Tag Archives: future

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

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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Filed under Interdisciplinariness

Write like a Victorian, or write all the time

Victorian writers wrote a lot. Professional writers in the Victorian period published a lot.

They were in the midst of a technological revolution. The industrial revolution was a publishing, printing, distribution, writing revolution, too. Steam engines hurried things up considerably for printing, paper making, and moving text into new places, previously unreachable, or unreachable in a timely fashion. Speed often confers reduced cost–in this case, text became a whole lot less expensive and cheaper, too (lots of Victorian paper is falling apart now because it was so cheap then). Big groups of people previously priced out of text were able to get at it. Perhaps the changes to education requirements (by various laws through the century but only slowly enforced) helped to revolutionize writing and consuming of writing. Perhaps the cost and distribution were what really changed things. No matter how it happened, it happened–writing happened and got published and got in front of readers as never before in history.

Charles Dickens, who was NOT paid by the word, helped to change the way Victorians wrote by working/writing/publishing serially in the mid-1830s.  Almost something he stumbled upon, the serial really worked for new readers, making story available a chunk at a time through periodical or part publication. (Alexander Dumas did much the same thing in France at about the same time.  Cool, huh?) Dickens published all his novels in this way, even becoming the mentor and publisher for more writers who published serially or in parts; I’m thinking here particularly of Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell (two of my very favourites–British spelling, thank you very much).

Dickens’s letters, the ones editors have been able to recover and transcribe, include something like 12 volumes (not sure if any more are planned), but that may not include letters the editors didn’t have access to at the time of publication. For example, 35 letters were just purchased this year by the Huntington Library. The Brownings’ Correspondence (BC) currently includes at least 16 volumes that I own, plus several more, that are currently bending my bookshelves, by Wedgestone Press (the BC publishers): letters from Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB) and Robert Browning (RB) to EBB’s sister, Arabella, two more volumes, and a collection of RB to a mutual friend, Isa Blagden, two more volumes, and a new collection of EBB letters to Isa, one big, fat volume.  AND the projected BC collection will be 40 volumes when complete in 15-16 more years.

So just including these three Victorian authors–Dickens, EBB, and RB–that’s a lot of letters. Oh, and they wrote a lot of poetry, novels, and journalism (well of this last, Dickens the most, EBB some, RB not very much). What else did they do? Because if you wrote that much–without benefit of a writing machine, like a typewriter, word processor, computer–you’d be writing all the time.

And they were. A Victorian scholar tried to write out a few EBB letters to see how much time it would take, and it took 8 hours to hand write a few letters (I have no idea who–so this could be one of those apocryphal stories like alligators in NYC sewers, but ones that Victorianists hear–anyhow, I like it). Given the amount they wrote, they must have been writing every day.

Nothing wrong with that.

Instead of whining that students never write, maybe academics who say things like that should shift their/our perspective and celebrate the writing students do: online, on walls, via phone, within social media. Sure, it’s not all great, but really, do we read ALL the writing Victorians created? No. That’s a silly thing to even think. But we do value all the writing they did and are recovering everything in proper literary, rhetorical, archeological ways in order to form broader and deeper visions of that time, culture, so on and so forth.

Are my students writing all day? Yes, they are. In fact, if they think I’m not really paying attention, they try to write to each other via their phones through the whole class, or they pray that while they write on Facebook on their laptops, I believe they are taking notes. What on earth could be so important that they need to write through class? What could they possibly be writing about if it’s not directly about me and the class I’m teaching? Why is it not about me? It should be. Wait. Maybe not.

As I recall, I wrote notes nearly every day in my misspent youth. I recall now a quite famous correspondence (famous to me) I carried on with my first boyfriend for full year while I as in 7th grade. I kept boxes of those notes for years and years along with notes from friends. I often was chastised for engaging in that writing by parents, teachers, authority figures who were dismayed that I would spend time exchanging notes with a boy, with my girlfriends, through individual notes, and through sharing writing notebooks. We grooved on multi-colored pens and dotting our i’s with hearts or happy faces, writing in all lowercase or all uppercase. We played with slanting our writing this way or that, printing rather than cursive, changing directions every other line, writing in patterns on the page (circles, squares, etc.) in the middle of the page or around the borders. Turned out to be not such a bad thing for my writing life, I think, I hope, I know.

When I taught 6th grade, I encouraged note writing–and my students did the SAME thing I did–boys and girls–and it wasn’t all that long ago. Experimentation on paper types, inks, pencils, computer and handwriting combined with images…all that was happening and hip. (I was “wicked” according to one of the veteran teachers for encouraging such casual writing with no attention to spelling and grammar, but by then I viewed that sort of criticism as a hallmark of success, may I burn in Hell.) Today, I would expect note writing from young students (who desire communication to define their places in the world), and still not on the phone/computer because most K-12 schools have banned cell phones for students (at least in my part of the world, but they must sneak them in), at least during the day (after kids get home, it’s a whole ‘nother story).  Still writing to communicate and define has a place in the identification of who we are. Writing is being done right now; it just may not look like what we want it to look like in college classes, er, that is, not academic writing, but maybe our students are training themselves for something greater than we can see. I certainly value the informal in my writing classes–writing every day is the only way to go, and some of it needs to be wretched–in literature classes, too. No one who works with me gets out of writing. (I know I write some of this in reaction to colleagues who fuss about how students don’t write anymore. When did students ever only write acceptable academic college-level papers? Frankly, if I were to hang out with people who only wrote academic writing, I’d pitch myself from the roof.) Writing all the time, no matter what kind of writing, is a good thing. (Can you imagine if we applied this to reading, as some do–sigh–that in order to be good readers, we should only read great literature? Egads. I’d be nowhere as a reader without Isaac Asimov, Dick Francis, Margaret Mitchell, Robert Ludlum, and Rosemary Rogers.)

I was Victorian; my 6th graders were Victorian; and a project I’m involved with today is Victorian: Writing Spaces, an open educational resource (OER). It’s smashingly Victorian, and thankfully, work that informs my current self-identification in really fine ways (partly because it’s open and because I see it as Victorianesque). Here’s how it’s Victorian: it’s on the revolution road. It’s OER at its best. It’s free to students and teachers–to anyone (which is the open part). So many Victorians were passionate about changing how education happened and making it universally available. OER, then is something many Victorians would have loved, though many would have swooned over educating everyone and did. Is universal education a Victorian ideal? Is open access a Victorian ideal? No and no, but they worked hard at both, public libraries everywhere they could do it and finally passing the Education Act in 1870 and improving literacy rates by the end of the 19th century whether people wanted it or not. Writing Spaces, the project, and Writing Spaces, the book, levels, it equalizes, it’s freedom. Everyone gets it whether they know about it or not–there it is–already owned by everyone who can click three times. Glorious.

So who is just like the Victorians? We are. We are just like Victorians–driven by the need to communicate–with so many possibilities for doing it (and just as confused, conflicted, and conscious about where we find ourselves). If Victorians had this kind of technology, such as the kind I’m using right now in this blog, you know they’d be all over it. They totally got the self-awareness thing we have going on now. And 100 years from now, folks will be ooohing and aaahing over the writing we have done in this way. Think what scholars in the future might be able to understand from Facebook as it exists right now, the web right now? It’s not inconceivable, but it approaches that. Or think what a scholar in the future might be able to learn from a cache of notes written by an 8th grade boy and a 7th grade girl covering an academic year in which they mostly talked about how crazy they were about each other, but which often dipped into historical events, pop culture, family, school, friends, and more.

Isn’t this the stuff that dreams are made of, that many of us scholars yearn for–knowledge of others and other times and what that means to our understanding of who we are? Isn’t that why we study, no matter what we study? Isn’t this our raison dêtre? (And why we studied French translation but never learned to speak French?) Isn’t this why we teach?

My answer is: yes, that’s exactly why I’m teaching and spend a lot of time thinking and writing. I want to keep learning, to keep getting there. It’s the journey. So, I write like a Victorian–all the time. Some of it’s awful; some of it might matter to my friends, students, colleagues right now; some of it might be good; some of it might give a future reader something to ponder or analyze or recover or chuckle over. But I write and partly to figure out how I connect with ideas and others. When I think about my writing and the writing of my students, I think we are very like the Victorians. God save Queen Victoria… and OER.

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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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