Until Finally a Carrier Stumbled

Especially the second paragraph:

Close to large tinajas [water pockets or pools] the trails converge like strands of a spiderweb coming to the center, and within a few miles of water, broken pieces of pottery tend to appear alongside. Mostly the pieces are plain: thick-rimmed, ochre ceramics called Colorado River buff ware. Clay vessels would have been hauled back and forth until finally a carrier stumbled. The stumbles added up in places so that over hundreds upon hundreds of years pottery became evenly scattered, in some places pieces on top of pieces. Along with the pottery a small number of shells might be found, brought from far oceans probably for adornment, wealth, or ceremony. Along one of these trails I picked up part of a shallow-water cockleshell, its delicate hinges still intact after being carried hundreds of miles from the Sea of Cortés.

I started calling these trails waterlines. Waterlines are the opposite of canals, moving people to water rather than water to people. This bestows a formidable significance on the origin itself, the tinaja, because that is where you must go. Must. It comes and goes over the year, or  over the days, while the location always remains the same. You can put your finger down and say here. Of all this land, all this dryness, all of these mountains heaped upon mountains, here. (31)

Childs, Craig. The Secret Knowledge of Water. New York: Back Bay Books, 2000.

For the talk I’m giving next month at Macomb CC, “Writing Desert Survival Kit,” I’m leafing Childs’ Secret Knowledge, struck by the shard trails, anticipating the desert metaphor (much like food deserts) as accounting for what diminishes, dehydrates, and becomes perilous in crawls across the writing barren, writing spare curriculum. Waterlines, in this extended metaphor, however, introduce a centripetal and extracurricular counterpart, desert traversals, travels that surfaces and circulate writing (also supporting it). These tinajas are comparable to the writing center, which, if you decline to provide a formidable writing curriculum (e.g., explicitly guided and supported writing experiences in every year of university education), you’d damned well better fortify your tinajas.


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



We invite proposals for the 2016 WIDE-EMU Conference, a free, one-day event on October 15, in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Please help us circulate the call widely. The complete call and details about the conference are online at https://sites.google.com/site/wideemu16/.

Phase 1–Propose–has just begun and continues through August 31. We are asking for proposals that will respond to the conference’s framing question: What does writing want?

As you will see on the web site and proposal submission form, we’re asking for titles/ideas for three kinds of presentations:

  • Talk: much like a typical conference presentation, only short-form. Propose a brief paper, a roundtable discussion, a panel, etc. Individual talks should not exceed ten minutes.
  • Do: a demonstration or a workshop. Propose a session focused on the “how to” related to a software application or pedagogical approach.
  • Make: produce something (or the beginning of something). Propose a session in which participants will “make” a web site, a lesson plan, a manifesto, a syllabus, etc.

During Phase 2–Respond–we’ll be asking proposers to expand their proposed ideas with something online to share ahead of the face to face meeting on October 15. What exactly this “something online” looks like is highly flexible: a blog entry, a slidedeck, a podcast, a video, etc. You could also think of this as a teaser or a preview for your session and a few of its key provocations.

The face-to-face conference will be on October 15, 2016 at Eastern Michigan University. We will announce the featured plenary speaker/activity later this summer.

Please visit the site at https://sites.google.com/site/wideemu16/, submit a proposal, and plan to attend. If you have any questions about the proposal process or the conference itself, please reach out to Derek Mueller at derek.mueller@emich.edu. We hope to see many of you of this fall.

As Sabbaticals End

I return to campus tomorrow, May 2, following a research leave that relieved me teaching and service responsibilities at EMU during Winter 2016. The four month leave allowed me to put the finishing touches on a collaborative monograph and to get the other book I have contracted with the WAC Clearinghouse #writing series substantially closer to a full draft. At the start of the sabbatical, the introduction and first chapter were already sent off, in the editor’s hands (these amount to 57 ms. pages). Over the past four months, I submitted three more chapters, which amounts to 129 ms. pages. I still have some work to do on Chapter Five, which I plan to send by the end of May, and Chapter Six, which I’ll turn over by the end of June. With that, a full draft of the monograph and then on to other things. I just turned off my email autoreply, and I’ll be in Pray-Harrold 613M tomorrow for most of the day, doling out numerous emails related to scheduling for this year’s first-year writing sections. Before the leave officially officially concludes, I wanted to capture a few impressions about the sabbatical, its accomplishments, and its occasional struggles.

  • Winter 2016 was only the second semester in 18 years that I didn’t teach a class. And the summer ahead, which is filled with administrative responsibilities, will be only the second summer in 16 years that I won’t be teaching a class. These patterns crept up on me; as I counted them and as I write them here, it seems like too much. I understand better than ever before the risks of burnout (or call it boredom, disinterest, complacency, checking out, whatever), and I have realized this winter how precariously close I have been to shrugging off many of the priorities I held when I started began down this career path during doctoral work.
  • As this was my first sabbatical, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect about work rhythms. The nearest I’ve come to having this kind of time to devote entirely to scholarship was all the way back in 2008 when I was working on the dissertation. A sabbatical takes some getting used to, and I suspect this is especially true when the leave is taken from a quasi-administrative post, such as directing a first-year writing program. The interim director and associate director did a fine job, as far as I can tell, but the hand off involved a fair amount of leading communication, pointers to where various documents were stored, how to handle everyday operations, and so on. Likewise, as the return from sabbatical approaches, there has been in uptick in email, requests for scheduling various things for the first half of May. I’m not sure I was especially well prepared for the fuzziness of transitioning onto sabbatical and back off again, particularly as relates to this administrative work. And the lessons about how to transition on and off more gracefully, although they are fresh with me now, probably won’t be especially helpful when my next sabbatical comes around.
  • I’m reasonably pleased with my productivity on sabbatical. I didn’t travel much–only a couple of out of town trips, primarily for conferences and an invited talk and workshop. I asked around, and some colleagues said things like, “don’t expect to get anything done during the first month” and “remember to rest.” These were helpful reminders, and now looking back, I suppose I could have worked harder and gotten more done, but I am more or less still on track with the timeline for the book, and I don’t at all have the sense that I squandered huge chunks of time.
  • Sabbaticals are isolating and on some days very strange. This much free time? I worked out. I read a few books that don’t have anything to do with my writing. I shitted around. Watched TV. Cooked. Dabbled at home improvement stuff. I regard most of this as run of the mill and routine–nothing here I would describe as radically transformative. The bouts of isolation got me thinking a lot more about social balance, about how much of my social world is constituted by work interactions, conversations with colleagues who are also friends. But sabbaticals are socially bizarre in that people want to leave you alone and respect your time, which is at the same time, of course, estranging from familiar routines and conversations that can prove supportive or generative. At one point I considered trying to convene some kind of writer’s group, but after talking to another colleague who was sabbaticalling at the same time as me, I decided better of it. No need to attempt to be a social leader at the same time my purest focus should be on the book’s development.
  • I can’t say yet whether I am fully restored, recharged, rested, and ready for what’s ahead. I jump back into the directorship of the first-year writing program, and while I was away there were a handful of institutional changes that make my return cautious insofar as I can’t quite tell how some of these questions will settle out (most of them relate to labor; who teaches composition as well as how composition sections are weighted for equivalencies). I thought long and hard beforehand about extending the sabbatical for four months through September 1, the start of Fall 2016, and while I could have chosen this alternative, by returning early I am able to earn additional pay in the summer months and continue as director.

Now having listed these few notes, they re-read to me as banalities, though not as too banal to post, if only so I can return to them in a few years when I put in for another research leave. And I think I will. That is, I know people who swear they don’t want or need a sabbatical, but as I have been reflecting on this time for the past ten days or so (the reprieve window of repatriation and conserving effortfully to make the most of what remained), I regard this time as invaluable to my well-being, to my research and scholarship, and to my sense of reinvigorated responsibility as a tenured professor. It surprises me a little bit that I am both excited to return to campus and that I got as much done as I did. I suppose that in itself is as much conviction as anyone can have about a sabbatical’s worth.

Thirtieth Days

Still on sabbatical. Thirty days. Work rhythms have been more predictable and disciplined lately. Up early enough, write until noon or so. Out of this, a chapter takes shape–the third chapter. I just sent it off to the editor. Just over 10,000 words. Fourty-eight references. Ten original figures plus the linked-clickable animated index. Something like 44 pages. Embedded notes about “could do more this this” and “could do more with that.” Threaded through is a realization that I’ve been working on this chapter for a few years. And then up next will be a hard revision of the second chapter, hacking away at its extralong bulk, then adding back another 3,500 words. It’s basically a concept review: three concepts. And two are done; one remains. 

Second Days

Second days of sabbaticals. I’ve known only one second day: today. The fifth. As worklike as day one, with the exception that digressive minutiae are more appealing than before–trimming fingernails, sweeping the floor (not that it needs it but for that one speck of mud maybe, which spotted me spying it as the tea kettle took its sweet time steaming from audible boil to pressure-sent whistler). Trim and sweeeeep. Then back in the chair to do office-chair office chair things. Ever nonmagical, more stylistically cumin than cayenne.

Tried to write with some background music, but that was a Johnny J.R. Cashbust. Too distracting, Cindy. What is truth? No earthly good for getting shit done. For the last sprint, I found some wordless Buddhist harpy strumtracks to cycle through iTunes, and that was enough songburst to get this upticking chapter to–what?–nearly a second section in. Put much finer points on a couple of phrases in the first section (stylistic cayenne!), extending it by 155 words and launched the second section with 906 words (maths: 1061). At daybreak I thought maybe I would blaze all the way through to 1500 and dust the second section off, but no, and it’s fine. Dandyfine. I’m also learning to relax about the goals, trust slow and steady and whatever draftmess piles up one day is suited to smoothing the next. 

I regard this now as a banality dispatch, but will post anyway. Oh, okay, so I worked on the book again today. That’s what sabbaticals are for. Nonmagical, butt in chair, putting down words that, truth is, range from geez have I been thinking about this for one helluva long time to geez I have no idea on earth what I’m trying to say to geez this is such an old and familiar friend, this idea, to geez is this the best register for warm-accessible reception both by newcomers to the field and by established scholar-colleagues to geez it’s happening and its taking shape is not limited to my fingerstrokes/keystrokes only. 

Occam’s Sabbatical

Lead-up to a sabbatical, my first sabbatical, has been punctuated by many, many interactions about its beginnings (i.e., when does it officially begin?) and my optimism (i.e., are you excited?) and readiness (i.e., are you ready for this?). To the questions about beginnings, for most of the fall semester, I pinpointed December 16, the day after our department’s holiday party and after the last day of meeting for second of the two grad classes I taught. But I was still obliging various administrativa until at least December 20. And I didn’t exactly spend much of the break opening the book’s workfiles, much less reading or writing in relationship to it. 

Today, finaly, I felt like I started in on the sabbatical. I’ve set for myself this week the goal of timely rise+shining, up and coffee-pouring by six, in chair by 6:30 a.m., writing for four hours. This morning’s work session was a lot of oscillating between shaping and focusing, then generating, then shaping and focusing, then generating. I re-read some old stuff. Re-read the introduction and first chapter. And dived in for the first section of Chapter Three, set down 888 words, though I was only going for a Scrivener-count of 750. It’s non-magical writing, clunky and nowhere near as fine-tipped as my thinking, but it is a start on the sabbatical, which is pretty much all I was going for. The rest of the week I am hoping for four-hour morning work sessions in the range of 1000 words per day, aims of having Chapter Three’s rekick totally drafted by the end of next week. 

But that’s more micro-detail than I meant to put down here. I mostly wanted to note a few of the ideas that were blinking away in the margins, excluded from the writing but influencing at the edges. I’ve been thinking more about Occam’s razor and parsimony–principles of narrow-set scope. This is the razor whose edge sharpens when we invoke relevance, right? Go only with what is necessary; trim the rest. And I was mulling this over in relation to the scope of disciplinary terminology–of seeking just the right circumference for a semantic network, placing a right-sized circle around the web of language. There’s something faintly nagging at the foggy juncture between the simplifying economics of parsimony, attention, and noetic vocabularies in any given doman. Not too much, not too little; scales balancing between general and special, broad and narrow. 

I dwelt for far too long on standpoint theory, which I am not using, but which I find difficult to ignore as a means of explaining the vehicular-directional metaphors (partly) invoked with “turns.” I prefer to keep turns boiling in valences of tropology and nephology, but these nevertheless contrast sharply with perspectival standpoints, bipedal participant-observers, and careerist-professional anecdotalism rampant in contemporary discipliniography. You can see from that sentence it is just as well that I keep that ish-heap out of this chapter, no? And lastly lastly, I left in a tab the joke about the magician who was driving down the road until he turned into a driveway. I wanted to, but I didn’t. And besides, I would’ve preferred that magician turn into an A&P parking lot–anything whatever more happening than a fucking driveway.


Somehow, the dark sun will illuminate us. (555)

This, leafing again through Sirc’s “Godless Composition, Tormented Writing,” for tomorrow’s grad class, third to last of the semester. Reading this line again makes me think that Bataille’s wonderment is thick in the ground just beneath the site where the still-unbuilt hacienda would if it could one-day stand.