Embracing This Now

Prologue

Saturday morning. Yoga class at the YMCA. The instructor welcomes us, invites us to stand at the top of our mats, invites us to feel the four corners of our feet rooted into the mat, invites us to face our palms outward and to slow our breath. And the instructor invites us to give ourselves this time and to leave the worries of the world & mind off the mat—just for this hour give ourselves this time.

So I did, that Saturday.

So I will this Christmas Eve. And also Christmas day.

The Text

Monday evening. I sit at my laptop. My father-in-law several feet from me watching It’s a Wonderful Life. My mother-in-law several feet from me wrapping presents at the kitchen counter. The tree sending out its yellow light. My wife peeling off price tags.

And here I sit. Rooted in this time and space I am giving myself.

Forgetting for This Now that our minivan needs four new tires. That the driver window makes an obnoxious screeching noise when we roll it up and the passenger side door pops loudly—ever so often—when we try to open the door.  The tires and the window and the door will be there Wednesday. They don’t serve me in This Now.

Several feet from me, in the back guest bedroom, my children sleep. One in a crib, sucking his thumb, his red wavy hair launching itself from his head. The other two, in a queen bed together, in matching Mickey Mouse pjs, rolling into a deep sleep.

And here I sit. At the kitchen table where in ten hours the family will gather for Christmas Day brunch. I hear my mother-in-law working on something in the kitchen. My father-in-law has left the Jimmy Stewart classic, though the movie plays on.

From the roof, I hear a thuuuuump

Forgetting for This Now that I have 90,000 words due to my publisher by March. That I have authored 50,000 of these words but have run out of steam and worry about finding the energy to see the project to the end. Forgetting for This Now that I have a revision due for a book chapter, that I am waiting reviewer feedback for an article that is already tainted with a straight desk rejection from another outlet, that I am awaiting feedback on an edited collection proposal that is already tainted with a rejection from another outlet. The writing and rewriting can wait. They don’t serve me in This Now.

In This Now, my wife is one foot from me stuffing a doll and accessories into a burlap bag. I see make-up items for my daughter sitting next to my laptop. In This Now, I feel my stomach full of coffee and pastries. In This Now, my children sleep peacefully, spurred to bed with promises of Santa.

From the chimney, I hear a rattle

Forgetting for This Now that my mom is battling a degenerating back. That she is in such pain that my wife and I are hesitant to bring our crazy young kids around her. That she calls expressing sorrow that she cannot babysit, cannot lift our little dude in and out of his crib. I’ll put my mom’s back to the side. Come to it later. I can’t control it and I choose to sit here in This Now.

In This Now, my father-in-law has returned to the Jimmy Stewart movie. My mother-in-law has left her wrapping and it busy over the stove. My wife is placing a bow on the second burlap sack.

From the fireplace, I see a boot

In This Now, my three young children are suspended in a magical space between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Drifting in this space as the adults labor and prepare. As we all wait full of expectations for what will come.

From the fireplace, a boot and a figure and a sack. Red and white. I see

In This Now, my wife’s voice pulls me from the fireplace. My eyes turn to find her standing in the hallway. She has completed her work. Her beauty warm in the darkened space. A corona of kindness radiating from her presence, pushing against the dark. She has taken out her contacts, glasses perched on her nose, her hair pulled back. She calls me away from my screen and to bed. I take out my earbuds. Step away from my screen. Walk toward her. From behind I hear him work and arrange the presents.

So to bed. As This Now carries forward to the magical space between Eve and Day, a space my children already inhabit and to which I will soon join them.

I leave him to his work with the presents, hearing him eat the cookies my daughter left.

Thankful that tomorrow I can choose This Now again, that I can choose to bring with me that which is needed at this moment and to leave that which is out outside of this space.

My minivan can wait, so can my writing, so can the worry over my mom’s back.

For Now, I am fully here.

From the roof, I feel a lurch.

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New Orleans and Student Learning

With the rattling sounds of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” moving through my head, I navigated the grid of New Orleans’ streets and even attended a few sessions at the annual meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. SACS is one of six regional accreditation organizations. They oversee 13,000 public and private institutions, ranging from preschool to higher ed. My university, the University of North Georgia, reports to SACS.

This is my first time at the annual meeting.

Like my experience at the AAC&U annual meeting, I felt a little out of place here. I’m a couple of notches down the ladder of power than most in attendance. My boss’s, boss’s, boss’s, boss is here for example. That’s the provost of the whole university system. And not delivering a big keynote. Just on a panel at a time in the middle of the day.

It’s mainly a coat and tie conference. I recognize some of my comp/rhet folk here. And they are decked out in suits delivering a talk on student engagement in the writing center.

The exposition hall is not full of Bedford, Pearson, Norton, and other publishers. The expo hall looks like Silicon Valley packaged for higher ed. Young entrepreneurs hawking software packages, bioscan data protection, apps for tracking data. All kinds of start-ups who are not targeting an associate professor like me but my university system provost. Ever wonder where these new initiatives from the upper admins come from? Probably a conference like this.

None of this is a critique. It’s just a different world. But still a conference. A large cavernous conference center—like a casino—no windows, clocks, no easy entrance or exit or easy access to bathrooms and a water foundation and carpet stretching off to infinity.

I sat in on a wonderful session co-offered by Kate McConnell with the AAC&U and Jillian Kinzie Center with the Postsecondary Research, Indiana University.

They were pitching the VALUE Institute. Institutions voluntarily sign up for the Institute to score student work in one of 7 different categories in which AAC&U has created a VALUE rubric:

  • Written communication
  • Quantitative literacy
  • Critical thinking
  • Civic engagement
  • Ethical reasoning
  • Intercultural knowledge and competence
  • Global learning

In total, AAC&U has created 16 VALUE rubrics all available as free download. VALUE = Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education.

The VALUE Institute, a partnership between AAC&U and the Center for Postsecondary Research, collects 100 artifacts (i.e., samples of student work). They also collect demographic information and some information about the assignment/course/source of the work. These artifacts are scored and participating institutions receive data and reports for benchmarking student learning.

The Institute is based on the success of the VALUE Initiative, which ran through 2017. In this pilot-project of sorts, 92 institutions submitted 29k pieces of student work. Upon this work, AACU published On Solid Ground, which shared results from first 2 years of VALUE Initiative data collection.

According to the VALUE Institute’s website, fees and details are as follows

Details About VALUE Institute Participation 2018–2019

Registration: October 15, 2018 – February 22, 2019

Administration Scope: Institutions may choose to assess between 1 and 7 learning outcomes/rubrics, with a maximum of 100 artifacts scored per outcome

Fee for Basic Level: (one outcome & 100 artifacts):$6,000

Basic Level Includes: sampling plan guidance, access to digital platform for submitting student artifacts, selection of one learning outcome with upload of 100 artifacts, scoring of all artifacts by certified VALUE scorers, reporting templates for local reporting, nationwide benchmark reports for context and comparison.

Fee for Each Additional Outcome: $4,000

A decision to opt into this Institute is way above my pay-grade. And UNG is currently overhauling some key general education courses. So the Institute doesn’t align with our local context.

But I have long valued the work of both AAC&U and the Center for Postsecondary Research. I admire the VALUE rubrics and the context in which they were created. And I value authentic assessment of student-learning.

This is an admirable approach to learning more about our students and our teaching and our learning.

Dr. John, running chicken bones through his fingers in contemplative silence, his foot tapping out a beat, might even approve.

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:

Journals:

  • 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

Conferences:

  • 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.