Comfort Inventory 10 😭

Shadowy paths near the Sycamore (is it?) between Henderson Hall and Squires Student Center, Blacksburg, Va. (37.229927, -80.416902).

Funny in a way not funny that the last in the series of comfort inventories was titled Discomfort Inventory and posted two years ago in April, a run-down of WTF holy-smokes how the heat then was a’rising. That playful inversion, comfort marked dis-, fuckered the numbering system so now it’s unclear whether this one is CI 9 or CI 10. Executive decision consulting with the EWM advisory board: I’m going with CI 10, so let the footnotes resolve that Discomfort Inventory Unnumbered also was counted. 

  • Owing to an upcoming WPA hiatus (or, more technically true, indefinite but careful and non-harmful evacuation of the role) I am at the end of June transitioning to the first email-unencumbered and otherwise work-appointment-free summer months in more than 14 years, the last ten of which were lurched along with one foot snagged in that bottomless and unpredictable quicksand of administrative responsibilities, late July surprises, and then some. Feels like something…different. Notably I would’ve thrown a handful of confetti for myself on-around May 12, but I was told I must oblige an unwritten rule that pins switch-over date on The Calendar at and only at June 30. Pope Gregory sighed in relief. 
  • Is it possible at the age of 48 to have (meaning host) new feelings, or feelings unfelt before? If so, I have and am in that standing aside from writing program administration has elicited the faintest of mixes. Not bitter+sweet only, though that’s a familiar sentiment and not entirely distinct from this particular structure of feeling. Easier to name, the bittersweet. We have the word for this paradox. Oh, your feelings are crossed up? But right now, these work-facing feelings are curiously small, faint, light, but also complexly mixed and parts wow-wonderful with parts whoa-startling—sort of like at the froyo bar where the eager but ascetic everything-topper only takes the smallest unit possible: a shred of coconut, a violet petal, a fragment of toffee bar, a speck of syrup-soaked strawberry, one boba tapioca, a sprinklet, sugar granule, a raisin if you must. Don’t overdo it. Let me not get too too too lost in these feelings. 
  • But then again I did order a chicken coop today to make better on a commitment to a different kind of holler life here in SW Virginia. I have the good fortune of working with a few chicken enthusiasts who are sharing with me and A. every possible angle to consider, from the hazards of automatic door closers (remember that Jim Johnson article?!; it’s sort of like that one fused with this one) to the predator barriers, to the problems and opportunities with chicken trucks/mobile coops, and so on. Get the heated water vessel, I’ve learned. Expect rodents to nosh the feed off-shed, I’m told. Park them under a canopy tree in the hottest heats of summertime. And so on.
  • We’ll start with six chickens. 🐔🐔🐔🐔🐔🐔
  • I received a Red Bubble take down notice the other day because the “rights holder” complained about one of my illustrations, from the Pandemic Bestiary, #18 Write (turkey hunched at a keyboard). The takedown notice, according to Red Bubble, was initiated by Virginia Tech. I contested it, of course, because I happen to have the Procreate file, which can play back the production process, and it includes the stroke count (1,082) and the time I spent on that drawing (3 hours, 13 minutes). I suppose it must be some sort of lax image-matching AI running interference on this sort of thing, and it turns out that it can be difficult to convince an AI that you are human, or that you, as a human, made something that to the AI’s still sort of iffy matching operations presumes your “original work” to belong to someone else. So it’s not possible for now to purchase a Pandemic Bestiary #18 Write sticker for under two dollars at Red Bubble. World turns. Loss of side-hustle counter-claim pending for .35 USD. Maybe I’ll follow-up on this, continue to chronicle the very low-level hijinks. Or maybe right along with that drawing everything pleasingly digressive and light-hearted and playful will be disappeared. Fun while it lasted!
  • For Monday’s Food Writing class we’re leafing the last of the semester’s readings, one from Savor, on apple eating, and another from A Pebble for Your Pocket, “Eating an Orange.” We’ll have apples and oranges. Write a 90. And maybe I’ll go one step farther, time allowing, with “Four Mantras,” because the opening line is in itself a simple—perhaps the simplest—theory of rhetoric: “A mantra is a magic formula. Every time you pronounce a mantra, you can transform a situation right away; you don’t have to wait” (111). 
  • In January, on a phone call (following an email exchange) with longtime mentor LWP, I mentioned this line about mantras. She reminded me that the most reliable mantra she’d been advised to recite as an administrator came from one of her mentors: Be kind. Be fair. Be brave. Even as my WPAing decade winds down, perhaps this one can continue to transform situations. Teaching preparation situations. Absurd takedown notice situations. Chicken tending situations.

💐 Wonder Bouquet 💐

Slow to catch on but oh howdyboy now I get it what with confetti popping re growth mindset not as wonder bouquet but as sardine-canning certain meatpacker programs so they are crowded spilling SCH profit-marginalia troughs oink!, irresistible course cap headfakes and Canvas viewport salvifics, the market has intuited what they wantneed, what was once only needs discourse now more suasively reframed as wantsneeds discourse, millready but who has the grain enough for bread alone teaching+learning when the engines theatrical and merciless have supply chains so stopped. #ninety [Carol Dweck, Sharon Crowley, David Noble, Geoff Sirc, “Supply Chain Pressure”]

Try This

Figure 1. Try This: Research Methods for Writers book cover.

Quick entry—it’s late and kale sweet potato soup is bubbling. And I’m still in the late stages of moving, turning in keys and parking passes at the old place this afternoon, scooping expired field mice from the attic of the new place, fetching groceries, hooking up laundry machines, chopping onions, and so on. But a project several years in the works dropped yesterday at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/try/: Try This: Research Methods for Writers, a textbook we hope sees uptake in rhetoric and writing classes. I could say A LOT about this book’s development. Once it was in the hands of Mike Palmquist and the editorial team at WAC Clearinghouse, its shape and timing were never clearer or crisper. I didn’t realize it, but I read today that this book is the 150th free, open access publication of the nearly 25 years WAC Clearinghouse has been operating. So it’s an honor and a wonder and a credit to so many that this book is circulating now, as it is. [N.b., not a ninety, but hope to get back to a few more of those soon, like tomorrowsoon, or the nextdaysoon.]

Nineties

Synaptic, the Berlant-Stewart exchanges, base 100 writing, volleys dealt in increments (or multiples thereof). For the spring grad class, maybe 90s or within five words. An 84 word blurb is not a ninety. At 96, it must reach elastic band to 180. Or 175. A ninety can be one sentence. Or up to 90 sentences. It is meant to conduct a tiered practice. At once, measured habit, self-aware; at once, expressing questions as questions or connections as connections. Woe omicron variant whispers, though, What even is teaching now?

Shifting Online

The global pandemic (COVID-19) has universities deciding to shift classes from in-person to online quicklyquickly ranging from overnight to something like three weeks. Shorter than a couch-to-5k, in other words. As rapid changes like these spread through higher education, people speculate, wondering what it means, how long such changes will last, whether anyone (students and faculty alike) is really prepared, and so on. Everyone’s doing their part to make sense of an unfamiliar phenomenon, and that sense-making takes a variety of shapes–blobby, tentative, many temporary. A medical doctor in this coffee shop just walked in and said to me oh, hey, VT (coffee mug gifted from a former grad student gives it away); “this is gonna be okay; there’s a 97% survival rate.”

Insofar as the generally altruistic goal of social distancing as a measure to reduce human to human contact and thereby to slow rates of transmission, campuses are un-bunching themselves, emptying the dorms as much as possible, interrupting residential and study abroad programs, adjusting. Just yesterday afternoon I was emailed a fair forewarning heads-up–come up with a plan for supporting teachers in the Composition Program if and when this shift happens. I had a call with the program’s associate director, opened a Google Doc, and we generated with help from others on the leadership team a six page document: 1) key principles guiding modified teaching in Spring 2020, 2) reasonable and appropriate curricular adjustments, 3) allowances for the labor involved with adjusting a class initially designed to happen in-person, 4) a caveat about how this is not an effort to forge at overdrive clip through elaborate training in Online Writing Instruction, and 5) a modest collection of resources for re-orienting instructional staff to the university’s LMS. I don’t know if this is the right approach. It is a lean approach–minimalist, humane, focused as narrowly as possible on the problem before us as an eight-week problem, a getting-to-May-6 problem. COVID-19 and social distancing efforts may continuing into summer and fall, but we will think together about appropriate pedagogical responses to those terms later. If and when we get the email to go ahead, we will circulate the Spring 2020 plan with what we believe will suffice for now in its honoring student and instructor well-being; urging flexibility and direct, timely communication; and extending again the forms of support we can make available (responsiveness to questions, openness to working through specific problems, general and continuing availability, administrative reassurance, etc.). No magic beans; no more warrants for drama or anxiety than the pandemic has already touched off.

In talking through the shift to online and upon witnessing quite a bit of buzz about what such a shift presumes about the work of teaching and learning, the planning involved, or the nimbleness of faculty–conceptual, communicative, and technological nimblenesses varied and intersecting as they are–there’s been a (at risk of sounding mildly judgmental, I’ll say it) clumsy differentiation between face-to-face and online teaching. True, at its crudest, some teaching happens with human bodies in the same room at the same time and some other teaching happens with human bodies not in the same room at the same time. We’re at the cusp of a pivot from one model to the other. But that other model–the one where human bodies are not in the same room at the same time–need not measure itself against the intricate and expert apparatuses now long established informing online pedagogies. That is, for now, in this switch-over, we don’t have to lug out the longest-scrolling web pages or the heaviest volumes on online instruction. We don’t have to school everyone new to teaching in online environments about the intricacies and affordances; getting to May 6 is a make-do goal. With this in mind, I’ve been partial to framing this not as a full, frenzied move to online writing instruction (OWI in a hurry), but instead as an ad hoc Spring 2020 modification in which we do our best to solve a short-term problem, respecting novice-ness as genuine (and vulnerable) and exercising scope restraint. Rather than touting this as a full and comprehensive shift online, I’m advocating for something more like online-lite, a minimalist approach cast perhaps a bit more in the shadow of correspondence courses than media-rich and daresay over-produced LMS-sparkled palaces. We can in time make sure everyone knows about the scholarly traditions informing such well-designed, well-made online courses, and, to the extent that pandemic-motivated social distancing becomes more world feature than world bug, we can get better at tying in our programs with that important body of work. But for now, for this moment, a spare approach will suffice:

  • communicate with students (promptly and supportively)
  • express clear and as-stable-as-possible dates and times for drafts and intervals of drafts
  • let existing course materials (curriculum maps and textbooks) do the work they were set in place to do
  • build in constructive interactions, focused as much as possible on uncertainties, opportunities for developing the draft (feedback-oriented stuff whether with peers or instructor led). Also, check out Bill Hart-Davidson’s “Feedback Cultures – A Guide For Teachers Thinking about Moving Student-Centered Learning Online” at https://youtu.be/B4Fe_rS8208
  • err on the side of being positive, constructive, encouraging, and reassuring with students, with colleagues, with administrators working fitfully to unpick snarled problems, but especially with students.

For right now, for this moment, that’s enough.

Marking the Semester’s Enough

I’ve asked students to write a semester-capping reflection in-class, today marking the end of the Winter 2018 semester at EMU and, with it, the final session of WRTG121: Composition II: Researching the Public Experience. The prompt occasions a letter noting takeaways in terms of attitudes and habits relating to writing, command of language, and grasp of research processes, although it’s a stacked ask insofar as its privileging ground and anchorage qua affirmations of footing, solidity, presumptions of growth that value lodging over dislodging, mooring over unmooring. Another way: might just as well be asking about attitude-habit upheavals, a churn of language, ungrasp of research processes. Whatever of the teaching-learning paradoxes, here are a few of the takeaways for me:

  • Our curriculum moves swiftly from establishing researchable questions and attempting, with the aid of systematic note-keeping, a brief proposal and cursory lit review, next to carrying out a microstudy documented with research memos that adheres to an appropriate research method, and finally to a pair of presentational moves, one in-class (elevator pitch to peers with careful consideration of slidecraft), one at the Celebration of Student Writing. Much of the semester felt to me to be balanced and right-paced, although at the end, two presentational gestures left one (the CSW) lagging secondarily a bit, without enough time to develop it fully.
  • That said, the curriculum remains promising in that there surfaced (for most?) a more obvious and followable connection among an evolving researchable question (or series of questions), sources gathered and annotated in association with the question, the enactment of methods chosen as ways of following rigorously the question out into the world, and the variations on presenterly circulation that care for translation of a nuanced research process into something shareable. Obvious and followable: this, according to students who informally related not having especially much experience with being guided to undertake research writing this way.
  • Our program’s bundle, Understanding Rhetoric and EasyWriter, primes this approach, introducing key ideas and standing readily by as consultatory resources for reminders and support, though at moments this reminding and support isn’t quite enough due to my assumptions about everyone’s remembering these materials as backdrop. I forget to say, use these books in this way (even after reading selections or pitching and modeling usefulnesses at the semester’s outset). Thus, the consultatory function of these books, this semester, seemed to fade, seemed to follow a declining use-trend, when I’d imagined an increase, expansion, uptick.
  • In future semesters, when teaching a class like this one, I may try to do more to poll students before the semester begins, to think together and ahead about thematic orientations. We ventured into environmental justice this semester, but I’m not convinced that the explicit and direct attention we devoted to EJ at the outset sustained as the semester wore on. It felt to me like the most prominent concerns of EJ quieted as our efforts shifted to more tightly tailored research projects; with this is that inevitable tension between the general and the acute, between the frame and the pixel.
  • Early-semester one on one conferences continue to be tone-setting for interpersonal rapport that builds as a semester goes. This practice is reasonably enculturated in the FYWP at EMU, carried out section for section for section, but it’s a practice I’d like to extend with focal intention to other classes I teach, doing more with these scheduled conversations while also thinking about how to keep them student-led and only in minor ways repetitive.

That is it. Enough for forty minutes of in-class writing. Enough to say the semester that was, was. Enough to mark even lightly a few of the details I’ll carry for a while hereforward.

Join Us in Ypsilanti on March 23

EMU’s First-year Writing Program invites you to join us in Ypsilanti on Friday, March 23, for the 2018 Winter Colloquium. Dr. Melanie Yergeau  will present  at 10:30 a.m., “Black Mirror Meets the Classroom: Neurodiversity and Social Robots.” After lunch, at 1 p.m., she will lead a writing pedagogy workshop, “Disability, Access, and Multimodal Pedagogies.” For more information, contact Derek Mueller, Dir. of the First-year Writing Program,  at dmuelle4@emich.edu, or Rachel Gramer, Associate Dir. of the First-year Writing Program, at rgramer@emich.edu.

Promotional flier for Dr. Melanie Yergeau's presentation and workshop at EMU on March 23, 2018.
Promotional flier for Dr. Melanie Yergeau’s presentation and workshop at Eastern Michigan University’s Pray-Harrold Hall, Room 219, on Friday, March 23, 2018. Free and open to the public. The presentation, titled “Black Mirror Meets the Classroom” is at 10:30 a.m.; the teaching workshop, titled “Disability, Access, and Multimodal Pedagogies,” is set for 1 p.m.

Strong Advice

Car radio piped this one, 107.1 airwaves, return route Ford Road to Prospect from Sunday big box outing,  groceries flying into the cart (fermenteds, quick oats, coffee) and then a four-carts-piled backup at checkout lines, but back to the song: some covers are the friendliest ghosts. A little bit of warming nostalgia, so sick!, Billie Jean, estranged memoriachords, soft glow in the January’s-fine-with-me-since-none-of-it-lasts-long grayscape. Right-timed to go with an equanimity wish, one I almost but then didn’t ask for social media send-up but then nah. Just nah. But back to the grocery shopping: bumped a buggy excuse me and a stranger standing nearby said “That’s how I drive my mini-van.”

Back into the quietude at that hue between the sky’s #EAEAEA and the earth’s #F2F2F2, chicory-peppermint tea with cinnamon stick, teaching preparation and upcoming talk tuning, difficult yoga on the floor in the round.

Standing

Standing on the Shoulders of Networks Poster
Standing on the Shoulders of Networks Poster

Immersed in prepping this talk for much of the morning, noticing as closing in the constraints of time and purpose and what I’d supposed possible before really squaring with the script. Deck is drafted, talk is drafted, and still there isn’t quite enough explicit about this business of standing on shoulders–so much more I’d like to do with footing for newcomers, hospitality for initiates.

The Most Fundamental Purpose

Decluttering email and here’s a missive I received as a reminder: purpose, audience, context, then analysis and practice, genres and texts, circulation. But the second paragraph (ensuring background) complicates the first, or at the very least positions the first set of fundamentals in relief–sharp contrast!–with professional development and meaningful experiences sustaining instructors of all rank. Even when the purpose (para. 1) is lucid and visible and constantly tended, the eidos in the second paragraph requires resources that too easily ebb and flow with the changing tide of administrator mindset and fiscal-budgetary conditions. Not at all meaning to be vague or inconclusive with this, nor suggestive hint-hint wink-wink with this, nor anything much other than reminded that re-reading principles’ statements is measures affirming and measures yes, difficulties and challenges remain.

10. Sound writing instruction extends from a knowledge of theories of writing (including, but not limited to, those theories developed in the field of composition and rhetoric).

The most fundamental purpose of classes devoted specifically to writing instruction (such as first-year or advanced composition courses) is to engage students in study of and practice with purposes, audiences, and contexts for writing. In practice, this means that writers engage in supported analysis of these purposes, audiences, and contexts and through supported practice with genres and texts that circulate within and among them.

Institutions and programs emphasize this purpose by ensuring that instructors have background in and experience with theories of writing. Ideally, instructors have ongoing access to and support for professional development, including (but not limited to) attendance at local, regional, or national Composition and Rhetoric conferences. Institutions employing graduate students from outside of the discipline of Composition and Rhetoric to teach writing courses support development of this background knowledge by ensuring students receive sufficient grounding in and practice/mentoring with regard to key concepts associated with theories of writing.

Source: Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing