Tag Archives: national day of writing

SuperComposition Person and Ed.

A few colleagues and I have begun creating cartoon characters to support and brand our composition program (they were adjuncts, now full-time employees–and two more coming on board soon).  We started with SuperComposition Person (SCP) and ninja sidekick editor, Ed.–no name, just Ed. which is short for editor.  Not sure Ed. ever speaks, but I really like him–takes down comma errors with grace, precision, and lighting speed.  SCP speaks–in fact, SCP is a writing professor by day, hero of composition all other times.

It all began when we decided we needed some unusual thing to do in a training–so we asked teachers to name a super power they’d like to have in the writing classroom. That was a fun discussion. The next day, a colleague and I cooked up the guts of SCP and Ed.; the week after, another colleague who happened to be an artist, created this first iteration (second image below). During a portfolio reading, we kicked it up a notch and got enthusiastic approval from colleagues in biology and history.

Eventually we added in a few more characters as time and talent allowed, pulling from resources as diverse as small children and parents related to this blogster, students, more teachers, friends, faculty, staff, local artists, high school students.

For our big celebration, AUM Writes!, on Oct. 20 this year, The National Day on Writing, we created buttons with some of the characters and got the help of our senior graphic artist on campus to create a t-shirt that we ran out of in record time.  Next year, we hope to have much more art work completed and put a Pantheon of Composition Heroes on a t-shirt to celebrate who we are and what we write (first image below).

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’m working on a short film to introduce more characters to our community–I might be able to get that handled in the next week or so. We want more artists involved because we can’t do all the drawing; we want more writers working on the back stories of heroes and villains already created; we want visionaries who will help us turn this into a graphic novel. So we need to talk about it and ask for involvement.

But until all that happens, I plunge forward in the very best super hero-like fashion I can to work on projects I believe are important. I have been inspired by this work with colleagues and students and family and friends to not let go of it, to not let it rest too long… Writing here makes me accountable for commitment, I think. If I say it here, can it get out of doing it? Nope.

AND I have also begun giving writing advice to anyone I think needs it, swooping in during meetings and trainings when colleagues from across the disciplines display frustration over why students can’t write: “TA-DA…’tis I, your writing colleague come to save the day.”  Normally, I don’t like to talk in public much in this way, but lately, no problem.  I’m all about broadcasting open educational resources and how one can employ such to teach and help students learn. At the very least, I explain with much patience and sincere love, you should visit Writing Spaces to see what’s there that might help you and your students talk about writing together as you sort through their experience, your expectations, desired outcomes, and as you both craft a writing experience that could end up doing several things: 1) help you assess student learning; 2) help students learn more about writing; 3) give students more experience writing with expert guidance. There it is. Use it.

I felt very heroic yesterday when I was able to tell sociology, political science, and theater professors: “Here, check this out. It’s for you and your students. It already belongs to you.”

Ninja, right? Sure felt like it.

AUM Writes! 2nd Annual National Day of Writing Celebration

AUM knows how to celebrate writing.

Isn’t this spectacular?  “Fighting writing crime… one sentence at a time” was a collaborative effort between myself and a colleague–the kind of seamless joy that happens when one of you says ___ and the next one says ____, and it becomes something that delights everyone and makes work not work at all.

Composition Cartoon Heroes

SuperComposition Person & Ed.

When we first saw this art, of course it was a pencil sketch, but it was very exciting for all of us–then our artist did THIS.  We’d done something tangible, visual, creative, and fun. To protect the guilty/innocent, I refrain from mentioning names here in this blog, besides my own, but there were many, many people who worked on this project because no one could do this (or writing program administration) alone (and have a day job–we all teach full-time and do everything else on top of that).  When I manage to write this into article form for some academic journal, so I can keep doing what I do, then I’ll list the minors, adults, and seniors who made this possible.

For now, and I’m okay with this, I’m brainstorming what’s possible in this live space, hoping the writing here that feels both private and public will help me articulate how WPAs should be envisioning writing programs as the best entrepreneurial enterprises, publicizing their work across K-12, sponsoring workshops on writing in the community, branding their programs; we need successful, and I mean wildly successful, models to look at and draw from, because we are creating products that matter more than any other: students who can think and can be productive citizens of the world.  And if we need cartoon characters to inspire and/or capture them and keep them enthralled, or even in thrall, then that’s my 5-year mission.

Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

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The National Day on Writing…

“The” National Day on Writing… as if there should only be one.  I’m always going to celebrate this day as if my life depended on it (and secretly every day of the year).  It’s a day perfectly made for me (though I’m sure Congress and the originators of the whole thing never considered my needs for a hot second).

Tomorrow is the big day.  This year I’m honored to celebrate the day with a former TCU student visiting AUM to talk about his writing, his music, how he works, and what it means to share words with the world.  My former TCU student.  (The lyrics of a song he recently wrote for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and TCU Frogs for the Cure contain the words of breast cancer survivors–that’s one way to share words.  Watch this video, all of it, and then go buy his song on iTunes.  If you don’t buy much music on iTunes, make an exception because you need to own this one song to help find a cure.)

He’s doing amazing things with music and writing.  I can’t believe I’ve got a former student who is doing such beautiful things with his life, or that I actually know what’s up with him.  Normally, I’ve got a lot of rabbit in me.  I’ve rarely lived or worked in one place for long.  I haven’t much seen my students again after I’ve taught for a term, a year, whatever.  Aunt Marianna nailed it when she said I was naturally discontent.  Not unhappy–just always yearning.  I distinctly remember her telling me when I was 15 years old, “Honey, you’ll struggle because of your natural discontent, but it’s also a gift.  Find the right use for the gift.”  (By the way, who says that to a 15-year old?)

Now I get it.

So Tim Halperin is making a difference in the world.  I’m proud of him–as if I had much to do with it–but whatever part I played for a semester, it is something that makes a difference… to me.  I often wonder if I matter.  Do my actions help anyone?  Do I say things that make people joyful?  Do I create an environment around me that gives people a chance to grow?  He says I did that.  Thank you, Tim.

He’s come to perform at my university for AUM Writes! Day.  We started a day of celebration last year, because I’m big on days that celebrate literacy. When I slaved for a publisher sometime in the mid-2000s, I celebrated International Literacy Day by begging the vice president, fellow employees, and a book distributor to find a way to give 1,400 books to a local elementary school.  We did it.  On International Literacy day that year, trucks and people rolled up to a little K-5 school outside Dallas and each student in the school got to pick out a book to keep and the rest, 750 books, were donated to the school library.  I thought that might have been one of the best moments of my life.  Only one of the best as it turns out.

Now I work for an education experience provider–a university.  We have a lot less money than publishers, but I really dig the freedom and what money we have is mostly well spent.  Would I rather have a talented musician talking to students about his writing process or a new rug?  No contest.

Talking with Tim, I realized how lucky I was as I said aloud how lucky I was.  Or perhaps, it’s just a kind of fate.  I seem to have operated my life like a boat: I point my boat in a direction I think I want to go and then hope some current will move me along where I’m supposed to go.  Occasionally someone climbs aboard and sticks an oar in the water and moves me around.  Sometimes a bigger boat crashes into me, and I really move around.  Fate got us both back into conversation–in a fashion much calmer than a mid-sea collision.

Tim was a great student–a terrific writer who seriously worked the process and created smooth, easy-to-read prose.  I almost always tell students that the best papers are ones that don’t trip me up as a reader.  I am first a reader who wants to know something that they think is important to say.  If I stumble because I can’t understand, then I get all wrapped up in what I assigned.  I’d much rather just read than assess.  The gap between my reading pleasure and student writing is the teaching zone when I need to assess and guide.  Sometimes I’m good at finding what a writer needs to learn in order to improve.  At least I get my own motivations now and what purpose I might serve in the world.

I don’t remember all the work Tim created, but I remember it was easy to read and thoughtful.  One of his papers, though, was really fine; a profile on a musician/minister was visually well done (lots of green and photos of performances).  He was a breeze to teach: just did everything I said, was creative, thoughtful, and on time.  He was the first student I ever taught who invited me to an outside school event–an evening of his music at a coffee house (his then-girlfriend was in another class I was teaching).  I was delighted and entertained, and thought: he’s got it.  I also thought: 1) I hope he knows he has a gift; 2) I hope he finds joy in this gift always; 3) I hope he stays off drugs, then I bought four of his CDs and headed home to move away.

Of course, I lost track.  I moved away.  But I accidentally saw him graduate last year.  I went to see a long-time friend graduate from TCU (Maria who thinks I’m a ninja), and there he was.  We connected via email/Facebook later and got to talking about how I’d like to use his videos to teach project management and writing process.  One thing led to another (as so often happens when one chooses to live one’s life as an oarless boat); I got funding to bring him to the AUM campus to share his music and writing with my community.

Reconnecting meant I got to relive some of the most pleasant memories from that year.  I had been out of teaching for a long time when I started teaching his class: 8 am MWF in Aug. 2007, the first time I’d taught since the fall semester of 2000 when I’d been pregnant and working full-time for a publisher.  Not a brilliant move altogether, but there it was.  I’d committed to the department and to an elementary school partnership as well as to two dear friends who co-taught with me in a highly experimental three-teacher scenario while providing community-service credits to two high school students.  How did we think we could do it all?  We were full of ourselves and lucky (though, I will remind you, luck don’t go looking for no stumblebums).  We managed to do it.  I remember being engaged in that class and so full from the promise of the young people around me.  And yet I was exhausted.  That was it.  I couldn’t teach one more class ever again.  I knew it.  After the final exam, I remember crying because I knew I’d lost something, but I didn’t know what.  I walked home from that last class, two blocks was all, tears just streaming and steaming.  Christmas 2000 sucked.

Wait.  What happened to the pleasant moments I promised you?  Sorry.  Here they are:

My next walk on campus, seven years later, brought me back into the classroom–Aug. 2007.  (Much better, right?  On track and no tears.)  I was once again, employed full-time by a publisher, and had agreed to teach for the English Dept. at TCU (bless them always for the good they did me for so many years).  I remember thinking, hell, I can’t actually harm the students and maybe will do some good.  At the end of Ball Four (perhaps the single most personally influential book I’ve ever read, ever, ever, ever), Jim Bouton wrote about baseball, “You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”  The thing that gripped me was teaching.  I just didn’t know it until I taught Tim’s class.  Each class I taught that day confirmed it.  I was finally in a place I was supposed to be.  From that day on, I knew I should be teaching, not publishing. (Though I haven’t exactly stopped wrangling around with publishers, it’s not the major focus of my life or employment anymore, esp. as I push back from entirely feeding at the table of corporate publishing excess and am working on a project that feels right and open because it is both of those things and more: Writing Spaces.  If I knew how to create footnotes in a blog, I’d have inserted one at the end of that last sentence speculating on whether I could legitimately mention Writing Spaces every time I created an entry in this blog no matter how I started out or what the general topic might be.  Bet on it.)

The end of that first day back in the classroom, I joined MLA so I could embark upon a traditional academic job search that fall.  And here I am celebrating The National Day on Writing for the second time, at an event that means so much to me, AUM Writes!, with my current students, colleagues, friends, and one former writing student who rocks, literally.  Fate.  Luck.  Yearning.  Or something else?  Discontent.  Who cares?

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