La Voz

The Disembodied ” Voz” (the Voice)
Full Scene: “A Life for a Life”

In Man on Fire (2004), John Creasy (played by the incomparable actor Denzel Washington) has to match wits with the amorphous character of La Voz (the Voice), the leader of a kidnapping ring in México City . La Voz’s presence is thick in much of the film, hovering over the city like oppressive, curling smoke. Yet, in the Mexican media, no one has seen his face or heard his live voice. Enter Creasy- a man on a mission who roots out La Voz. The outcome is truly unique (read: Go watch the film).

Promoting a writer’s growth involves provoking him or her to come out of the shadows and to write with an authoritative voice. In Peter Elbow’s “Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries,” he cites Aristotle’s unique perspective on this issue:

Speakers can fool listeners and persuade them with a consciously constructed voice…[Aristotle] talks about the ability to ‘make ourselves thought to be sensible and morally good’– noting that this is a matter of skill and not character

169.

Elbow goes on to explain that contraries should be embraced (176). We should think about the written language through both the lens of text and voice (not at the same time of course). By text he means “words on a page” and he construes voice as “the spoken medium of language.” He explains:

…The text highlights the visual and spatial features of language as print (etymologically ‘text’ comes from weaving – note ‘textile’); the voice lens highlights language as sounded, heard, and existing in time. The text lens foregrounds language as an abstract system…in which words have the same meaning whoever utters them in whatever context– words as interchangeable and not attached to persons; the voice lens highlights how language issues from individual persons and physical bodies and how the same words differ depending on who says them and how.

175.

Elbow advocates for both types of writing. I agree with his viewpoint. Developing voice requires a level of maturity and sophistication that is built over time. Just as we gain experience from life, our perspectives may change, which will influence our voices. I disagree with Elbow’s point that voice comes more naturally to beginners, because they are accustomed to the spoken word (177-178). I think Elbow places too literal an emphasis on voice in this section.

Image result for poetry
Q: Who gets reimbursed when you write a verse?// A: Always the Self
#Message: Don’t Put Your Voice on a Shelf

Elbow’s exploration of somatic writing is very interesting (179). The idea of feeling words in your body is something that resonates with me because as a writer of poetry, I must have a visceral/gut reaction to the words that I use. If do not, the paper is relegated to its proper place in the rubbish bin. Poetry is rewarding because it gives a sense of immediacy to my voice even when I am writing from the perspective of another person. I am always there in between the lines, right in the thick of the ink.

Image result for soul discomfort
The beautiful yields of discomfort

I understand the value of not attending to voice in text, despite the fact that it makes my soul a bit uncomfortable. It is definitely important to develop good critical reading and voice can interfere in this goal (180). It is also vital that we test out “pure reasoning” (181). I learned this in my undergraduate class in Logic. As citizens of the world, we have to be able to understand an argument and concomitant counterarguments in a logical, systematic way. It is only then that we can insert our voice in picking a viewpoint and espousing it. Elbow is also correct when he suggests that the message must sometimes take precedence over the medium (182). Pure objectivity is valuable and it certainly has its place in fields such as medicine and certain scholarly work. Id. I also agree with Elbow’s assertion that voice is dangerous when it is bound up with a static notion of the identity and self (183). As writers evolve, they take the voices of others and in doing so, social good is effectuated by means of empathy.

Elbow also explains that reaching a compromise between textual and voice-based writing is untenable and bad. He astutely notes that it is a “method of letting each side lose as little as possible…[f]or a true win/win outcome, we need to break out of this either/or frame of reference” (174). Of course, when we sign off our computers or close our notebooks, compromise is a daily part of life.

Image result for catcher in the rye
Holden Caulfield

I cannot leave Elbow’s article without expressing my displeasure for William Coles’ disdain for Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Coles says that Caulfield’s voice is a fraud and a lie because it doesn’t match any real character behind it (185, FN1). First of all, how does he know that? Second, I first read this book at fifteen and it resonated deeply with me and other teenagers in our English class. Dear Mr. Coles’: Are our emotions therefore counterfeit as well? Rant over.

Image result for fight for your right to write
Students Unequivocally have a Right to their Own Texts

Brannon and Knoblauch’s “On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model for Teacher Response” is a great segue from Peter Elbow’s article. It hearkens back to the notion of the teacher as designer/facilitator, a point Patricia and Dr. Zamora spoke about in our last class meeting. The authors make crucial points that struck a chord with me:

We are not suggesting that student texts are, in fact, authoritative. But we do argue that incentive is vital to improvement and also that is linked…to the belief that one’s writing will be read earnestly…Denying students control of what they want to say must surely reduce incentive…Regardless of what we may know about students’ authority…we lose more than we gain by preempting their control and allowing our own Ideal Texts to dictate choices that properly belong to writers.

…Teaching from the vantage point of the Ideal Text is paternalistic: the teacher ‘knows best,’ knows what the writer should do and how it should be done, and feels protective because his or her competence is superior to that of the writer.

159.

The notion of the Ideal Text is daft. This is why the authors capitalized it! The ultimate goal of writing is clear communication. Teachers need to work with students in praising their strengths and helping them to shore up points where the students are having difficulty. Moreover, “[a]t the start, students and teachers need to share their different perceptions as makers and readers of a discourse” (162).

As we have discussed in class, there needs to be a flow of communication between instructors and students. This happens through honest conversations as well as drafts. However, ultimately, students’ voices should not be stifled: “The point is to return control of choice-making as soon as possible to the writer, while also creating a motive for making changes” (163). Writers make choices and this implies that they take the reins by means of those choices; thus, they have immense power.

Image result for civic writing
Writing as a Civic Activity

This leads me to a consideration of The National Writing Project’s “Civically Engaged Writing Analysis Continuum (CEWAC).” This is truly a brilliant movement. Writing is an activity that most individuals will have to undertake, no matter what field of study they pursue. Yet writing is also an important currency in the marketplace of ideas. As such, it has the power to move socioeconomic and political needles.

CEWAC encourages students to be stakeholders in the public forum. The only way change can be effectuated is through open discourse; the pen is mighty in this regard. CEWAC promotes all of the great hallmarks of writing, including arguing based on logic and reasoning and utilizing an effective structure to convey positions. CEWAC encourages voice through the expression of often polar opposite viewpoints for the purpose of critical argumentation. It sounds cliche, but it is absolutely true that today’s young people are tomorrow’s voting citizens.

I am in such strong support of CEWAC’s mission because it hones in on advocacy, which starts at the grass-roots level. Colton Colger, a Montana teen, wrote his local newspaper about the need for advanced life support to be conveyed to rural, off-the-beaten-track areas. In doing this, Colger implemented a public voice. CEWAC encourages students to utilize their voices to advocate for their communities. Zealous advocacy is not the exclusive province of attorneys! CEWAC puts power into young people’s pens/keystrokes and as we have seen with other social movements of our time, they all involve civic-minded youth. The National Writing Project has truly done something special and I hope it continues to catch flame.

Choices: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly

Is personal choice inherent in everything that is taught and the manner in which it is taught? I am not a teacher; however, I believe that school districts require teachers to adhere to certain standards of instruction, even though they may be hampering to students and teachers alike (See Wiley’s “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist” at p. 66). Obviously, straightjacketing writing expectations is bad. Strict adherence to the choice of perpetuating formulaic writing can be harmful.

Wiley critically assesses Jessica Shaffer’s approach. Shaffer’s rigid method provides short-term gains without focusing on the student as a whole and what perspectives he or she wants to explore (in terms of themes, new ideas and interpretations) (64). Writing should be exploratory and allow for meaningful insight to emerge on the student’s part.

I do see the merit of providing a rubric to nascent writers, which is a decision that instructors would make. However, Shaffer’s approach is extremely limiting and does not provide for growth, which is necessary to becoming a skilled writer. When students “cling to the life raft” of formula, how will they ever achieve higher levels of conscious understanding as writers?

Peter Elbow provides brilliant insight in “High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and Responding to Writing.” Choosing this mode of teaching is expansive, yet it still makes concrete demands on students. Working through drafts is essential and I believe that teachers should not be hypercritical of these documents and they should always find some positive points so as to encourage their students. This builds confidence in writing. Low-stakes (i.e. ungraded) writing makes the final product much stronger. It is stimulating to the brain and can conjure many avenues a student would have never thought of otherwise.

Robert Connors provides insight on the choice to abandon traditional syntactical teaching in “The Erasure of the Sentence.” After 1980, a strong anti-formalism method of thinking emerged and exploded onto the education scene. Connors argues that the structure of a sentence is more than just based on the choice of grammar construction. Sentences are the fundamental building blocks of our written pieces. A single sentence can be highly impactful. This reminds me of the books that I cherish– All of them have one thing in common: they begin with provocative sentences that are emotive. My favorite authors are those who can evoke a sense of immediacy through their prose.

The sentence is a central building block of foundational learning. A writer can bring forth ideas that are truly insightful and ground-breaking, but he or she will not gain traction unless he or she choose words in a deliberate manner. While strict formulas in writing appear to be an anathema, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Great writing can only be achieved by going back to basics and ensuring that strong words and proper syntax are used. This was true both in ancient times and it is true now.

This brings me to the choice-driven “Syrian Journey.” I was one of the “lucky ones” and made it alive to Italy with my family. I put this in quotes because it is important to note that my fate was not sealed in safety. Who knows what dangers I could still face?

Along the path of “Syrian Journey”, the choices with which I was offered were never between good and bad. They both involved high risks of death or deportation (truly ugly choices). Is that really meaningful choice? The game places you in the very stressful position of being a refugee. Although this was a wonderful tool, I found Lina Mounzer’s article to be more impactful for me because her language injects a sense of immediacy in refugees’ lives. The language that she uses in her role as a witness to horror is emotionally provoking and her writing style mirrors the speed with which refugees must act in fleeing their homelands. They make their “choices” to escape but they do not reach immediate security. Bearing witness is an honorable choice that Mounzer has made.

Octopus Knowledge: Gaining Understanding and Empathy

This is how Yancey’s “Writing Assessment in the Early Twenty-First Century” made me feel. There were many different threads (legs), yet they were all wriggling against each other and confusing at times. However, they were tied to once central idea (head): making sure that students and teachers are being properly assessed for the maximum growth potential of writing curricula in education systems.

The assessment of students is ongoing process and in an ideal world, assessments help students reach their maximum potentials. Judging students based on one single numeric criterion (SAT score) perpetuates the unreality of an ideal world. Students are so much more than a number on a test. They come from different, often harsh backgrounds and they have unique personalities that should be assessed, especially when it comes to writing. As we witnessed in our last meeting, when we wrote on those lovely colored pieces of geometry, writing is extremely personal (#WhyIWrite., #IamFrom). Applying strict metrics will choke students and institutions of learning as well. There is no “model student of writing” (read Mr. or Miss Robotico(a)). That is what makes writing so rich and lush.

Image result for understanding
Free your minds to gain understanding, assess and build together

At the heart of Yancey’s work is assessing as a way of understanding. As Sir Francis Bacon said, “knowledge itself is power.” We have to probe and ask questions if we want students to find their voices and write well. How are students progressing based on any given writing curriculum? How are instructors responding to new processes of writing? Are they effectively teaching them? Are writers and their instructors connecting over time in the same rhythmn?

There is one caveat in this ongoing process of gaining understanding. We must keep in mind that budding writers are often inexperienced. We are taught to walk on two legs and don’t swim fluidly with eight. I find rubrics to be important in instructing young writers. It helps them gain confidence. I was resistant to this idea, but I’ve gained some valuable knowledge from my colleagues in Writing Theory and Practice. Susan Wong wrote very eloquently about this topic in her blogpost last week and her personal reflections in class have been enlightening.

Yancey describes multiple modes of writing assessments. The “portfolio approach” is very important. Especially when it comes to higher education, it is important to judge students based on the progression of their writing. This is a an organic approach that enables instructors to view a student’s entire body of work. It is surprising what can be achieved from August to December and so forth.

I was leery of the “outcome assessment approach” (174). It seems that this may straightjacket an instructor if stringently enforced. I agree with dissenter Derek Soles Ibid. Yancey helps us to understand Soles’ dissent:

His point: that as has been true historically, the individual teacher’s [writing] composition philosophy should trump the curricular commonality of the outcomes statement.

175

In one composition class, students should be exposed to multiple lenses of teaching. For example, diverse points of view (i.e. gender) should be explored in the classroom. This leads me to my objection to Common Core, which Yancey also mentions in her article, but does not fully address (186). I think we should take a good hard look at Common Core (CC). Is it harmful? Does it homogenize learning? In writing, as in life, there is no one standard approach to anything. CC seems to encourage fragmented learning and also emphasizes students reaching set benchmarks, rather than learning in a more organic (see the forest first) approach. I welcome differing points of view as I am, and will always be, a student.

Image result for turning a blind eye
Turning a Blind Eye to Terror
To gain empathy and overcome bias, we must be more like an octopus

In Lina Mounzer’s article, “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria,” she expresses the pain of women’s displacement in a deeply visceral manner. She is able to do this so well because she has literally walked in their footsteps and lived and breathed their tumult. Unlike the cheerful music in the above video, there is no readily accessible “somewhere over the rainbow” for them or their children. There is fear (at the best) and the destruction of their homes and children (at the worst). That is what has been going on in Syria since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, when Syrians, like all other protesters that year, simply wanted what we often take for granted: free expression (in that case, freedom from Assad’s oppressive and corrupt regime). It is getting much worse, as we have seen in the news with Turkey’s recent attack on the Kurds. At present, a ceasefire has been negotiated, but that does not entail immediate peace by any means whatsoever. Clashes and mass chaos will be the order of the day before any meaningful resolution can be reached. It will be extremely difficult for the latter to occur without outside aid.

Does that mean that we should abandon hope? No. Like the octopus that changes color and texture, we need to live in that water with the Kurds and imagine ourselves in that position. This is what Mounzer does, she takes on the war-torn women’s mantles and she bears witness to their pain, which is one of the often difficult privileges a writer gets. It is a true paradox. Turning a blind eye is not an option. Apathy is not a viable choice, it is actually an evil (to paraphrase Holocaust survivor and humanitarian Elie Wiesel, God rest his soul). This sentiment was also echoed by Hannah Arendt in her analysis of the Nuremberg trials.

But why is it so hard to be empathetic? To take on the colors and textures of the octopus as it adapts to its changing environments, like the women in Mounzer’s article doing the best to protect themselves and their children?

I believe that we have inherent biases as individuals (i.e. I am too educated, I am too protected by the Constitution, etc. for anything to happen to me). Yet have we not all experienced pain? It is essential that we reach beyond what we find to be comfortable and get very uncomfortable. We should actively read articles like Mounzer’s and we shouldn’t turn our eyes from the awful images in the news.

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen makes an brilliant comment in Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives:

… A writer’s work is impossible if he or she cannot conjure up the lives of others and only through such acts as memory, imagination and empathy can we grow in our capacity to feel for others.

(17).

As I have seen in our class, in our blogs and in our conversations in and outside of class, many (if not all) of us have experienced intense sorrow, pain and anxiety. I am reminded of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s “Didn’t It Rain?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmiGdWysQJQ; https://genius.com/Mahalia-jackson-didnt-it-rain-lyrics). There is a lot of suffering in that song and I’d warrant that we have all been in that rain. Let’s use all of our senses in order to reach towards empathy. Let’s adapt to new realities and respond to them.

Cut me Some Slack: Risk and Fluidity in Writing

Image result for fluidity
H2O Flow
Image result for slacker movie
This is a scene from Slacker, which was also on the promo poster for the film

First, I have to preface this blog with a commentary on Carter’s laudatory remarks for Slacker (1990). In “Writer’s Block Just Happens to People,” he opines that the it is a “masterpiece of the mundane” and that “nothing happens and yet the film works” (102). It is certainly mundane and there is no plot. I know that I am in the minority in disliking the film. There were some funny moments and I like the taxi scene where Linklater (the director and also the actor in the scene) explains that every choice we make includes an alternate path that we could have taken and a possible reality that will not be recognized because we did not take that path. That reminds me of interactive children’s books that require readers to make choices based upon certain challenges with which they are presented (https://www.cyoa.com, Choose Your Own Adventure Books). I find those to be great and inspiring to budding artists, including future writers. I understand that the movie may be viewed as a metaphor for the blank page, which provides endless opportunities for exploration. However, the film is composed entirely of disconnected strings of bizarre streams of consciousness by random, often paranoid individuals who do nothing but talk. There are also some gratuitous vulgarities that are not funny. The reviews for this movie were consistently great. Perhaps I am too traditional to “get it.”

While I support the point that writing does require time spent daydreaming and thinking, as expressed by Murray in “Teaching Writing as Process, Not Product,” writers can become too entangled in ideas, rather than setting drafts to the page (4). I also agree with Murray’s view that a majority of time should be spent prewriting, which includes research and other activities not involving the continuous wielding of the pen or keystroke. Carter, our ardent lover of Slacker, refers to the brilliance of an academic journal in which a blank page is published (100). It is entitled “The Unsuccessful Treatment of Writer’s Block” and it consists of one footnote: “published without revision” (100). I get the joke. I also understand Carter’s implied point that we should not be shackled by convention and that singular words and sounds can be inspiring (101). However, publishing a blank page? I’m in the camp that disagrees with doing this. Carter seems to have an almost “dump-all-the-Scrabble-tiles-on-the-floor” approach to writing to which I cannot relate. I do agree with his point that creativity is engendered by playfulness, which can lead to storytelling (101).

The other articles were based on solid points that were thought-provoking and important. Murray’s arguments hearken back to our initial reading of Lauer’s work. He is much clearer in explaining that writing should be taught in a manner in which instructors refrain from performing postmortems on students’ work; rather, they should allow them the to room to explore independent thoughts. I find his imagery of the autopsy to be vivid and perfect. Murray rhetorically asks instructors how they should motivate their students to take on the challenge of viewing writing as an organic process. He answers in a brilliant manner:

First by shutting up. When you are talking he isn’t writing. And you don’t learn a process by talking about it, but by doing it. Next by placing the opportunity for discovery in your student’s hands. When you give him an assignment you tell him what to say and how to say it, and thereby cheat your student of the opportunity to learn the process of discovery we call writing.

page 5.

Murray focuses on the crucial point of having students search for their own truths and find their own voices. It is important that we give students the opportunity to exercise intellectual risk and come to their own conclusions in their written pieces. Educators must not view students as blank slates, ready to be imprinted with robotic instructions. As the author aptly describes, students have already accumulated a great deal of knowledge about language when they walk into schools (5). Additionally, I found his connection between drafts and finished pieces to be enlightening:

There must be time for the writing process to take place and a time for it to end. The writer must work within the stimulating tension of unpressured time to think and dream and stare out of windows, and pressured time– the deadline– to which the writer must deliver

6.
Image result for edison failure
Image result for lose yourself
Success is my only [expletive] option; failure’s not!

The two images above are tied to my analysis of Carr’s “Failure Is Not an Option.” As students, we have been conditioned to think that failing is shameful and that there is only one opportunity to shine (Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Un9HLDCTCs). Educators should not espouse this view because it can be demoralizing rather than motivating. Carr encourages us to see failure as an opportunity for avenues of new thought and creation (See quote regarding Thomas Edison above). Failure is most certainly not an indicator of the lack of “moral fortitude” (7). Carr eloquently states:

…We aren’t born pen in hand, fully primed to write sonnets or political treatises as soon as we get a grip on those fine motor skills. Writing is learned slowly, over a long period of time, and with much difficulty, and anybody who says otherwise is lying or delusional or both

78 (emphasis added).

Carr goes on to cite Malcolm Gladwell’s point in his great work, Outliers in explaining that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master anything (79). Students and instructors should live by this rule. This is easier said than done, given that competition and winning are an inevitable parts of life. Despite these realities, a writer must look within and make his or her own discoveries and failure and creative dissonance is part and parcel of the process. “Development is not linear,” a point that is echoed by the Sommers’ piece we analyzed last week (79). “Experimentation” and “question-asking” are essential to the process of writing well (80). It is important to note that this is an ongoing process. Our writing evolves as we evolve as human beings. Equating failure with a lack of willpower or skill is harmful, especially to budding writers. We should embrace risk (80). It is important that young people be taught this invaluable lesson.

In the process of encouraging risk, we should consider Sands’ piece, “Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process.” Writing is not a neat, paint-by-the-numbers process. If we strictly limit students to the five-paragraph model (as laid out in Kendra’s blog last week), we are hampering them. However, it is important for some structure (rubrics) to be provided, especially to “inexperienced writers” (265). However, even with students who lack a facility with language, we must take the training wheels away at some point. Reliance on strict modes of writing only leads to stilted writing and to what I referred to in my presentation as the Borezone.

I’m in favor of Sands’ “meet me in the middle” approach (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3mJkSqZbX4, Official Video for “Meet Me in the Middle”). Writing is like a relationship, one that we have with ourselves (ok, hear me out colleagues). We cannot impose rigid, one-sided rules that benefit just our own needs on our significant others (that smacks of insecurity); rather, we need to give relationships time to grow and the trust to flow; compromise is necessary in this process. However, exercising healthy guidelines is important. The same goes for writing. We must incorporate essential things such as thesis statements and proofs, etc. However, we cannot choke our own writing with artificial rules/rubrics just so that we pander to the nervous critics that come out to play in the small hours of the morning. If we do this, creativity is stifled and we will not grow. We must exercise both patience and bravery to crack out of the shells of strict rubrics. We must push ourselves to exercise creativity, irrespective of the profession we end up pursuing.

Writing is not Linear; Follow Your Passion

Stay tuned for my blog on this week’s readings. I just had to share my experience with Eva Lesko Natiello today at the Morristown Book Festival. She is the author of the brilliant thriller The Memory Box. I went to a talk about self-publishing that she led and she emphasized that we should JUST WRITE about what we are most passionate about. It does not have to be in sequence! Just write a scene that captivates you personally, you may use it at the end, beginning or in the middle. Brilliant advice, right? And perfectly in line for what we’ve been learning. I also wanted to share that I grabbed a random journal as I was running out of my house today and I referenced Eva’s advice about telling a story that you find to be compelling (I wrote this one year ago). Complete serendipity! See paragraph 2 in journal entry below. Writing Tribe, please go to my twitter for more!

The Triad: Student Writing, Teacher Commentary and Grading /Evaluation: Sommers, Bean and Elbow

Image result for from apple seed to apple
The image shows a seed that contains immense promise. Like growing ripe fruit, writing is a process where no shortcuts can be taken in creating a shiny bite.
Image result for student confusion teacher comments
Providing students with terse comments and a final grade often create a maelstrom of student confusion and frustration.

#1 Bean’s “Comments on Students’ Papers” invites educators to “think different,” something that was not implemented in my elementary school education (Steve Jobs). The author invites the teacher to act as a coach to draw out the best writing from students who thought they were unable to create, therefore “enhancing their sense of dignity” (317). When a young student is presented with a crisp, red-letter grade with either little or derogatory commentaries, it affects him or her negatively. I am reminded of my colleague Susan Wong’s evocative blog “The Gym Teacher’s Wife.”

Bean cites an important 1990 study conducted by Spandel and Stiggins, in which students were interviewed about their reactions to their teachers’ commentaries on their papers (318). The conclusions of the study are enlightening and they should be utilized as polestars by instructors who teach at every grade level:

Negative comments…stifle further attempts at writing. It would seem on the face of it that one good way to help a budding writer would be to point out what he or she is doing wrong but, in fact it usually doesn’t help; it hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot.

What does help, is to point out what the writer is doing well. Positive comments build confidence…However, there is a trick to writing positive comments. They must be truthful and they must be very specific (emphasis added).

Stengels and Stiggins’ 1990 study at p. 87, Bean 319.

It is important to guide a student correctly and not just to ask him or her to be more concise or develop an example in greater depth. Students should know the truth and learn from their mistakes. Other than my occasional watching of World Cup soccer, Olympic gymnastics, figure-skating and ice-dancing , I am not a sports aficionada in the least. However, I have noticed that sports commentators tend to be immensely more honest than other media critics of live events. They tell the audience what a “player” did “wrong” and then he or she can go back to the footage to review the mistakes and listen to the commentaries (which are, more often than not, also filled with praise regarding the player’s performance). Like sports reporters, educators should not avoid the truth. Anything less than purveying honesty is harmful to a student’s development. However, the criticism should always be constructive and never vitriolic in tone. It is also an instructor’s duty to help a writer hone his or her writing so that is focused and clear.

In this vein, Bean underscores the importance of encouraging the writing of drafts. I find this to be critical to student development. Drafts are to writing are what pruning is to a grape vine. Writing withers when it is not revised and when the pressure to yield a finished product is rigorously applied. We learned this in our reading of Lauer last week.

I am particularly struck by Bean’s pronouncement that “[r]evising doesn’t mean just edition; it means ‘re-visioning’- rethinking, reconceptualizing, ‘seeing it again’ (321). Instructors must be active coaches, not merely signaling plays on the field; rather, gathering deep in the proverbial huddle (I have no right to reference football, as I cannot understand it, but bear with me and please correct me if I’m thoroughly wrong in my reference). It is important that instructors stretch their mental faculties to care about the progress of students’ drafts. Doing so will assist active learning and in the creation of writing that a student can truly claim to be his or hers.

I am in favor of Bean’s strategy of allowing rewrites after the return of ‘finished’ papers (321). This seems to be a much more organized process and the writing that is received is of a higher caliber and allows an instructor the freedom to apply “more rigorous grading standards.” Id.

Bean’s construct of the “new/old” contract model is also important (327). Students will benefit from performing a side-by-side analysis of their drafts (one containing the instructor’s comments and the other including the student’s revised response). I know that in my own experience, viewing my own drafts contemporaneously is eye-opening.

Bean’s explanation of the development of drafts is reminiscent of sculpting a work of art from the raw material of clay (i.e. words and ideas, a well-structured thesis statement, etc.):

This writer drafts early and often. The potter starts with a big, messy pile of clay and doesn’t hesitate to slap more material on the wheel in midstream. As the potter’s wheel whirls, the potter begins molding the material into a rough shape. He or she continues to shape the material, thinning a little here, adding a little there until he or she is happy with its design.

Loren Blinde, “How to Write Like a Pro: First Drafts.” April 28, 2015 (http://www.writingpower.net/index.php/2015/08/28/how-to-write-like-a-pro-first-drafts/) (accessed on 9/28/19) (emphasis added).
One-area-I-think-we.jpg
My Graphic Response to Sommers’ Article

#2 Nancy’s Sommers’ piece, “Responding to Student Writing,” dovetails well with Bean’s article. It gives instructors an important guide on what they should avoid in their written commentaries on students’ drafts. Combined with other researchers and professionals in the field of writing, Sommers makes a finding that I have never seriously considered:

The first finding from our research on styles of commenting is that teachers’ comments can take students’ attention away from their own purpose in commenting. The teacher appropriates the text from the student…Students make the changes the teacher wants rather than those that the student perceives are necessary, since the teachers’ concerns imposed on the text create the reasons for the subsequent changes…In the beginning of the process there was the writer, her words, and her desire to communicate her ideas. But after the comments of the teacher are imposed on the first or second draft, the student’s attention dramatically shifts from ‘This is what I want to say’ to ‘This is what you the teacher are asking me to do.’

page 150

Sommers’ article is greatly enhanced by the marked text of student drafts. In these drafts, the author makes manifest that instructors’ vague and often contradictory comments serve to frustrate students and make them go on wild-goose chases of correcting their alleged mistakes. As implied by my graphic above, writers should not utilize a “red pen of doom” to be editors (from Linda Pham’s impactful post last week). To do so assumes that what the student has handed in is a finished draft that is simply in need of a bit of outpatient surgery. What is actually needed is development of ideas and “an inherent reason for revising the structure and meaning of their texts” (151) (emphasis added). As astutely explained by Sommers, students also need to reconsider a broader audience than one consisting only of their teachers. This is an active manner in which they can develop a unique voice and points of view.

Sommers also introduces a salient point: the “process of revising always involves a risk” (152). Students must be liberated from the notion that they need only address the changes that the professor has written in the margins. It is up to instructors, through comments on drafts, to facilitate students’ new discoveries, which may be tied to their original ideas. Additionally, peer review is immensely helpful to this process.

Like Bean’s article, Sommer’s piece helps to show that writing is an organic process that evolves and the professor should act as a constructive facilitator who strongly promotes writing as a process and not as a product. This is strongly tied to Lauer’s work.

Everyone wants to be a CHAMPION, but is the rabid pursuit of THE BLUE RIBBON A+ the Best Strategy for Writing?
Image result for blue ribbon A

#3 Ranking, Evaluating and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment by Peter Elbow

Elbow seems to be virulently opposed to students’ pursuit of rank and obtaining the best grade possible. I agree with his assessment that students are often obsessed with getting A’s, rather than having knowledge develop organically. As an undergraduate, I was enrolled in the Honors Program, which is a four-year colloquia in which we learned religion, philosophy and literature, etc. from ancient to postmodern times; however, we were made to derive our own exegetic commentaries on the material that we explored. As freshmen, we were a class of 18-year old overachievers who thought we knew a lot because we had collected A’s like neat little soldiers on our high school report cards. So when it was not apparent what the professors wanted we did what all very “type A” folk do: ask the upperclassmen how to get an A on our papers. The fuel for this avid fire to be champions was stoked by the fact that written assignments were very often graded. However, as cited by Elbow, our professors were extremely open with us in providing relaxed critical evaluations outside of the classroom and encouraged the process of organic learning– i.e. learning the artful skill of listening and conversing with our peers. In later years, we also engaged in free writing, which led to many “lightbulb moments” for all of us. As cited by Sommers, our professors also drove us to develop unique points of view, rather than blindly accept any given pedagogy. We were made to challenge our initial assumptions, which is something that has always remained with me.

Elbow’s discussion of the rabid pursuit of grades also hearkens back to Sommers’ point that students are often driven to please their professors rather than discovering and molding their own independent ideas.

My disagreement with Elbow comes with what appears to be his suggestion that instructors should delay giving grades. This article was written in 1993. Since then, getting into undergraduate and graduate programs has become excessively competitive. The number of students seeking higher education has gone up and class rankings are always going to be benchmarks for admissions’ offices.

I am not averse to Elbow’s viewpoints in toto, by any means. I am attracted to Elbow’s ideas of creating students’ portfolios in which their work is aggregated. This is a great chance for students to see how they have progressed throughout the course of a quarter or semester. This builds confidence and a way in which students can learn from past errors.

I also appreciate Elbow’s approach of having students sharing their work with others and then engaging in critical peer review. This ties in with the organic teaching philosophies espoused by Bean and Sommers. However, I do not agree that students should be over-zealously encouraged to submit their writing drafts to class magazines (195). This may be highly intimidating to young freshmen beginning their foray into writing. It should be an optional exercise.

Elbow’s theory on contract grading (i.e. setting out his expectations of students) is highly important (195-196). This eliminates a lot of tension at the beginning of a quarter or semester when students are wandering listlessly in search of guidance regarding professors’ expectations. So often students are tersely told to simply attend class and do the readings. That form of passive performance is not conducive to true learning.

Elbow’s piece hits a sweet melodic harmony when he describes the critical practice of free-writing. This is often missing from curricula. It gives students an opportunity to learn about who they are as individual writers and what is important to them as citizens of the world. It is worth a considerable about of class time, especially in first-year writing courses, for students to spend time journaling. The power of the pen (or keystroke) is pivotal because it encourages them to write about developed and refined ideas. To me, writing is like photosynthesis: one needs exposure to unobstructed light in order for something to grow properly. Free-writing is an essential nutrient, like natural sunlight.

When I read the Elbow’s heading of Liking, I was expecting a “New Age self-approval, everyone should get a trophy for trying” exposition. I was so wrong! How can a student better his or her writing when he or she loathes what is on the page? Even if there are multiple grammatical errors, vague ideas or misspellings, the student has expressed genuine interest on that page and this is a valuable currency. Furthermore, Elbow elucidates:

…[T]he way writers learn to like their writing is by the grace of having a reader or two who likes it– even though it’s not good. Having at least a few appreciative readers is probably indispensable to getting better.

….Good teachers see what is potentially good, they get a kick out of mere possibility– and they encourage it.

page 200

I appreciate that Elbow sees writers as being seedlings who will grow into autonomy. He freely admits that after he serves as teacher and constant facilitator, his students get better without his help. This exhibits the true power of teaching.

#4 Equity Unbound

Entre [escritor(e/a)s] no hay fronteras

When I first learned about Equity Unbound, a phrase that I learned in Spanish I immediately came to mind: “Entre amigos no hay fronteras,” which translates to Among friends, there are no borders. In the image above, I have modified this phrase to fit our seminar: Among writers, there are no borders. In our exercises both in and out of class, the Internet has united all of us across time zones. Learning new perspectives is vital to living in postmodern times. Learning from your fellow writers across the globe is exciting, instructive and fun. Even when you disagree with a viewpoint, it is still extremely important to keep borders open so that different perspectives can be respectfully addressed. We are all in fellowship as writers.

Rhetoric and Composition/ Othering and Belonging

#1 Rhetoric and Composition (Lauer) 

From 
Image result for formulaic writing
Follow the path!
 
To
Image result for modern day rhizome
An approximation of an electric rhizome
 
In her piece, Lauer argues that the teaching of strict composition is stifling and does not fit in with the reality of our interconnected world. The following explains a pedagogy that is stiff and highly formulaic:
 
From the mid-1960s, members of the emerging field of rhetoric and composition began to challenge the teaching of writing as ‘product’ in which papers were assigned, handed in and graded. Such teaching also focused on reading and discussing essays, completing exercises on style, and repeating drills on grammar. Little, if any attention, was paid to helping students get started, investigate ideas, consider readers, receive feedback on drafts or revise (Lauer page 112).
 
Lauer explains that the use of rhetoric as a means of communicating ideas should also be incorporated in teaching students how to write a traditional essay (example of the latter: development of an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion). Unfortunately, she does not give a laser depiction of what rhetoric is and leaves the reader guessing. As cited by Lauer, the art of rhetoric went back to the time of the ancient Greeks (page 107).   Rhetoric is “a technique of using language effectively and persuasively in spoken or written form. It is an art of discourse which studies and employs various methods to convince, influence, or please an audience” (https://literarydevices.net/rhetoric/).
 
The following video explains the use of rhetoric by classical Greek philosophers, which is still just as important to writing in these post-modern times. It also examines the terms of ethos, pathos and logos, which Lauer mentions on page 109:

Classical Rhetoric: Sophistry, Rhetorical Proofs (YouTube Discussion) (See link below)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY10n2A12zs

Lauer encourages instructors to incorporate rhetoric in their teaching of composition so that their students can benefit from a richer writing education. She also explains that writing is very much tied to individual experiences and that professors should encourage students to incorporate their own lenses in their writing (i.e. feminism, gender-identity, race). I see this as a dual ambition. Writing with the use of a particular lens develops voice and also anticipates a distinct audience.

The methodologies that should be implemented in marrying rhetoric to composition are:  planning, brain-storming, pre-writing , the submission of drafts and peer review. Lauer appears to emphasize that writing is an organic and evolving art and that it should be taught in a manner that reflects that fact.

Lauer elucidates the 1980s “rhizomatic spread of theory,” which involves making connections among others as well as conceiving thoughts among peers and across social, economic and cultural borders. A rhizome is:

a stem that grows underground. It usually grows horizontally, just below the soil’s surface. Since it’s a stem, it has nodes and is able to put out other stems, usually straight up and above ground. This means a patch of what looks like several individual plants grouped near each other may actually all be shoots of the same plant, put up by the same rhizome (Lizz Baessler, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/bulbs/bgen/what-is-a-rhizome.htm).

Image result for rhizome
Photo of a rhizome in nature
 
Lauer explains that writing should not be taught in a strictly linear, hierarchical way. Ideas breed in a horizontal manner and are affected by the writer’s society, interpersonal and cross-cultural connections. She stresses the importance that the teacher should not be the intended spectator; rather, the student writer should develop his or her own sense of who his or her audience is. This makes writing dynamic, current and important. Imposing borders on students on what type of writing is acceptable serves only to frustrate their learning processes.
 
It is important to note that Lauer never states that the teaching of composition should be discarded. Traditional conventions such as composing sound sentence-structure are important. Rather, her thesis is that rhetoric and composition must be taught as one.
 
Image result for frustrated schoolgirl at desk with composition book
 
Lauer’s article resonated with me because I was like the child in the photo above, frustrated by my writing classwork and homework. My elementary education was very formulaic in the sense that we were shown what was good writing in our readers and then we were told to write an essay on a topic. Certainly, we were taught grammar and that such a piece should contain an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion and what those things were, but that was the extent of it. What resulted was an endless flow of book reports, which are glorified summaries that do not capture student perspective. Developing unique critical lenses were not lauded in my very traditional Catholic elementary school. Written expressive art was mostly reserved for days on which we had talent shows. I did have one seventh-grade teacher, Miss Kuehl, who rocked the boat by having us read unexpected novels like Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George and having us write about the story lines from different characters’ perspectives. We also wrote alternative endings to novels and she taught us to appreciate art in all forms and cultures. We even had a potlatch, which is a North-American Indian ceremonial feast. This was frowned upon by Sister Superior Inez because we were out of our seats (the horror). Needless to say Miss Kuehl did not last long at our school.
 
I was very frustrated by writing to yield a product because I did not feel that I was exploring something new. I did not have the vocabulary then to express it, but voice and peer interconnectedness were among the things that were missing. Moreover, formulaic writing affected my own pieces in my early years because I simply did not understand the concept of a draft. Consequently, there were many crumpled loose-leaf pages containing one or two sentences in my trash bin at home. I was hard on myself because I perceived that the order of the day was to get things right the first time. I had no notion of what pre-writing was until I went to high school.
 
However, the real metamorphosis came when I went to college. It was there that I learned the power of rhetoric, drafts and using a paper to pose new questions to my audience. A conclusion was no longer a summary of what had been written; rather it was a challenge to both myself and my audience about what further themes could be explored. I also learned the importance of brainstorming with classmates of diverse cultural backgrounds about topics in order to gain fresh perspectives.
 
In terms of my own creative writing today, I sometimes feel demoralized if I have to write more than one draft after my first original try. However, I am learning that this is a necessary part of the process of writing. As Lauer and other literary critics have explained, the pedagogical crux of writing lies in the process and not the product.
 
I would have liked Lauer to cite more concrete examples of her theories rather than bolstering her opinion based on the scholarship of other colleagues in her field. This would have been helpful to create a more tangible understanding of the points that she made.
 
With that, I leave you with a poem inspired by Lauer’s article and my early elementary school self:
 
Chalk on a blackboard, dust
Cursive instructions explained in Sr. Ruth’s double starched voice.
Do this, Do not do that
Write like the classic writers.
This is not a talent show
Wait until next month
To use your own voice and create.
I did not ask for a poem.
Today I want you to obey and emulate.

#2 The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging (Powell and Menendian)

Image result for the yellow wallpaper gilman
Visual depiction of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1890).
 
I was inspired to include this image due to the stunning photographs that were part of this article. The main character in this short story is a woman who feels trapped by the rigorous social conventions of the time. Thus, she seeks to unravel herself from her bedroom’s kaleidoscopically confining yellow wallpaper that  that threatens her selfhood and sanity (the wallpaper moves and tries to ensnare her). She tries to rip herself away from her own otherness.
 
Image result for inclusiveness belonging

Inclusion!

 

The authors of this piece argue that the language of “the other” is one of alienation and feeling separate from the majority. This reminds me of the song “Creep” by Radiohead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nZqfWo5UN4). This otherness is not innate; rather, it is learned in social groups.

 

Politicians can act as demagogues by appealing to our next door neighbors’ fear of “the other,” and thus they capitalize on this fear so as to create a culture of exclusion. This includes perpetuating organized and entrenched prejudice against illegal immigrants, minorities, and other marginalized groups. The authors state:
 
The idea of stoking anxiety, resentment, or fear of the ‘other’ is not a new electoral strategy in American politics. Appeals to nativism, racism and xenophobia are evident in almost every period of American history….
 

Many autocratic and authoritarian leaders stoke nationalism or resentment or      fears of the ‘other’ to prop up or reinforce their own support…Demagogues actively inculcate and organize that fear into a political force. Where prejudice was latent, it is being activated; where it is absent, it is being fostered (Part I, Demagoguery and Power).

It is interesting that by embracing the concept of the other, people can huddle together and belong to insular groups where they are bonded by their fear. In essence, they can create a perverse sense of “belonging.”The authors explain that “othering” is an active process in which perpetuating the recognition of sameness is the order of the day. In this framework, people are taught to identify exclusively with their own cultures and religions. This creates the inculcation of organized division, which breeds hate and concomitant violence. This reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s appeal to society in asking “What’s Going On?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6jKE6YIxmc). As in Nazi Germany, the sharp and cruel delineations of “others” is just the first step. Campaigns of exclusion, violence and death often borne by such categorizations.
 

The authors argue that the only manner in which “otherness” may be overcome is by creating “belongingness” in our communities and throughout the world. First, the “other,” must be humanized and his or her distinct features as a human being must be understood and embraced. That is not to say that national identity or unique religious/racial identity should be shunted. Inclusion is not a zero-sum game. Powell and Menendian argue for “empathy and collective solidarity” to be developed as bridges from one group of persons to another (Conclusion) (emphasis added). This reminds me of Atticus Finch’s exhortation to his daughter Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it” (https://bookroo.com/quotes/atticus-finch). Once we can understand each other, we can have meaningful conversations that are conducive to solving problems. A conversation cannot be had unless distinct voices are recognized and respected.

 

Powell and Menendian make arguments that are essential to our changing political and socio-economic landscape. However, I disagree with them on several points. In the Introduction, the authors refer to the Paris and Brussels terror attacks and they suggest that they resulted from “the lack of cultural and geographical integration of ethnic and racial immigrant groups.” I find this to be false. There are people who exist on the extreme fringes of society who are so filled with venomous hatred that violence is their only outlet. It is these individuals who are responsible for terror attacks and such extremists will always be attracted to destruction.
 

I also disagree with the characterization of Israel as a colonizer of the Palestinians, which is cited in Footnote 51 in Section II, The Mechanics of Othering. I find that media viewers tend to collapse all of Israel into the territory of the West Bank. Without getting into the politics of that particular issue, it is important to understand that the country is actually beautiful and peaceful. Moreover, it would be folly to deny that Israel is a small, but mighty ally of the United States as well as an innovator in the burgeoning field of cybersecurity.

 
Powell and Menendian’s article has tremendous implications for my own writings. It makes me aware that I should push to think as Atticus Finch would and then incorporate the results in both my poetry and prose. While my own personal and familial experiences are important to me, I should be aware of different perspectives and should diversify my literary audience to include people who do not look and speak like I do. The United States is such a rich tapestry of people (gay, straight, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, etc.) that we must recognize all of its threads. As implied by the authors, this is not something that can be done overnight; however, it behooves us to make sure that the threads of the tapestry do not fray or are cut off entirely and indiscriminately. It is only in this manner that true belongingness can be created.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Motivations for Writing

Hello everyone. I look forward to getting to know each one of you and am very excited about this seminar. I know that we will learn and grow together in a supportive and collaborative environment.

At the insistence of my older sister, I learned to read and write at a very early age. She always encouraged me to read above my grade level. The first book that set my mind aflame was The Secret Garden. Then it was The Outsiders and Jane Eyre that became treasured favorites. What intrigued me most was the authors themselves. Like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, I wondered what it would be like to call them on the telephone and have conversations. It is exciting that in today’s digital age, you can have contact with writers! You could most certainly conclude that great writers were (and are) celebrities for me.

My interest in putting pen to paper was ushered by my affinity for reading and art. I would warrant that many of us have had the same experience. The printed page, a painting or a sculpture always caused me to wonder what the artist was thinking when he or she started his or her work. How did it evolve? Did the artist end up with that which he or she expected? Writing is akin to cooking a new dish: you have all of the ingredients on your counter, but then you improvise along the way to suit your unique tastes. Writing should never be static. It is an organic process in which ideas move in different directions as research and perspective changes. An essential part of my writing is challenging my own initial assumptions. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. In a similar vein, I believe that thoughts and writing must be examined and cross-examined.

Speaking of examination and cross-examination, I have also written as part of my career as an attorney. This always required me to anticipate my adversary’s arguments in order to be ready to write reply briefs and be subject to rigorous questioning in the courtroom. I enjoyed the latter the most because performance art and public speaking were parts of my earlier education. I have also earned an L.L.M. in intellectual property. This is important to me because it has peaked my awareness about digitally protecting my own work. While I continue to practice, my passion lies in creative writing.

My own writing in the afore-mentioned realm has been driven by the need for self-expression. Instead of writing in a journal as a child and teenager, I always wrote poetry and used symbolism to capture the essences of my experiences. As an adolescent, it is was often difficult for me to lay my feelings bare in literal terms; the blank page was too daunting when I tried to do so. It was also the medium I often chose for performing school assignments. Poetry proved to be a fruitful genre for my writing and self-development.

As an adult, I continue to write poetry; however, I also write to capture experiences and memories in a much more literal manner. This is true whether I choose to express myself in the realms of fiction or non-fiction. My goal is to be a better writer and to capture memory and culture. I grew up in an Italian/Sicilian home. There is much to explore with regards to my nuclear and extended families and the extent to which they did and did not assimilate within their communities. I seek to publish a collection of fictional short stories, based on true events. I would also like to write the “next great [Sicilian-American] novel.” The historical lifeblood of our country is one that is steeped in immigrants’ stories and they are very important to understanding and navigating the world.

The graduate program presents a unique opportunity to sharpen my research and writing skills. One of my interests is historical fiction and I look forward to learning methodologies for writing and researching in this genre. I have found the professors and students to be warm and very open in communicating their thoughts, both in and out of class. I look forward to learning with all of the members of our bright and diverse group.

Writers and their identities

Welcome

Zest

Sicilian lemons are a marvel. They are tangy when you take an unmediated bite; however, if you add salt, lemon, vinegar and olive oil, the tanginess harmonizes. Writers present the world with their own unique flavors that provoke and surprise other writers and readers. Please subscribe below to be notified when I post new updates. Follow me on Twitter @medeathewriter. Thank you and happy writing!