Jazz and College Sports

Below is an excerpt from the 5th chapter of my book, The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-AthletesThis chapter follows closely on the heels of chapter 4 and offers strategies for working with student-athlete writers. In this chapter, I draw on theories of jazz improvisation, an artistic talent that, like sports, invites the spontaneous coordination of bodies and spaces in line with written text. The first few pages of chapter 5 read, roughly, as follows:

The Jazzy, Creative, Collaborative Writing Practices of College Sports

In his autobiography, the great trumpeter Miles Davis (1989) describes the recording sessions of his 1970 album Bitches Brew, an album heavily inspired by the rock ‘n roll zeitgeist of the 60s with long tracks of frenzied, sonic energy: “What we did on Bitches Brew you couldn’t ever write down for an orchestra to play. That’s why I didn’t write it all out, not because I didn’t know what I wanted; I knew that what I wanted would come out of a process and not some prearranged shit. This session was about improvisation, and that’s what makes jazz so fabulous” (300). Davis’s strong nod toward improvisation over scripted performance recognizes a hallmark of jazz and illustrates the creative, collaborative freedom of jazz. During moments of improvisation, the soloist is simultaneously alone with notes and an instrument yet most commonly a part of a quartet or quintet playing before a live audience. At once, the solo is fluid and capricious yet woven into a tight tapestry of chords and melodies and harmonies. At once, the solo is flowing effortlessly, yet the soloist’s body exerts itself greatly, fingers flying across an instrument, the bounce and tap of the foot in time to the rhythm section. As I quoted in the epigraph, jazz’s emphasis on collaboration and bodily movement to an unfolding text leads James Lincoln Collier (1993) to draw parallels between jazz and athletics. Like athletics, jazz is embodied action where a body in tandem with an instrument delivers written text and where this textual delivery is directly reliant on the physical capabilities of the body. Both athletics and jazz capture mind-body collaborative creation in ever-changing circumstances.

Jazz improvisation happens in a cycle, a fixed form foundation laid first by the rhythm section and then the harmony. The rhythm section—often the bass and drums—set a fix chord progression, and the soloist places moments of improvisational beauty gently set on top of the rhythm. The soloist plays on top of the fixed layer. Without descending too deeply into music theory, to blow a solo fitting with a rhythm changing from number to number, the soloist works within a tight structure such as the twelve-bar or thirty-two bar AABA. Within this structure, improvising can be a variance on a common melody or modal or harmonic improvising. In Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, ethnomusicologist Paul F. Berliner (1994) constructs one of the more capacious discussion of this sonic performance delivered by the musician “spontaneously and intuitively” (2). In his section “Cultivating the Soloist’s Skills,” Berliner describes a soloist’s training: “they formulate melodies by ear, kinetically (by hand), and through abstract visualization in relation to the sounds of each piece’s underlying harmony” (159). This mind-body fusion drives thinking in jazz—to riff on Berliner’s title— and facilitates the learning and performance of improvising. He writes, “the ideas that soloists realize during performance depend as much on the body’s own actions as on the body’s synchronous response to the mind. The body can take momentary control over particular activities . . . while the mind shifts its focus to the next ideas” (190). Because of the importance of the body and mind sharing tasks during cognitive performance, many musicians go to great physical lengths to train, modify, or alter their bodies for performance: training in dance and yoga, practicing relaxation techniques, regulating diet, imbibing in drugs. Berliner writes of one trumpeter who asked a dentist to file down and “slightly separate his own front teeth in the hope that this would ‘free up’ his air stream” (Berliner, 1994, 119).

Scholars across a wide-range of disciplines have molded jazz improvisation into a springboard for harnessing productivity in organizations largely because of jazz’s emphasis on collaborative, bodily creativity . . . In this chapter, I argue the cognitive processes of spatial orientation, haptic communication, and scaffolded situation undergird the learning of scripted plays, but the embodied enactment of these plays is analogous to the characteristics of jazz improvisation Barrett (1998) extends to learning organization and Boquet and Eodice (2008) extend to working with writers. Learning scripted plays looks a whole lot like the jazzy, creative, and collaborative model of learning extended to various organizations.




The Power of YA Novels

Something is going on with YA literature. And it is amazing.

African American women authors speaking to the racial pains and injustices in our country through narrative. Dedications of warmth/love/hope to those struggling and hurting and feeling pain.

  • See Justina Ireland’s dedication in Dread Nation:
    • For all the colored girls. I see you. < 3

Afterwords speaking to police brutality and the slaughter of unarmed black men at the hands of police.

  • See Jewell Parker Rhodes’s afterword in Ghost Boys.
  • Read Tomi Adeyemi’s afterword to Children of Blood and Bone.

I’m not sure how I stumbled onto these recent works. I don’t browse YA stacks at my local library because I don’t want to scare away the teens hanging out there. Old men like me need not be there. I don’t work in middle schools or high schools or with public school libraries who know what is out there. I don’t teach fiction and haven’t taken a fiction class since my first semester as an MA student; and that was modern poetry. (God bless Elizabeth Bishop; that was tough stuff).

But I try to keep a pulse on popular culture. I flip through Entertainment Weekly, scroll Twitter. And it was EW and Twitter that pointed me in this direction. EW did a feature piece on Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, a novel about the murder of a young black man by police. Coming soon to our theaters.

I knew I needed to read it. I need to hear these stories and feel these hurts.

My local library had a waiting list of 45 patrons. Good / not good.

On Twitter later that day: Steve Price at Mississippi College tweeted about Parker Rhodes’s Ghost Boys, another novel of a young black kid gunned down by police. The boy, Jerome, meets other ghost boys, including Emmitt Till. I read it quickly, feeling the poetic rhythm of Parker Rhodes’s prose. Had trouble sleeping that night. Finished it in the morning with a heavy sigh.

And then onto Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, an adult novel and required reading for incoming Duke students.

Then Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, a novel in verse about a Dominican-American pre-teen grappling with boys, religion, struggling to find her voice. Turns to slam poetry. Read it quickly. Handed it to my sister-in-law to read.

Then Children of Blood and Bone at the beach with the in-laws, a fantasy novel with black names, black characters, black culture. Because, for some reason, all people in Lord of the Rings are white, because, for some reason, there are only a smattering of people of color in the whole darn George Lucas/Mickey Mouse galaxy, because, for some reason, we can imagine a boy wizard and quidditch, but we cannot imagine more than a smattering (if that) of characters who do not have white skin.

YA novels are saying things other mediums are not. Keep talking, writers. I’m trying to listen and learn and grow.

Naylor Workshop for Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies

For the past four years, York College in Pennsylvania has hosted the Naylor Workshop for Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies. Financially supported by Mr. Irvin S. Naylor, a long-time resident of York, PA.,  the workshop matches undergraduates with faculty for a long weekend retreat full of writing, talking, and learning.

I attended for the first time last year. Dominic DelliCarpini, who holds the Naylor Professorship, is a wonderful host who is dedicated to creating a rich environment for developing ideas and developing mentoring relationships.

The fifth anniversary of the conference is this Fall. Conference planners sent out a call asking for a position statements on undergraduate research. They offered some parameters, but the call was quite broad. I knew I wanted to head back this year, but I was struggling to come up with a response to this call? What did I want to talk about, think about, learn about, regarding undergraduate research?

Sitting at Midland Coffee Shop, I finally had something: the role undergraduate researchers can play in large-scale curriculum changes, the kind my school will start undergoing in the Fall.

So I began writing. I finished. I got accepted. Jane Greer, one of the organizers, emailed and asked if she could use it as a model. That’s awesome. Thanks.

Here’s what I wrote:

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On Rejection

I received a rejection.

The email came just before 5pm on Friday, the Friday that kicks off Memorial Day weekend, the Friday that kicks off summer. I spend a lot of time watching and reading about sports. Sports, like life, are riddled with scandals. When do teams and general managers and owners send out press releases confessing to the Ills of the Moment? Friday at 5pm, ideally before a long weekend. Sandbag the press. By Monday, the President or the leader of North Korea (or both) will do something crazy enough to cause the press to forget about the Ill of the Moment when Tuesday rolls around again and people are back hammering away at their jobs.

It’s a good PR move, the releasing bad news at such an hour and at such a time of the month. And I was the recipient.

But it wasn’t just a regular rejection. I got scores of those. This one was new. This was my first straight rejection from a journal. I’ve been rejected before—from conferences, from journals, from committees, from this girl in college who was in my art appreciation class. But a straight desk rejection before readers get a chance to sink their teeth in my prose and beat around inside the heart of my argument. Well… that’s new and exciting.

The rejection surprised me. I decided to check my email on my phone standing in my garage. Don’t know why. Probably half watching the kids in the front yard and growing bored.

The editor wrote a lengthy response. I think it was lengthy; it took a while for my thumb to scroll to the bottom. I kinda read it. Closed the mail app. Drove to the gas station to get gas for my mower. When I got home, I deleted it. I didn’t need it sitting at the top of my inbox for a whole three day weekend. And I haven’t come back to the email since.

The email was more than boiler plate. There was a lot of substance to it.

But, oh, the rejection.

The next day, I was standing on my mat forcing my rigid frame into a warrior three. My wife, on her mat next to me, doing a much better job. In the quiet contemplative space of yoga, I thought more about rejection. Tallied up my rejections.

Here’s where I am at:


  • A desk rejection
  • A rejection after three rounds of revision

This one probably hurts the most and is still the most surprising and is the one      where I learned the most. This article was my first article I worked on that did not come directly from my dissertation. It was on a similar topic but not culled from my 200 rambling pages of diss writing. The journal was interested, but it was R&R time. I made the changes. I sent it back in. The journal editors invited me to their party at CCCC; “here’s the room number of our suite,” they said. I went. Shook hands. Drank a beer. Awkwardly hung around. Another revise and another ask for more revisions. And then, standing outside Great Clips, waiting for a haircut, I checked my phone. A no. A concern about my conclusion and that my conclusion was too like my just published Composition Forum article. I never cited the Composition Forum article, never mentioned it. The editors found it. Read it. Compared it. Said no. I was finishing my first year in a TT position. I was crushed. Thought my career was done. I remember leaving Great Clips, stunned and numb and hurt. I remember (and let’s just keep this between the two of us, reader) heading back to the apartment my wife and I were living in at the time. I remember going to my then four-year-old son’s room. I remember laying on his bed. I remember staring at the ceiling. I remember him coming in, handing me his blue bear named Christmas. I remember laying there with Christmas. I cried some. Editors read everything, I learned. I need to advance my argument not repeat them, I learned. Write and get rejected but also get published, I learned. Rejection doesn’t mean tenure and job stability is impossible, I learned.

  • A revision and resubmit that I never followed up on. But the article found its way into my book. Take that, you journal editor you


  • 0 for 2 with National Council of Teachers of English. Never gotten in.
  • But, for some reason, 2 for 2 with Rhetoric Society of America. Though I fancy myself more a compositionist than a rhetorician.
  • 3 for 7 with Conference on College Composition and Communication
  • 1 for 1 with CCCC summer regional conferences
  • 3 for 3 with Biennial Watson Conference

Edited collecton cfps:

2 for 4 with edited collection cfps. I got one hanging out there right now, which might tip the scale to better than 50%. But might not.

Offices in professional organizations:

  • 0 for 4. Only made the ballot once

Faculty senate:

  • 0 for 2

Editor positions with journals:

  • 1 for 2

Marriage proposals:

  • 1 for 1


First-Year Composition Annual Report, 2017-2018

For the past three years, I have worked with my colleagues on the First-Year Composition Committee to author an annual report.

This report gives readers a sense of important data points, professional development opportunities the FYC Committee offered during the AY, and ends with recommended reading on teaching writing at the college level.

During AY 17-18, we worked with over 8,000 student-writers in over 400 sections of FYC. During the Fall semester alone, we worked with close to one quarter of the entire student population at UNG.

Thanks to different Offices at the University of North Georgia for help gathering data.

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The Power of Learning and Ceremony

Sometimes I get cranky during graduation ceremonies.

Sitting in a large gym during the summer in my funky gown, I get hot. Listening to empty platitudes spoken by Very Important Commencement Speaker, I get bored. Listening to name after name after name after name, I get restless.

And last week, during the Spring commencement ceremony, I got cranky, hot, bored, restless.

But the little dude jolted me back.

I saw him holding tightly to the woman’s hand—I don’t know if the woman was mom, grandma, aunt, nanny, sister. But the woman was dressed in her graduation gown, her hat pinned to her hair. In her left hand, she held the graduation card that announced her name. She would hand this card to the Name Reader Person and help the NRP with any pronunciation. In her right hand, she held the hand of the little dude. Little dude was dressed in khaki pants, a light blue dress shirt, a gray bowtie. His dark hair cut close against his olive skin.

The NRP read the next name and the next and the next. The woman and little dude inched closer and closer to their turn. Over her shoulder, she had slung a large bag. I’m a parent of young kids. I have travelled with kids, gone to dinner with kids, attended religious services with kids, sat through summer weddings held outside with kids; I know some of the stuff in that bag, the stuff needed to entertain a kid as the kid suffers through the ritualistic monotony of Adult Things.

The NRP read her name. She walked across the stage and met the President. The President kneeled to shake the little dude’s hand. The President, in high-heels, stayed crouched for a moment and talked with the little dude. The cameraperson caught the moment; the moment broadcast on the big screens in the gym. The President stood again, shook the woman’s hand.

The woman and little dude left. The ceremony continued. And the ceremony ended two hours after it began.

As faculty marched out first, my line went past the woman and little dude who were seated at the end. He was standing and she was holding his hand. I knew that hand hold—more of a tether than a hold of affection. But little dude had already suffered through two hours. His brown eyes were big. Full of excitement.

I get bored with graduations because they are an always presence in my life. Three times a year, I get asked to walk in graduation. I come from social strata full of people who graduate. My parent’s fridge is covered right now with high school graduation notices, and my parent’s neighborhood sign is covered with a banner listing all the names of high school graduates. The HOA puts this banner together every spring. My mom and my dad graduated high school and college. My sister and I graduated high school and college. I got an MA and a PhD. My sister got an MA. My wife got a BA and an MA. Six of the seven men in my wedding got a college degree. Six of the seven women in my wedding got a college degree.

I forget the power and the beauty of the graduation ceremony. Woman and little dude jolted that power and beauty back. To think that she elected and paid the money and packed the bag of toys and sat with little dude for two hours in nice clothes during the heat of a May afternoon. To think that she didn’t get a sitter either because she couldn’t find one, couldn’t afford one, didn’t want to find one, wanted to bring little dude, had her sitter cancel. To think of all that effort keeping little dude entertained for a 15 second walk across stage. To think that graduation means a lot.

To think that I had a chance to bear witness to that.

To think that I would ever grow forgetful of the power of learning and ceremony.

Supporting Scholarly Presses

In 2014, Composition Studies published the first in their series titled “Where We Are.” In the first installment, David Blakesley, the founder of Parlor Press, authored “New Realities for Scholarly Publishing in Trying Economic Times.”

He ends his short reflection with 15 concrete ways to support scholarly publishing.

Today: I’ve worked on number 15

Write letters to university administrators or others who might need to know how much you appreciate the work of the press or an editor. Be an independent lobbyist, in other words. Parlor Press has a number of great people who do this for us, and it’s very important (and very much appreciate, believe me).

I wrote a letter this morning to Rick Miranda, the Provost at Colorado State University. CSU supports the WAC Clearinghouse, a wonderful open-access and digital outlet for high-level scholarship. And the home of my first co-edited collection Contemporary Perspectives on Cognition and Writing.

I wrote as a reader and an author with the Press.

Thanks to Mike Palmquist for passing on the name of the best recipient of this letter.

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Rotary Club & Public Scholarship

Last week, I presented some remarks on public scholarship to Rotary Club of Hall County. Dr. Andrew Pearl, the Director of Academic Engagement at UNG, is a member and invited me. Drew and I have worked together on several projects, most recently leading two half-day workshops on public scholarship for our UNG colleagues.

Rotary meets every Tuesday at 11:30 in the Civic Center in Gainesville, a large, beautiful building sitting on Green Street. Longstreet Cafe caters every meeting; I had the salmon pattie, black eyed peas, and white rice.

I brought along one of my students, Rachel Ayers, to snap pictures of my talk.

2018-04-02 23.50.01

I embedded my Google slides presentation below but, in brief, focused on survey data that signals a distrust of higher education and college professors held by Republicans and right-leaning independents.

I argued one way professors can work against this distrust is providing more transparency in what we do and finding local outlets for our work.

I’m thankful for the time to share my thoughts, for the engaging Q&A, and for the salmon pattie.



Making it Count: Public Scholarship and P&T

On March 16th, with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament furiously underway around the country, I’ll talk for a few minutes about public scholarship, specifically how faculty can partner with their centers for teaching and learning to help make their public scholarship count for promotion and tenure.

I’ll deliver my brief words at the Conference for College Composition and Communication, the largest annual conference for college writing teachers/researchers/administrators. We pull in around 5000 attendees and are under the largest National Council of Teachers of English umbrella. CCCC kicked off in 1949, and I’ve been attending since 2010.

This year, we will be hanging in Kansas City.

My colleague, Matthew Boedy, organized our panel on public scholarship. We are lucky to have John Duffy as a respondent.

I’ll be working off Google slides.


Receiving Tenure

I received tenure.

The email came first. Then a letter from the provost. Then a letter from the president. According to my university’s faculty handbook, promotion and tenure can be uncoupled and a tenure-track faculty member can apply for early promotion. I did last AY, received it, and received the salary raise specified in the faculty handbook.

But tenure is on the clock. Nothing early. So I wrote and revised and resubmitted the same documents—just one AY later.

In a previous post, I detailed the tenure process at the University of North Georgia and included the summary letter I wrote in support of my portfolio.

In this post, I’ll show the results.

First, a timeline taken from UNG’s faculty handbook. I bolded the two important dates:

Deans notify P&T candidates for upcoming academic year Apr (2nd Monday)
Department heads/coordinators appoint DPTRC members Aug (4th Monday)
Deans appoint CPTC members Aug (4th Monday)
Faculty submit the P&T applications to department head/coordinator via D2L Sept (2nd Monday)
Provost appoints UWPTC members Sept (2nd Monday)
DPTRC completes review and uploads to D2L for CPTC Sept (4th Monday)
Department heads/coordinators complete review Oct (1st Monday)
CPTC completes review and uploads to D2L for UWPTC Oct (4th Monday)
Deans complete review Nov (1st Monday)
UWPTC complete review and forward to the Provost Dec (1st Monday)
Provost notified P & T faculty members Jan (4th Monday)

By that second Monday in September, I submitted all my material to D2L, the course management software we use. Then the folder was closed on D2L. Then the folder, ever-so ominously, disappeared into the world of Committee Review—never to appear again on my screen until the fourth Monday in January.

And there I was, on the sofa with my wife, watching Frasier on Netflix, when, for some darned reason, I decided to check my email.

I’ve received a handful of Big Emails: my President Obama email (still in my inbox), my PhD program acceptance email, my book contract email. This email was a biggie, too. 7:54 PM at night. Goodness me.


But it was good news.

The letter came from the Provost the next day. It was sitting in my box.

The letter from the President came exactly a month later.

And, when AY 17-18 turns to AY 18-19, I’ll have tenure. No salary bump this time around—just some security.

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