It’s easier than saying I’m a WPA and a lot less stressful than saying I’m an English teacher (so many people look aghast, and breathlessly say, as they back away from me, that they were awful in English: “Oh, look there’s Sam and Lena, I really must go say hello, excuse me, won’t you?” To Sam and Lena: “Ugh, Elizabeth teaches English–stay away–or least don’t say something stupid.”). Saying I’m an English professor is worse, and a Victorian literature professor, why, that’s even more catastrophic, I’m sad to say. The Victorians were sort of judge-y.

However, my point in this post is not about how hard it is to say what my professional life is or isn’t. My point is to write about how I’ve gotten to be such an open person, specifically an open writing program administrator. To be perfectly honest, it’s a thing that bleeds into my personal life in more than one way. I don’t think I could be an open person at work and then be closed at home. I had to re-think my own existence, to be slightly dramatic about it, and all that might mean in the last year. I’ve become open to new things, new ways of working, new friends, new sights, new sites, new language, new everything and open everything. Lately, since August last year actually, I’ve been engaged with what feels like very progressive projects by embracing all things open. I’ve read several books about open (with a few more to go), hefty articles (from law review journals even), light and fun articles (in some casual blogs and magazines), serious work from rhetoric and composition scholars (in academic journals in print and online and in blogs)–all about open things.

What baffles me most about this reading is that I lived parallel to the history I’m reading about now. I’m not really riveted by 20th/21st century history or events. Usually I read 19th century history/literature and that feeds my Victorian literature teaching, or I read happening-right-now works on teaching writing. The whole open thing was going on while I was an adult, and I never really learned much about it while it was happening. But I have friends now who were IN it. I had friends who were in it then, but I had no idea what they were talking about while they were talking about it. In the 1990s I was doing something very different with my life than the open advocates. Which is all to say: it was as it should be. No regrets. If I’d gotten it then, I’d be a different person than I am now–and that wouldn’t be good. I’m good just how I am. Right. Now.

But I’m deeply profoundly madly serious when I say: right now, open is the thing that will make me happy for a long time to come. I do cycle through intellectual and physical fads some (in 2009/10, I read every Michael Chabon book; I took karate classes like I was the next Bruce Lee until I had to hit people and mean it), but open is, as I explore it more, an undercurrent running with the river of my life, not against it. It’s always been there, I just never called it what it is.

I used to joke about being a scholar of liberation studies because everything I read or did with my mind was always about freedom–mine, specifically, but if I could support anyone else’s freedom, I was on board with that, too. I felt like the one thing I could do, and do well, was read, and persuade others of the wonder of reading, and that the one thing no one could ever take from me was what I learned, and that learning should always be liberatory (I mean, really, how could it be otherwise?). I was completely drawn to writers who were politically aware and somehow actively trying to change the world: Byron, Shelley, Barrett Browning, Dickens, Gaskell. In the 20th century, the one genre I was driven to read was spy fiction–all about spies who worked for governments who sought freedoms for its people. Sure, there was betrayal, but it was so scintillating and scrumptious when the good spies won (they didn’t always).

Occasionally, in the 20th century, I’d be hooked into other genres: I started reading Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent series when I was in 7th grade and finished when he finished (a great series that mirrors a lot of political change from the late 1950s through the mid-1970s). I cared about the way politics worked and how freedoms mattered to a people and how a people might give a lot to ensure freedom for all, risking life and limb in battles here and over there. (“Over There” is a song my grandmother, Blanche Kennedy, used to sing to me when I was little–she used to also sing, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”; I think my early interest in geography is explained by my grandfather’s involvement in WWI, his globe with little x’s on each country he’d been in, and my grandmother’s singing to me the songs of the Great War). My life was surrounded by the political. Home life was infused by the political; voting was one of the biggest events of each year; every man in my family, and some women, served in a branch of the military until my generation.

And OER is political. I want to extricate myself from political things these days, mostly, but this isn’t one I can ignore. The underlying freedom from cost to students and other teachers inherent in OER means something to those in poverty. Education is liberation. Free textbooks (online) or books published inexpensively to meet local needs (OER can often be remixed and reused to suit a particular educational situation)–this enables education. I’m a WPA at a school where poverty is an issue. Alabama is not the wealthiest state–we’re 42nd for income per capita. We’re ranked 9th for the number of folks living below the poverty level (below the poverty level–didn’t find anything about everyone living around and just above the poverty level). It makes sense that the condition of not having enough food, adequate shelter or clothing would have an impact on one’s education. When text could be provided to schools for less than the current outrageous spending for textbooks–what could that savings be spent on: computers, wi-fi, printers? It’s naive for me to think that a savings in one area of education would automatically beget largesse in another, but I have hope. Always hope. Being involved in open and working on OER (editing, writing, advocating) is, for me, nothing short of my duty as an educator and a citizen of the world.

That sounds high and mighty, doesn’t it? Well, it is. It’s a high and mighty thing.

Recently, I was on a panel about OER at the Computers & Writing conference. One colleague, Craig Hulst, talked about whether we had an ethical obligation to create OER when we could and when it was right (when it’s right was the focus of Charlie Lowe’s talk, my other colleague on the panel)–all of us are involved with Writing Spaces, an open educational resource. The answer to Craig’s question–did we or didn’t we?–was “Yes, we did. We are ethically bound to share our knowledge.” Of course, I believe this. I have said before, here and just about anytime anyone asks me about being open: if you attain ninja rank and you do not teach and share what you know, you risk losing your ninja membership card. Or you could burn in hell.

The right path is clear, isn’t it? (Or was I just over-the-top again? Ah well. If you’re not living on the edge, how can you see the view?) If I’m going to be a WPA, and I’m going to be for some time to come, I hope, then I need to be an open WPA. Or I could lose my ninja card. That would totally suck.

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Filed under Open Everything, Open All the Time, Reading & Writing

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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Filed under Almost Self-Indulgent Crap, Writing and Identity

Taking it personally: baseball and writing

Right this minute I’m taking baseball and writing personally.

Once again Jim Bouton comes to me, as if in a dream–unexpectedly and precisely–to put words into my head that I suspect will never leave me alone until I write about them. I mentioned in an earlier post about the “gripping” end to Ball Four (1970) that 20+ years after reading it, still resonates with my heart, still shakes my soul, still sits in my mind and defines how obsession works for me.

I just finished reading his follow-up tome, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally (1971). It appeared before me one day, and I was there, and it was there, so I read it. I started it last week while I was eating dinner and kept at it a bit at a time until today when I decided I needed to get through the final half. The pages are vintage 1970s–big print, lots of yellowing where the white space used to be, some old font I adore, ratty dust jacket all falling to pieces–and a giant black and white picture of Bouton on the back cover looking terribly handsome and very like the ham he confesses to be.

Bouton’s lyrically, deliciously, funny stories are alive to me again… and I recall how important Ball Four was to me at a critical point in my life. He/it was a “one.” You know what I mean–one of those moments, one of those influences, one of those turnings-down-a-path that colors the rest of your life. Reading his book, being open to the revolution of it, being willing to be guided by a passion greater than mine at the exact moment I needed that… well, it is truly a grand call to adventure that I answered and how. I read Ball Four for the first time when I was re-reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces (1948) a second or third time (and a lot of Samuel Beckett, too–what does that say about me?). Surely this can be no coincidence; surely the gods in Campbell’s book were looking out for me on that day in Chavez Ravine when a friend said, as we deliriously, happily, gleefully (always) watched the Dodgers, ate Farmer John hot dogs, and had a beer: “You like baseball so much, you really need to read Ball Four. I’ll lend you my copy when we get home.” And he did. Myth and baseball crashed at home plate. Baseball scored. Path defined. Path taken. Master’s thesis on baseball written… because my director asked to be my director when I said I was really doing a lot of thinking about baseball. He said, “I grew up going to Ebbets Field; I love the Dodgers; you should really do your thesis on baseball/rhetoric/mythology/sociolinguistics.” Or something like that. So I did. The director of my master’s thesis then showed me a doctoral program to go to, and forced me to apply (really, gave me the application, a pen, and said to get busy while he went to get us coffee), and the mything of my life went on and on. He was a “one,” too.

Even now I can tell you how every “one” in my life has helped me fulfill some aspect of my hero’s journey (I use the term hero to apply to my life only in the sense that I am on a long ol’ journey that periodically, and oddly, seems to follow the form of the true hero’s journey–not sure how it happens–is it because I always see what I’m looking for?). Lots of “ones” have inspired me, and not just Jim Bouton in baseball. I would include Gary Carter who hit for the cycle, at 37 years old, one night when I was at Jack Murphy Stadium watching him catch and hit like he was fifteen years younger–I would definitely include him as a “one.” He was beautiful, and 37 seemed so ancient and wise to me then; I was stunned by his performance and wondered, post-Ball Four, if this was the last time I might see him do that, if he was at the end of his career, if he would find that baseball had gripped him rather than the other way around. (He was just 37–can you imagine?)

Shoot, I can’t tell you much of anything about Gary Carter. I have no idea where he played or how long or the kind of career he ended up having (though I recall he was a great player–I’m sure he’s a Wikipedia entry–I hope he’s in the Hall of Fame). But I remember that night, sitting on the first base side, and him wheeling around to third for a triple… he was all kinds of lovely. I was so happy, I jumped up and down, and hugged my friend, and we yelled, “GARY GARY GARY.”  Who did he even play for in that game? I so don’t care. It was edifying to watch his hero’s journey and know that was what I was witnessing. If it was toward the end of his baseball journey, then it was a special moment; if not, it was still a special moment–who gets to do that in such a celestial sphere, surrounded by the most athletically talented in the world at their chosen sport? Not many. Playing major league baseball is breathing rarefied air indeed.

At the end of I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally, Bouton talks about a former manager who suggested there are “three ways to get out of this wonderful game” [baseball]: “He said you could drink your way out, you could eat your way out, or you could f*&% your way out.” Bouton then writes, “You can also, I believe, write your way out” (219). I’m drinking the best coffee this Sunday morning, entirely enjoying the reading of this book that takes me back, not only to Bouton’s early 1970s, but to my early 1990s, and I get to this passage at the end, and I think:

Holy 8-ways-to-get-on-first-base moly.

I get that.  I’ve never had to work out how to retire from baseball, but I have had transitions that mocked my effort to understand my motivations, that grieved me greatly, that made me question what I was doing and what all around me were doing.  I’ve often thought about how to get out of something and into the next phase of my life. Not that I think the manager was right about everything. But then I think:

BLOG.

Yep. I have always written my way into and out of things. Not always productively, though. The manager was right in one way–there are always several ways for a body to screw up. And I’ve probably chosen questionable paths plenty of times, on purpose and not. Bouton is right, though, too. He wrote his way to another part of his journey. And writing is a mighty powerful thing to do. Bouton, who calls former players things like perspicacious (thank you, James Alan Bouton), is once more right here to clarify my thinking for me. He’s a “one” still. Much of this book is about his writing his way through the transition out of baseball, into full-blown authorial celebrity, and into broadcasting, and processing the aftermath of the huge success of Ball Four. I not-so-secretly adore him and wish Elizabeth Gilbert had been around for him to hear/read when he was in his early 30s wrestling with the changes he was undergoing and writing about in both books (she had a freakishly successful book, too–though it wasn’t about her writing her way out of baseball but out of a serious relationship funk). Her talk on Ted.com really gets at the core of what Bouton writes about: 1) showing up to do your job (in baseball or whatever) no matter what; 2) how genius occasionally comes to you (but can’t be counted upon, like the knuckleball which seems to go to its knuckleball “space” whenever it feels like it and only sometimes shows up for the game); and 3) how writing is a weird business (whether it’s a vocation or avocation or a profession–messing around with words can mess you up).  Perhaps in a perfect universe-colliding moment they will run into one another and recognize their similar geniuses (which only some times show up for work), and I will get a mental text on my mental smart phone that this happened and be full of myself for thinking it was a good thing that came true.

Baseball and writing for me then, is about showing up to do the work even when my genius won’t come out of the wall. Coming back to this blog when I think I can’t write anything of import. Going ahead into the game, going ahead with the words, with the charts, with the writing, with the thinking, with the cartoons, with the dreams, with the “play ball”–even when there’s no chance I’ll get a hit. It’s about taking what I do personally. Like this writing. It’s so personal, and yet, it’s seriously public. The minute I published one word here, it was forever cast in stone in some Library-of-Congress-time-machine-internet-capturing-conspiracy-net that keeps everything forever. It became history that I’ll never get away from, at word one. And what’s especially shocking to me is that I never would have taken this writing seriously (personally) until someone said to me: “You should really blog. Just do it–it’s a good place to work out what you’re thinking.” Good suggestion. So I did. I recognize a call to adventure when I see it now (like working as part of the team that does things with Writing Spaces, an open educational resource). It’s all part of understanding how to be a fully realized human, and recognizing the journey I’m on that gets me to a place of quiet, peace, unity, and words that sing. Sounds sort of cornball, but there it is: me taking it all personally and connecting things and ideas and finding my way to something I didn’t have before writing today. Now I have this. This piece of writing, this thinking, this moment of bliss that is being followed (“Follow your bliss”) thanks to Jim Bouton, Joseph Campbell, and a host of other co-conspirators on my journey who I guess would prefer to remain “players to be named later” or not at all. Because of them (and me), I followed my bliss. And how fine is that? Very fine.

I wish, wish, wish, just a bit of this hero’s journey vibe will rub off on my teaching so my students will know that what feels like colossal errors now are just speed bumps in their lives slowing them down, for sure, but not stoppage forever. I hope they get that. I’m a living embodiment of overcoming colossal error–in fact, I’m not even close to over that part of life–it’s just easier to forgive myself now. Is that maturity? If it is, I’m afraid it’s being wasted on me. It should be dusted on the young so they will have grander journeys, so they will change the world in better ways than I have, so they will recognize earlier in their lives the importance of their existence. Or, damnitalltohell, is that the point of the journey? That it isn’t until later on that we get what it all means and why it takes so long to get it and then, only then, we are driven to attempt to teach the young and feel everlasting-have-mercy-on-my-soul frustration when they don’t seem to listen!? Aha.

Irony of ironies.

So my words of wisdom to my young friends might be: baseball and writing, learning and the hero’s journey, mythology and baseball (Luke accepts the call to bat, Obi-Wan is the 1st-base coach, Luke is on his own for stealing or getting to second, Yoda is the 3rd-base coach, Darth Vader the pitcher, Luke is the boon-bringer as he comes home to score)–see the ball, be the ball, hit the ball, run like hell. Doesn’t it all just make the MOST sense?

I write here when I’m full to the brim and have to say what I need to say.  Does that mean what I think? Could I possibly be my own boon-bringer? If that’s the case, I’m rocking it. My writing here has led to celebration, satisfaction, loads of fun, and, what’s more, productive thinking for school, work, home, and everything/everywhere in between. Perhaps my writing is gripping me now instead of me gripping it. Is that possible?

Wouldn’t it be nice if baseball gave me all that? Maybe it just did.

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Filed under Magic and Writing, Writing and Identity

Administration: ministration + ad

Done right, ministration + ad can be a good thing. For instance, managing anything is about ministering to the thing’s needs–a program, department, firm, group, teachers, students–whatever/whoever. And marketing is just part of that–every management job must advertise its point–or at the least, managers must relate their worth to those they work for and with. Ministration + ad. Or as Henry Laurence Gantt, A.B., M.E. (1861-1919) said in 1915, “Under autocratic rule the man in authority is a master; under democratic rule he is a servant” (Industrial Leadership 19).

(Benito Mussolini may have made the trains run on time, but he went too far with the “Il Duce” thing–and he was rising to power at the time Gantt was talking/writing–not autocratic power, but it was coming, coming, coming.)

Gantt’s assessment of what’s up with leadership is best understood, then, in its context: right at the start of WWI and the rise of global war, fascism, and flu (well, that would come in time)–just to name a few urgencies of the early 20th century. He purposely equates great industrial leadership to military leadership and explicitly links the adage “you can catch more flies with honey” to important changes in leadership and industry.  (That’s a lot to just throw out there in an opening–but please come along for the ride, we’ll get it all “managed” as we go–sort of. I should make a chart of this post.)

I’ve just been re-reading some texts by Gantt, Industrial Leadership (1915) quoted above and Work, Wages, & Profits (1913) for a couple of reasons: 1) to remember why I love him as I need to create two Gantt charts for consulting projects I have this spring; and 2) because I’m writing a chapter about project management for freshman college writers for Writing Spaces, Vol. 3 that is due to editors on Jan. 10, 2011. Gantt charts are something I teach my freshman writers whenever I can (in fact, I teach it to anyone who is open to it because I manage my personal and professional life visually, with charts–once a VP of a publishing company I worked for called me the “Queen of Charts”–not an insult as the title was accompanied by a tiara with flashing lights which I wore in more than one meeting). I do generally avoid this much history and rambling around when I just use the chart for PM in real life–but there is something so fine about the freedom of a blog and just getting ideas out there–TBAFL (to be accountable for later).

(I first “met” Gantt years and years ago when I worked with pilots who’d been trained by various military groups [Army, Air Force, Navy]–they used something akin to Gantt charts to manage massive projects that were part of government fire-fighting contracts. I remotely dealt with aspects of this work [though occasionally visited our contract sites]–we had contracts all over the western U.S. It was occasionally a nightmare during fire season to figure out where everyone was and what was going on, but the pilots were quiet and peaceful and efficient. Everything I might expect from men of war and peace. And ideas of management rubbed off.)

So I have to acknowledge that Gantt was an industrial snob on some level, but c’mon, we’re talking 19th century, early 20th century industrial revolution here. He was a Victorian, but he was American (and a teacher for awhile–I like that)… and frankly, despite perceived stuffiness, he was a revolutionary. I especially like a series of addresses he gave to the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University as part of the Page Lecture Series in 1915, published by Yale UP (you could buy the book and have it delivered for $1 back then). The quote about autocracy vs. democracy above comes from his lecture.  He had two other books, though, that both rocked (see later on–all are available through Google Books). He is not the industrialist’s minion–not at all. He suggests that robber baron industrialism was over and that it could not happen again, if we valued a healthy economy that included efficient manner of production. Wonder what he would think about our most recent digital-intellectual-industrial revolution at the turn of this most recent century? I think he’d be deep in the weeds of web 2.o creating visual and graphic interactive designs/charts and more to change the way we work, manage, think, collaborate, progress. (I think he’d give Edward Tufte a run for his money, too.)

But wait…

Some background before I get too deep (I already got too deep, didn’t I?)…

H.L. Gantt is most famous for his invention of a graphic way of representing project management (PM), work flow, work process, and performance, called, and rightly so, the Gantt Chart.

Sample chart from *Work, Wages & Profits* (1913)

It’s commonly used in project management still (I love them and use them all the time). There have been variations over the years (PERT is one–created and honed by the U.S. Navy), but I haven’t needed to vary my PM style because Henry’s ideas still work for me (I have smaller projects now than I used to–no need to change). As an engineer, he saw the need to clarify the procedures of the work, who did what and when, and he did that–visually, so everyone could “see” what was going on at any moment. Perhaps it’s the mechanical engineering part of him that “saw” the design of project management as a schematic for how to make a “machine” more efficient. But he far from dehumanizes the worker or manager–his goal was to ensure labor was valued as human work, not mindless, soulless endeavor–indeed, the need to change how work was managed was an underpinning of his Gantt Chart. Humans should not be wasted through thoughtless management principles, but should be valued and paid appropriately with bonus structures for great performance (there are issues with this as motivational theory goes, but that’s another entry–or check out this Ted.com talk by Dan Pink).

Nice aside: if you search for Gantt much on the internet, you’ll quickly learn that his chart was used to manage the Hoover Dam project as well as Eisenhower’s massive interstate highway construction extravaganza. That’s some cred. (Lovely serendipitous moment brought to you by this aside: I’ll be standing on Hoover Dam next Monday, 12/27 with friends who will be married the next day in an Elvis-Blue-Hawaii wedding ceremony officiated by an Elvis-impersonator minister. Elvis also visited the Dam. Of course, he did.)

My ideas: management must be kind and serve the needs of the managed (without sacrificing the needs of the larger programmatic goals)–how does one do that? Talking to everyone, valuing facts and expert opinions, figuring out how to proceed, produce, and perform–and most importantly, helping others do the same. And keeping track of where everyone and everything is at–without a management team that includes more folks than those doing the work. Gantt’s ideas: 1) manage people not machines; 2) value worker prowess; 3) in all things, efficiency and accountability.

Administration: ministration + ad.  If you ministrate properly, the ad takes care of itself… maybe. Is goodwill the same as good intention when it comes to administration? Perhaps not, but it can’t hurt to think about the past when managing the now or the future and know that ministering a thing is wrapped in making sure everyone knows what to do, when to do it, so they can bring maximum creativity and innovation to each part of the production.

Gantt might have agreed. He was a visionary and despite almost a hundred years between his death and now–I find him relevant and inspiring: Wages, Work & Profits (1913), Industrial Leadership (1915), Organizing for Work (1919).

Students can use Gantt’s PM ideas for better handling themselves in the industry that is higher education–understanding how the administrative structure works, who does what, why, and how they fit in–in fact, how they can be productively part of the machine (as offensive as that sounds, working within the system can be important to: understanding the system and then, eventually, bringing down the system–if there’s anything I’ve learned from the Victorians, it is that mastery can and should lead to revolution and evolution). AND, key to a modern student’s survival through college, can be a Gantt Chart for writing projects or degree plans, and even post-college life management. If education is the goal, a PM chart is less necessary–still a fine idea, but if a degree is the goal, and maximum efficiency, get on board with a Gantt Chart.

I always scored high on the visual/spatial/mechanical parts of those truly horrific standardized tests which exist to pigeon-hole and track the past and which can never predict potential. I was also required in high school and in my college years to take one of those career tests: perhaps it makes total sense that the two top choices for my possible careers were railroad engineering and the clergy.

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Writing, dance, and math

Why don’t I teach dance, writing, and math together?  All three do the same thing: communicate.

Writing: expression.

Dance: expression.

Math: expression.

And there we have it.  Patterns, planning, movement, revision, stories, practice, rehearsal, communication, symbols, letters, signs, meaning. Word problems. Story problems. Honestly. Who writes about this intersection? Where would a logical place for such speculation be found? Here. Because I’m doing it right now. But where else? There must be interdisciplinary journals I’ve never dipped into whose authors write about the connections between math, dance, and writing. Perhaps a chapter in an open educational resource like Writing Spaces might be appropriate, if such linkage could illuminate something vital about writing for college students. Do we need to explicitly draw the lines between movement studies, writing studies, and mathematics? We might do well to shed disparate learning environments in colleges/universities.

Right this minute, I’m not sure what to do with this idea, so I’ll just keep wondering and wandering. If I take just a moment to envision the implications of all three subjects in one space, I can envision writing workshops in which math and movement are linked with writing projects in 2D, 3D, video, audio, numbers, words, paper.  I’d need a really big room with lots of space and computers and smart boards and cameras and lots of natural light. And an ash floor for moving around, lots of support and give–I love to dance on ash wood floors. And loads of mirrors. Dancers need to see dancing. Lots of paper, too. All kinds. And we’d need pens, crayons, chalk, paint, charcoal, pencils, ink, and a whole lot of “I don’t care how messy it gets.”  Younger students, older students, any students. We’d tell stories with everything we have.

Right this minute, as I’m writing, I’m listening to music. And, you may need to sit down for this one: phantoms dance in my mind’s eye with each note of every song, always, haunting me, calling me to move again, to see how words and numbers and counting and movement all come together, 5, 6, 7, 8.  Always someone is dancing when I hear music. Sometimes it’s me dancing, but mostly it’s someone else I choreograph for, someone else who dances now. When I was a dance major, I was required to take choreography. The course was called “composition” because we composed stories for our bodies to tell. I think we must have counted to 1 billion through the semester.  We composed.  We moved.  We moved others.  We counted, we moved, we composed.

Sharp intake of breath.

(That felt self-indulgent as I am just now working out the depth of the bonds in my mind between math, dance, writing, and, really did feel like I should inhale on the screen, for my own sake, and in case no one noticed THAT, I needed to reinforce the fact that I am just now working this all out here by drawing attention to the textual inhalation in a lengthy parenthetical–wish I could figure out how to use footnotes in a blog–I love Infinite Jest.  So. Skip ahead if you like because this next reference is so odd that it might make you, Gentle Reader, want to click away, though it does directly connect to baseball, mentioned later on: would Crash Davis, a faded/fading/starmaker/mentor/catcher in Bull Durham, call blogging self-indulgent crap like he did the works of Susan Sontag? It does seem self-indulgent, especially right this minute. But crap? I rather like to think blogging is a way to selectively unclutter my mind and explore ideas about writing which might lead to professional and personal happiness. Blogging: an online highway to happiness. Self-indulgent? Maybe. Crap? Hell no. Who cares what Crash Davis thinks anyway? He’s fiction.)

Back to my anaphora: “right this minute” (See how footnotes would have been so great here. I could have attached a footnote to the phrase at it appears a third time below and avoided another break in your reading, and my writing, and still kept this terribly pithy reference to rhetorical figures of speech in here somewhere–my favorite figure of speech is anaphora. The Wikipedia authors on the term say Charles Dickens was well-known to use anaphora. Of course. Of course it’s my favorite figure of speech.)

Right this minute, as I write, as I listen, as I dream, while I may be indulging myself in words and thinking, I know this, too: I miss quadratic equations. Oh, differential calculus, why did I let you get away? I loved you so much.

One day, long ago, when I used to say silly things like, “I love to read, but I can’t write,” I pasted a nine-page calculus problem on my dining room wall to figure out where I’d gone wrong. Something had been bugging me about the problem or formula–I don’t even remember it now–and I couldn’t find a solution for hours, perhaps days. On the wall, everything changed. I saw three things: a dance, a story, and the answer. The wall nearly came alive; the math certainly did. It was art, it was text, it was formula, it was freedom, it was the future.

I never said “I can’t write” again. I solved problems with numbers, text, movement–it was, for a time, all the same to me. I knew everything was story, everything was moving, numbers were everything. Math taught me how to think and wonder; dance taught me how to move, how to achieve control and exuberance together; writing teachers/tutors taught me how to be patient and persistent…all of which I needed to communicate through the symbols we call letters, arranged in words, arranged in sentences, in paragraphs, in essays, in books, on the web.

Are there texts on the intersections of these three disciplines out there and I missed them? Totally possible. Instead of exploring this topic by searching a marvelous library database this evening, I am reading two frivolous texts as I recover from my week: a book on the history of cocktails and a collection of short stories by Edwidge Danticat. (She might quibble with me about calling her writing frivolous–it’s not at all–but it sure occupies that space as I have a lot of other work I should be doing that I am purposely, and successfully, avoiding by reading those two books and writing here. Damn. Am I frivolous? What if I am? Damn again.)

Are writers writing about dance, math, and writing? Could be. Where are the dancing mathematician writers? You are my people.

I desperately wanted to study more about all three together in my master’s program in grad school, but I got sidetracked by bad knees, Samuel Beckett, then baseball. No kidding. The rhetoric, sociolinguistics, and mythology of baseball–not a bad thing but not THIS. Not writing, math, and dance. When all three meshed, I felt like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do–a mind, body, spirit thing, perhaps, maybe, might could be.  Might could be it’s still a mind, body, spirit thing.

Math, writing, dance: even when I don’t consciously think about them, they weave together always, a tapestry of meaning wrapped snug around me like a smooth, thick, well-worn cloak in winter warming me to the core as I begin to think my education was never about getting a degree.

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Goosebumps and textbooks…

I do love my job. Almost all the time, but sometimes, I can say I LOVE my job. This last weekend, I LOVED my job. I spent a good amount of time around a lot of writing instructors who teach basic writing (one of the loves of my life that never seems to get old). Most were unhappy with textbooks in general. They did their own instructional thing with students, creating work that moved and transformed their students from struggling with sentences to composing essays. (This will come up again…)

We talked a lot about the future of textbook publishing and found that while we all loved books, we all believed to some extent, that the future would be full of e-books, many of them free and easily obtained by students on various e-devices from phones to readers to pads to _______. We also discussed the fact that we knew what worked with our students and it often wasn’t or couldn’t be put into one book.  If  we used a book, we never used all of it, and if we only used 30-60% of a $75 book, why were we using it again? Some of us are forced to use books by a program that dictates book use (I’m in one of those, and I’m the dictator–long story–won’t always be that, but it is now); some of us have to use books by certain publishers because that’s the campus system; some of us get to teach with our own materials. And there was not one among our group that wasn’t willing to give away every bit of their stuff.  Not one.

Point one: I would like to be textbook free. I’d love to have a handbook to teach from and with and some readings online that students could get and read anytime on anything. Oh wait. I already have that: Writing Spaces. But for such a move, I need to not be accountable for 40 other teachers and what they do. I need to know that everyone, no matter what they are doing, are moving toward common outcomes. I don’t know that yet. So I’m trying to staunch the flow of blood, congeal what we do, (and I say that deliberately though it sounds really raw) at the site of a wound left by the past. One day I want no textbooks and no handbooks. I want to be among student writers who can, like ninjas, move from their own text to many books and back, with me or without me, f2f or otherwise. And I’m not alone.

Point two: no teacher I’ve ever met, who really loves to teach, is selfish. A lot of scholars are, however, reluctant to share. There is a lot riding on tenure and promotion: all one’s life, it may seem (or may be). So making a model of how one can share and get T&P credit for it is important. Charlie Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky, editors of Writing Spaces, are making this model all the way live. A peer-reviewed collection of essays on writing, on the practice of writing, on the theories of writing… wait for it… for students. Why did all these teachers create materials for their own students? Because it matters. Why does a book like Writing Spaces exist? Because it does the same thing–it matters. It has the potential to re-create everything about a writing class–just like an individual teacher can.

Point 3: Lucky me. I get to be a small part of this. It feeds the part of me that was desperate to skip college and join the Peace Corps. It feeds the part of me who was a basic writer in college with no hope of graduating because I never learned anything about writing in school (though I read a lot–that ultimately was my salvation–and the writing center at Boise State Univ.). It feeds the part of me who is now a writing program administrator who is also the only tenure-track comp/rhet professor and the department Victorianist and often spread thin like too little butter over a huge piece of toast (no need to raise your eyebrows, I know it’s a crazy job)–because I want writing to be the subject of the writing classes at my university, in the writing program I’m supposed to be directing. Writing is a worthy subject, not just writing to learn or learning to write, but learning about writing. THIS project fixes what was wrong for me: lack of access to materials about writing written by writing instructors for writing students… and free. (The Subject is Writing (4th ed.) by Wendy Bishop and James Strickland is nice, but it’s not free.)

Point 4: I take back the handbook thing. I want no heavy, thin-paged, over-tabbed, overpriced books of any kind in my classroom. I want writing happening all the time with access to texts as needed, however needed, when needed and in various forms: audio, video, plain ol’ unburnished text. I won’t ever be anti-physical-book because I’m in love with books, but teaching with them–not necessary.

Point 5: I’m well aware that my colleagues may only value my publishing as it appears in book form, in traditional academic journals, etc. But what I know is that I can work successfully in a range of fields and have. I have no fear. In fact, it was that which moved me back to the academy. I was told once that I was a change agent. I was being insulted, but I took it as a compliment (and a complement)–and hold that accusation dear to my heart. I may be of the 20th century, I may value work in archives and the recovery of history (and do that work with great joy), I may be a Victorianist, I may be a director of composition, I may teach a billion things and nothing at all, but I am also of the 21st century and embracing all the time all that can be. Perhaps it was Gene Roddenberry who turned me to the future or Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein… maybe even the art of Chesley Bonestell. I’m not sure and don’t care because what I know is that being deep in the history of ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t invent a future different from our past. And if I need to, I’ll go back to publishing if I need food, clothing, and shelter because I’m an editor. Words will always matter in my lifetime. And I can play with them and make them shiny. The world needs me (and I know this will sound awful), the academy needs me, but I don’t have to need the academy (I mean, I need it desperately, in an emotional way–not financially). (More clarification, as if this will help: I want to teach, so that’s why I’m where I am–my friend, Maria, says I’m a ninja editor, and being such can suck unless you educate the next generation–in fact, I think you can lose your ninja card if you don’t teach.)

Point 6: The future must be free to everyone–all books all the time all to everyone (go Google Books and copyleftists everywhere now that I know you exist.) Remember public libraries–all books all the time all to everyone? This is the same thing, but easier. And writing teachers who share and give and give and create and give some more–they all know this. And that is exactly why I got goosebumps this weekend talking about the future of textbooks. The word “textbook” itself is terribly powerful to me and scary: not just book, but text, too, and that includes the connotation of megalomaniac control-freak massive textbook publishers taking over the world. A compound word that meant one thing in the last two centuries and yet can mean another thing now and as we move along to the 22nd century.

Point 7: Writing Spaces is a new kind of textbook–it’s an text-unbook. An un-textbook. It’s not the only open educational resource around, but it’s peer-reviewed and still free, and that may make the difference for those who work on it and publish in it. It’s also supported by a good press (Parlor Press)–a good press run by good people. Writing teachers can keep on creating and giving–but now they might get institutional credit for it. I’m emailing everyone I met this weekend with the link to WS. They’ll love it and be as surprised and pleased as I was when I was introduced to this project. I scoured the web site for the strings, the catch… no strings, no catch. This book already belongs to everyone.  Welcome to this century… maybe the next one.

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