Tag Archives: Victorian

Poetry and the power of the commons

“Poetry and the power of the commons.” Seems an odd juxtaposition at first glance, doesn’t it? But in the way that my life works, Serendipity (like it’s a real force) is almost always busy in some way, so when things crash into one another, it’s not always a wreck. Really, the beauteous thing about being a life-long learner is that I get to always be open to learning in whatever form or forms it takes. Frequently the learning is rich, rich, rich, like a French mother sauce. And this post, like a mother sauce, is complex with many ingredients that come together eventually to make a heady concoction that enhances the overall dish that is my learning (I wish).

I love this poem by Mary Oliver: “Wild Geese.” A dear friend sent it to me at the beginning of this year. I’d not been around geese very much until I moved to Alabama. I live right on the very edge of town, right next to cows in a large pasture, and around me, geese come to stay for the winter and early spring. They often fly past my bedroom window in the mornings, honking. I can even hear their wings flapping occasionally. On sunny mornings their shadows can wave across me as they fly past. They raise their goslings around me–I see them all congregating in the fields and by the lakes–the adults, the little ones, traveling around together. When I drive to the grocery store, I stop sometimes by the side of the road and watch them in the fields. They have a grace about them that is astounding in the air, but on the ground, too, I find them mesmerizing–a sway that is both awkward and majestic. The gaggle is an awesome sight, especially when you can hear the noises they make while on the ground, rooting around, and walking.  The first time I hear them back from the north, my heart beats a little faster: “The geese are back!” Like I think they’d forget me and go somewhere else. Might could be that their return signals a change to me, or a beginning, symbolizing a journey. Others see the geese as pests because they have an adverse effect on lawns and golf courses. Really.

Not me. If I had to pick a favorite animal–I might pick a wedge of geese flying through the sky right next to my window on a bright morning in April. I have to say this though: foie gras is amazing. I like the cruelty-free kind, of course, but still, even after I knew how it was achieved historically: yum. I hate that I can say that in the same post as a poem about geese and my defense of them. They are a symbol and dinner.

I just finished a book recently, by David Bollier, Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own (2008). He’s got other books I want to read, too, and his blog is fine, indeed. I especially like this post on the first enclosure movement in Britain (December 2010)–which incidentally, not coincidentally, includes mention of resurrection men (body snatchers). One such man, Jerry Cruncher, is immortalized in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. It was a remarkable connection for me as I have written of this book before in the post, “Well… in Who-ville they say…; it’s one of those books. I considered not teaching it next spring (2012 Dickens’s bicentenary), but it’s back on the reading list now.

I’ve been reading about enclosure and ideas of property lately, some wonder-filled articles and books about being a commoner, about the open movement, the landed Victorian gentry, and copyleft–connecting my interest in writing, Victorian literature and culture, history, and even principles of management. Hard to believe it all comes together like that–but it’s partly my job, too. I’m supposed to be a reader, thinker, writer, weaver of knowledge tapestries.

Now, to be just a bit silly: isn’t enclosure what some wish to do to the geese? Ban them from the manicured parks and lawns, property held by a few? Wouldn’t want the unwashed masses trodding on and mucking up the enclosed precious parked-up land. Take away their common land? Not a problem. We have to live somewhere–might as well be in the places where the geese have historically migrated for ____ years… how long have geese been around anyhow?  About 10 million years?

I said it was silly. And it gets more silly before it gets less silly.

I know that geese are proliferating more than they have in the past because they do adapt to human habitats pretty well, and they can kill those of us humans who dare to fly–a goose in an airplane engine is a bad, bad thing. I also know there are geese eradication teams–death squads–who eliminate unwanted geese by assassinating them in various ways. I get it. They’re animals. And we eat them. I eat them. (The early food references make sense now, right?)

But in my life, they are also metaphors. And I get wrought up over metaphors.

So. Here’s the interesting part linking the poetry and the commons: as I was finishing Bollier’s book, I ended up re-reading the chapter on “Open Education and Learning” because at the very end of that chapter I read this, and it took my breath away:

“It is a measure of the movement’s idealism that Schmidt and Surman, the South African OER commoners, compare open education to ‘a flock of migratory geese, moving back and forth between North and South. The flock combines birds from all places. Each goose takes a turn leading the flock, taking the strain, and then handing over to their peers. The flock is not confined to just the North, or the South. It flourishes as a global movement’ (293).”

How is that NOT a sign that I’m doing the right thing? How is that not a sign that poetry, the commons, OER, and geese are all supposed to mean something to me? How is that not confirmation, yet again, that I’m in the right place, where I’m supposed to be, many places really, one of those being Writing Spaces, an OER?

Critics of Dickens often cite how much he relies on coincidence to move his plots forward. Okay, there’s a LOT of coincidence in a lot of his books. But there is in life as well. I could have never predicted these connections or sought them out. It just happened as I was living and working and thinking this year. My thing for poetry, my thing for geese, my thing for open, the commoners book–and all that, the quote, the movement forward… a migration, a journey. Yep. All about the signs.

I do believe in luck, in signs, in serendipity, and Serendipity (or Fate, or the Fates, if you want to get Greek about it and talk about destiny, too). I think Dickens got it more right than not. And while there seem to be coincidences, there are really no coincidences (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). But then, I love reading and teaching Dickens, and I’m open to that sort of thing. That’s no coincidence, is it?

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Filed under Almost Self-Indulgent Crap, Open Educational Resources, Victorians Everywhere

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

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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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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