Comedy and Writing

About two years, I interviewed comedian John Crist after his show at the University of North Georgia.

As a writing teacher-researcher, I am fascinated by what writing means for different people and how writing is accomplished for different jobs.

John has developed a strong following with his clean comedy and self-deprecating approach to his Christian upbringing and faith. One of his more watched YouTube bits is titled “Christian Girl Instagram,” a short satirical video of how to post social media content of one’s daily spiritual quiet-time.

My article focused on John was just published by the Journal for the Assembly of Expanded Perspectives on Learning. The full pdf is below. Further down is a link to a Soundcloud clip of my interview with John. Apologies for the 30 second gap near the end; Audacity and I don’t always get along.

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Morning PT at Fort Wainwright

. 0545 HOURS

I’m less than the 200 miles from the Arctic Circle sitting in the passenger seat of an creaky Subaru Outback driven by an Army Major. Major Brian Forester, a West Point and Ranger school graduate, a veteran of three deployments, takes a turn and we pull into the parking lot at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. I step out into the cool morning. We stretch, chat, wait for another Army officer to show up, and then take off on a 4-mile run snaking our way through the base, across bridges, along sidewalks, over the gently rolling Chena River. We chat about admissions processes at West Point, a UNG graduate who was recently killed in Mosul, Iraq, and the merits of a local golf course. I keep up during the four mile run at an 8.30 pace though I have a hunching suspicious that they lessened their pace for my civilian capabilities.

We shower off, eat breakfast, slurp some coffee. By 0830 hours, we in the office. Forester is behind his standing desk, rapidly sending out emails on his computer, thumbing through his iPhone, swigging coffee from his thermos. In less than a month days, he is responsible for coordinating the arrival and training of hundreds of soldiers in his brigade in the Pacific. As he has many times in the past, he will leave his wife and three kids and head off with the Army. This time, however, he isn’t entering a theater of war and will only be gone for three months. Papers are spread across the table in his office; his dry erase board is covered in time lines complete with five different color dry erase markers.

(Chena River; my own pic)

Through navigating a complex web of literate practices, Forester will plan and execute this three month long international joint training exercise. If all goes well, he tells me on our run, then no one will get credit; if things fall a part, then the burden of guilt falls on his shoulders, not his superior’s.

At 0840 hours, the network goes down. With a shake of his head, Forester leaves his office.

Inside a Brigade Headquarters

I’m sitting in an office at Brigade headquarters.

I’m at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska.

I’m closer to Russia and Japan than I am to my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.

I’m 200 miles from the Arctic Circle.

With generous funding from my Department, I’ve traveled thousands of miles to learn what writing is and what it accomplishes within the U.S. Army. More specifically, I wanna know how Major Brian Forester, the Brigade S-3, uses writing to accomplish the many planning and operations that cycle through the 1st Brigade 25th Infantry here in Fairbanks. Major Forester reports directly to a Colonel, one of the three 0-6 Colonels overseeing activities at Fort Wainwright. As I sit in Forester’s office, I watch him coordinate current training exercises to Fort Polk in Louisiana, prepare for training exercises in the around the pacific. From his iPhone, he thumbs through email after email and with a few swipes and taps moves the 4500 soldiers at Fort Wainwright from Here to There.

His office is a collection of literate practices; his conference table covered in timelines; his dry erase board covered in timelines; his desk covered in paper-clipped documents; his wall covered in topographical maps of the immediate area.

Fairbanks, Alaska is an outpost. Not a place people pass through and low on the tourist interest level for Alaska. In Fairbanks, the soaring, majestic peaks of the Chugach Mountains are gone; the coast is gone; the glaciers are gone. The President isn’t making publicity stops in Fairbanks nor are senators or generals. But this Fort, like all Army forts scattered in desolate and populated areas alike, fulfills a critical mission of being on high alert, well-trained and well-equipped for deployment to a theater of war at any moment.

With a collective rallying cry of “Arctic Strong,” this Brigade completes the many tasks and orders circulated through its space. And one of the central nodes for this continued circulation of the office is Major Brian Forester.

What does writing mean to him? How does he accomplish writing and how does writing—in a broadly conceived understanding of this noun and verb—help coordinate the movement of thousands of troops from Alaska to Louisiana to Korea to Australia all in the quest of betterment and all in the quest of strengthening our national security?

FYC Annual Report for the University of North Georgia

In my role as Director of First-Year Composition, I believe it is important for me to prepare and disseminate an annual report that captures the dynamic work of our FYC program and of the FYC Committee (Kendra Bryant, Marc DiMaggio, Kathryn Hinds, and Jim Shimkus).

This AY 16-17 annual report is embedded below.

Reading the report, you will learn that we taught 26% of the entire student population in our first-year writing classes during the fall semester and that we taught 8,785 students during the AY. You will also learn that 1,750 students received a 3 on one of the AP  language tests and, therefore, received the optional to exempt 1101.

You will also learn of professional development opportunities for next AY that I am offering at UNG through the FYC Program such as a teaching circle on antiracist writing assessment practices–using Asao Inoue’s book–and a culled list of recent scholarship from the world of writing studies—including a piece by two of my colleagues (Mary Carney and Laura Ng) from the journal Teaching & Learning Inquiry.

In these Dark Times, transparency, commitment to student learning, and engagement with all university stakeholders may the Light which helps us along the way.

I offer transparency, commitment, and engagement in this report.

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Playing With Fiction

When I had world enough and time (and the drive), I arranged some words into two chapter books for elementary age kids. I wrote the first, Jimmy, Grumple, and the Band of Beavers, long-hand, during the long, hot Oklahoma summers. I remember sitting under a tree on a park bench by the playground and moving words across a yellow legal pad with my blue pen.

At night, I would type up the words, rearranging and editing as the words moved from my legal pad to a Word doc on this brand new Apple desktop my wife and I bought.

I wrote for myself and my son, who was about three months away from making his way into the world. After Maddux was born, I self-published Jimmy through Lulu.com. It sits on my bookshelf now.

I turned my attention to another narrative. Driving through the Oklahoma plains, I had this picture of a fifth grader who could not read–but no one knew he couldn’t. Through trickery, he concealed his literacy struggles from parents and teachers. In 2010, I finished The Boy Who Couldn’t Read, a title which sucks now because of the popularity of Girl/Boy/Man Who titles. But a title I liked at the time.

Below is chapter 12 in all of it’s unedited and unpolished joy. This chapter is about 1/4 of the way into the book. It’s the turning point–kinda like the point in the narrative where the kids discover that the wardrobe goes to Narnia, that a Fellowship will band together to destroy the Ring.

Almost a decade later, I still like it, and look back on this story fondly.

Magic, boys, journeys, reading, forests–I still find hope in these things.

_____________________________________________________

Chapter 12

Damian moved down the ladder and into the large hole in the center of the charred forest floor. His hands held tight to the rungs as he descended. When his foot hit the ground, he could feel like soft sand floor.

He bent down and picked up his wooden bat.

Though he couldn’t see anything, Damian could tell the space he was in was large.  He took a deep loud breath and held out his hand. It disappeared in the dark.  He started walking forward with his baseball bat in front on him like a cane. He moved slow, walking on the sandy floor. His BB gun was propped on his shoulder.  He took steps and kept waiting to run into a wall. But on he walked. And walked. And walked.

He had taken roughly a hundred paces when he turned and looked back at the ladder. A ray of sun jumped down the hole and illuminated the ladder. It stood against the wall of the hole like a safe tower waiting for him to return. He was tempted to run up the ladder and back home. At home he was safe. He could work on his project with Liam and listen to Liam read him a Daredevil comic. The new one just came out and Damian was dying to know if Daredevil would still be leading the Hand and what Daredevil planned to do with the evil Bullesye. But, of course, Liam would have to read to him. Again.

Damian was tired of people reading to him. He was tired of not being able to read on his own. He had never really like Daredevil.  Not really. He had always been a Batman fan. What he really wanted Liam or Stuart to read to him was about Batman, Robin and Arkham Asylum. He wanted to learn more about Bruce Wayne’s journey in time and how Dick Grayson was doing as the new Batman.  But no, he always had to listen to Daredevil.

And then there was Peter his pet turtle. Peter died because Damian could not read the instructions on the medicine. Damian still thought about Peter when he was falling asleep. He could picture Peter with his striped body happily floating in the water. Now Peter was in the ground and never coming back. He asked for another turtle, but his parents suggesting getting a fish instead. Damian yelled some bad words and his parents said that maybe he was not responsible enough for a pet. Two years had passed and Damian was the only kid in the neighborhood without a pet.

These thoughts were in his head as he stared at the safe ladder. He turned and began walking to the ladder when something caught his vision. It was a small glowing globe hanging and dancing in the air like a firefly. The light was orange, brown, white. It changed colors as it glowed. Stunned, Damian moved toward it.  He was staring at it and dropped his bat and gun. His mouth was open. As he moved closer the globe changed shape. It molded itself into a turtle and opened its small mouth.

“Keepcoming,” the mouth spoke in a high-pitched voice.

The mouth changed color: orange, brown, white, and darted down into the dark away from the ladder.

Damian chased the mouth into the dark leaving behind his bat and gun.

Damian ran into the dark. He shoes bounced off the soft sand floor.  He forgot about running into a wall and rushed into the dark after the mouth.

“Keepcoming,” the high-pitched voice spoke. “ Keepcoming.  Goodvitaminsthisway.  Justwhatyou needtofeelbetter.”

Damian ran. He was no longer scared. He trusted the mouth.

Smack!

Damian was on his back. He had run into something. He picked himself up.  The mouth was in front on him.

“Keepcoming,” it spoke.

Damian reached out and his hand touched a cool surface.

“Huh?” he mouthed to himself.

The mouth started quivering and began to make a loud hard noise. It sounded like tires screeching on the pavement. The mouth grew larger. The size of a baseball, the size of a basketball, the size of a beach ball.

The noise continued, and then the mouth exploded.

“Keepcoming!”  it yelled as it burst into bright light illuminating the dark passage.

The light bounced off the sandy floor and the walls, and Damian could see all around him.

The walls were closer than he expected and the ceiling was only three feet above his head. Damian looked all around, and it seemed like he was in an old mine shaft.  Behind him, the dark began again. In front of him, the bright glow from the mouth showed a strange silver ball blocking the entire passage.

This is what I ran into, Damian thought.

The silver ball was spinning rapidly and seemed to be covered in water.

Damian wondered why the mouth said “Keepcoming.”

How can I get past this?  Damian thought. He thought of his bat and his gun but remembered he left then behind.

No way I am going back that way.  No way I am going back into the dark.

Damian walked toward the spinning silver ball. It made a soft humming sound. He reached out his hand toward it and touched the hard wet ball. It was cold and hard.  Damian lightly knocked on it and it rang out. He pushed on the ball but nothing happened.  It kept spinning.

Damian sat on the ground unsure of what to do. He wanted to be home with his toys. He wanted to stare at his ceiling and dream of sailing through space. He wanted to catch night crawlers with his dad and feed them to Peter. He wanted to read by himself about Batman and Batman’s supposed son. What was his name?

“Damian” Damian said to himself.  “Batman’s son is named Damian. That Damian would know what to do”

Angrily, Damian jumped to his feet, ran at the silver spinning ball and stretched out his foot to kick. Right when his foot was about to make contact, it slide into the silver ball. All of Damian’s weight was traveling toward the ball and Damian found himself falling into the strange spinning silver ball.

All color was gone. He could only see silver as he spun around and around inside the strange ball. The loud buzzing sound from before returned, as did the squeeze/release of the invisible hand.

Damian was spun around and around. He tried to scream but no words came out. His voice was gone and the water from the spinning ball filled his lungs.  Around and around.  Buzzing. Squeeze/release. He tried to stand but couldn’t.

“Oi!”

Damian heard a quick noise.

“Oi there!”

A little man sailed next to Damian.  He was short and bald.  On his head he had a strange mark that looked like a question mark.

“Oi!  Drink this!” The man said holding out a little vial.  The man was not spinning but seemed to be standing on solid ground.

Spinning around and around Damian tried to grab the vial but couldn’t.

The little man laughed.

“So sorry. Here!”  He tossed the liquid out at Damian. Damian could feel a warm thick liquid cover him. And slowly he stopped spinning

He was lying on his back inside the silver spinning ball. He tried to stand but was still too dizzy. The ball continued to spin but Damian was still.

The inside of the ball grew to life. The wet silver walls turned into trees, houses, paths, people. A whole world opened up inside the ball. Damian closed his eyes and opened them again. There was no sign of the walls of the strange silver spinning ball. Instead Damian seemed to be in strange village.

He looked around and saw the people. They looked like regular people but their heads were large. Some heads were so large that the people were not able to stand but had to crawl around on the ground. All had a strange question mark on their foreheads.

Damian looked at the little bald man in front of him who now held an empty vial.

“Where am I?” Damian asked.

“Oi!  Welcome to Carver City!”

 

 

A Decade with “Thunder Road”

I first listened to Bruce Springsteen in my mother-in-law’s white Mazada Miata as I made the drive from Covington, Georgia to Auburn, Alabama one summer day in 2007. I can’t remember why I was driving her car, but it was planned out in advance. My car at the time didn’t have a CD player, and I remember hitting up my local record store to find something to listen to for the two-hour drive.

I knew Bruce Springsteen; everyone knows Bruce Springsteen. But I never intentionally sought out his stuff and only knew the tracks that bounced around the walls of Waffle House at 2am in the morning as people slopped up their food and headed outside to fire up a heater.

I saw the cover of Bruce’s Nebraska, grabbed it, and paid my $5. I was on I-85 near Newnan when the haunting harmonic and growling lyrics of the opening track, “Nebraska,” hit me. Sweet Jimminy, that’s a powerful track. A powerful album. And nothing like I expected.

Image result for nebraska bruce springsteen cover

I bought Born to Run after Amy and I were planted in Auburn and I was a semester into graduate school. The opening track, “Thunder Road,” haunts me a decade later and forms moments of my life.

A moment: I really started listening to the record on long bike rides around the rural outskirts of Auburn. Amy and I were entering our second year of marriage. No kids, no mortgage, no real commitments except to each other and our cat, Jake. And my attempt at grad school. With Bruce’s opening lines, my mind always turned to Amy on these rides.

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey, that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling, you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore

I picture Amy in a sun dress, whirling and dancing. She doesn’t listen much to Roy Orbison, but I could see her swaying in the wind to Otis Redding, to Van Morrison. Amy was my first serious girlfriend in college. I was a withdrawn nerd, focused on school and uninterested in chasing the social scene. I went to class, went home and read, played some Nintendo. I was lonely  and Amy brought me out. We married, moved into the town where her parents lived and where she grew up, and then, just a year later, I convinved her to move to Alabama with me. Amy to Alabama. Amy who had never lived outside of Georgia. We made the journey and would make many more moves.

Well now, I ain’t no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey, what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well, the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks

Oh oh, come take my hand
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road
Oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road

A moment: When we moved to Oklahoma, we found ourselves in a similar situation. No kids, no mortgage, no real commitments except to each other and our cat, Jake. But things were getting more serious. More Adult. We had a kid on the way; we were looking to buy a house; I was starting a PhD program. Our first summer in Oklahoma was long and hot and lonely. We were about to become parents and were starting to get scared. So I wrote. I went outside, sat by the local playground under the shade and wrote—in longhand with a blue pen—a children’s book about a boy who couldn’t read.

Bruce’s line formed an epigraph:

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night

This little throw-away line in the opening stanza of the song still hits me and links up with the memory of writing my first children’s book and ideas that ground who I am and how I approach the world: faith, magic, night.

The lined grabbed me then, and still grabs me.

That long hot summer, I felt the magic of the night as I typed up the words I wrote by hand during the day, as a pregnant wife rested on the sofa, as Cardinals’ baseball games played through our speakers.

At night, we would dream about who our soon-to-be-born kid would be, how we would re-make our lives in Oklahoma. Our faith grew strong as we hoped in those still Oklahoma nights.

A moment: two days ago, my wife went to run errands. We are back in Georgia now. We are surrounded by three kids. We got a house, two cars; I got a real job. We are full on Adults, freaky as that may be. And Bruce came into my mind.

My daughter, Darcy, was sitting at the kitchen table. Our little one was asleep, and the big one—the one who inspired my first children’s book—was off somewhere. I was making lunch, and put “Thunder Road” on the Spotify. The soft opening lines, the steady crescendo, and the heartfelt lyrics.

Darcy was digging it.

I shouted the lyrics and she did a little wiggly dance at her seat.

The song doesn’t quit. It doesn’t resort back to a chorus, a bridge, a hook. It just runs through, steadily gaining steam until the cheesy, but powerful, final line:

It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win

Strong narratives connect with us at multiple levels and at multiple points and places in our lives. This song has hit me when I was newly married, with one kid on the way, with three kids here.

And it will hit me in moments soon to come.

Faculty Writing Groups

In a few hours, I will lead the final workshop of AY 2016-2017 under the newly launched Write@UNG intiative. Supported by UNG’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership and the Office of Research, Economic Development, and Community Engagement, the I led six workshops to encourage and support faculty research and writing.

I operate this initiative through three central goals:

Connect

Cultivate

Create

This is what we do when we write, when we write with others, and when we write for others and ourselves.

Today’s workshop focuses on the importance of writing groups–how to sustain them, how to support them (financially), and why they are helpful.

My material for this workshop is on Slides.com. 

Thanks to my colleague, Dr. Diana Edelman, for joining me. She helped start the writing group WriteIN, which meets every Friday on the Gainesville campus from 1-5. I joined the group a couple of years past. We write, talk, and listen to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” to end our time together.

 

Thankful for Meaningful

I opened my office door early this morning. On my desk sat a copy of The Meaningful Writing Project: Learning, Transfer, and Writing in Higher Education. (as a side note: much love for a department that buys books for me).

The Meaningful Writing Project.

Michele Eodice, Anne Ellen Geller, and Neal Lerner have worked tirelessly on this book for about a decade, and it is heartening to see the work of people you admire come to (published) fruition.

I’m also heartened to see a project I helped along come to fruition. I was in the middle of my PhD at Oklahoma when Michele wrangled me into filling out some electronic IRB forms, browsing countless books and articles to see if any one has written on meaningful. I particularly remember browsing Haswell and Haswell’s Hospitality and Authoring and wondering why Michele picked this book. What does this book have to do with the Meaningful Writing Project? (turns out, it doesn’t have much to do with it; the book doesn’t appear in the references).

I’ve been around this important research project for five years, peeked at their poster presentation at CCCC in 2015, and browsed the first couple of chapters.

Here’s what I appreciate:

  • The fun that comes on page xi, which shows a student’s response to the survey question about meaningful writing. The student authored his response in pig latin and included a translation website. Michele, Anne, and Neal reproduce his response in full. On their first page.
  • There data collection methods: surveyed over 10,000 students at three different schools: University of Oklahoma, St. John’s, and Northeastern. Over 700 responded.
  • 27 one-on-one interviews with seniors; 60 one-on-one interviews with faculty. Undergrad co-researchers conducted the interviews with training and supporting and financial support from Michele, Anne, and Neal.
  • The rad infographics that come at the end of the first chapter and show data collection points.
  • The clarity of their findings. Given early for the reader: meaningful writing projects offer students opportunities for agency; for engagement with instructors, peers, and materials; and for learning that connects to previous experiences and passions and to future aspirations and identities” (4).
  • And my favorite data nugget: 79% reported they had never written anything similar to their meaningful writing project before.

I’ve talked with my chair about bringing Anne to UNG. We landed on a date, but the date didn’t work with Anne. My chair and I are heading back to the proverbial drawing board to get some more dates.

Hopefully Anne can come and talk with my 93 colleagues in the English Dept about meaningful writing.

I’m thankful for research that helps us see the world of writing and reading and learning through our students’ eyes.

Collegiality is the thing

I’m lazy. I didn’t feel like driving forty minutes to work today. Luckily, the Board of Regents for Georgia keeps growing the University of North Georgia. We got five campuses spread across northeast Georgia.

I didn’t want to drive to Dahlonega. So I drove the ten minutes to the Gainesville campus.

Outside, the April weather was turning nasty. Heavy clouds walking across the sky and Zeus slinging lightning bold causing a ripple of thunder to bounce through the air.

At the Gainesville campus, I made time to sit in on two first-year composition courses. In my role as director of first-year comp, I want to be in the classroom and get a feel for what is going on, how instructors instruct, how students student.

I planned on observing two classes, writing up a report, and then hitting the road to the Oconee campus for more meetings, more talking, more learning.

Zeus got extra aggressive with this temper tantrum, so I decided to stay put.

Zeus has been making April the cruelest month for eons before Eliot penned that line.

Since I was staying put in Gainesville, I made it to the English department coffee chat. My colleague, Karen Dodson, interviewed another one of my colleagues, Lev Butts, about editing memoirs. Some in the department baked cookies; our student assistant brought coffee and tea.

And here is collegiality. It’s kinda like that abstract chemistry thing sports pundits like to opine about when talking about why one talented team tanks and another soars. Gotta be chemistry, right?

In higher ed, we got a chemistry department. Literally. We don’t talk about chemistry; we talk about collegiality.

That’s the grease that helps the department pistons churn, powering the engine, driving us forward.

It’s not a given. Some department don’t got it.

And I am thankful for a department that does.

I had a great conversation with Lev in his office about Eliot, tarot cards, and Audible.com.

I had a great talk with Shannon Gilstrap about the department’s website.

I got a great hug from Steve Pearson who gives the best hugs. It’s empirically proven.

When the Power That Be decided the weather was too gnarly for classes to continue, they pulled the plug. Classes cancelled at 1pm.

I hung around for a bit.

I talked with Matthew Boedy about public scholarship and Jesuits.

I talked with Chris Bell about Bob Dylan.

These moments of conversations, passing hallway chats, flow together and form a Department.

I’m drawn to a life as professor for many reasons: but one I keep coming back to is the joy I get being around bright, driven, committed people with a wide variety of interests.

Some of the moments that stick with me as I drive home are the serendipitous hallway conversations about orchids, Sun Ra, metal, Ozzy, World War I, Texas A&M football, nuns. All these conversations that radiate through the halls, that animate our faculty, that show pure curiosity for the sake of curiosity, learning for the love of learning.

As the building emptied, I found a chair and sat. Outside the rain was leaping toward the ground; Zeus was thundering above.

I looked around. The five-story building was empty.

I put my coat on, ready to step into the rain, and thinking that my colleague is probably right. Dylan’s Tempest is pretty dark.

I don’t know how to teach writing

Hey. Yeah. Hey. Come here for a sec. Let’s chat real quick.

Here, have a seat. Want something to drink? Got this drip coffee going. Sure beats Kcups. Want some?

So here’s what I gotta get off my chest. Are you ready?

I don’t really know how to teach writing.

Sorry you couldn’t hear me. Let me whisper just a bit louder. Bon Iver is hollering away in the background. Stop stirring your coffee for a moment.

I don’t know, I don’t really know how to teach writing.

Yea, yea. I’ve done it for ten years. I’ve done it at the middle grades, high school, and college level. Yea, I know I’m a writing tutor for a tenth grader and oversee over 200 sections of writing classes at the college level. I don’t need you to recap my cv for me.

This is just me speaking honestly, to you, in this quiet space, over a cup of coffee.

Let’s keep this between us. Don’t put these thoughts online.

My first college writing class was back at Auburn around 2008. It was a section of first-year composition. I taught a themed course on animation. We had fun but there wasn’t much quality writing instruction. We spent too much time thinking about animation and not enough time thinking about rhetoric. I remember spending a whole class talking about cels—and not the kind with two l’s.

I fumbled my way through an expository writing class when I was in the PhD program at Oklahoma, and I fumbled my way through a honors section of composition, also. I did a lot of fumbling. But I also did a lot of reading, writing, and thinking about how to teach writing. I attended the conferences, read the journals, tried the best practices.

There’s more to say about my teaching past: a student in one of my sections committed suicide over spring break; one semester, inspired by Karen Kopelson’s 2003 CCC  article, I decided to be open with students about my religious, political, and sexual beliefs. That bombed as several students directly told me that they believed I was going to mark them down becase of contrary beliefs. One semester, I had 20 of the 25 send me Facebook friend requests at the end of the semester. One semester ended and there were still students who I didn’t know in my class. I never knew their names. And they didn’t know mine.

As I was preparing to graduate with my PhD in writing studies, I read through Geoffrey Sirc’s review essay in CCC while sitting on a sofa in the writing center. He opens brazenly and pessimistically: “Teaching writing is impossible.” Oh, yes, Dr. Sirc.

But I persisted. And here is where I am now. I’ve been teaching Wardle and Downs’s book Writing About Writing for the past five years. I taught the first, second, and now third edition of the book. I’m all in with this idea of introducing students to the field of writing studies and exploring what writing is and how it is accomplished across various rhetorical situations.

And to this WAW pedagogy, I’ve added some elements of the writing-transfer pedagogy. I’m all in with that, too. Sure, I know the nuances between Teaching for Transfer and WAW. I’ve published and blogged on transfer. I’ve read the books and attended the workshops. I’ve even led professional development workshops on transfer for my first-year composition teachers.

For the past three years, I have cruised along nicely. I’ve believed that how I teach is grounded in research and national consensus documents like the WPA Outcomes Statement, v 3.0 and the Framework For Success in Postsecondary Writing.

I’ve been of the mind that if we can point to this research and these documents, then the Powers That Be will understand that what we are doing in FYC is important, rigorous.

But there is always the counter-argument lurking. And I found it.

In the Feb 17 issue of CCC, Eli Goldblatt writes, “the contemporary conversations about teaching to transfer . . . have oriented the discussion about writing instruction too narrowly around school success and professional preparation . . . I am suggesting that when we focus so much on professional and theoretical understandings of writing instruction . . . we can forget the importance of two impulses that compel writers: the desire to speak out of your most intimate experiences and to connect with communities in need” (441-442).

Hear that? That is exactly what I am doing with my words right now. I am not talking to you in hopes of preparing to Enter the Work Force and Make American Great Again. I’m talking to you out of this innate drive to communicate, to form words, to form community.

Man, this Bon Iver track is good.

Do you want a refill? They’re free. No? Ok.

Huh. I read that Goldblatt piece just a few days ago over a cup of coffee. I was meeting a buddy for a 7pm run and was burning some time. Nothing like swigging some coffee and reading composition pedagogy work.

And I remember leaving the coffee place—it’s Inman Perk in Gainesville—and walking to my car and thinking, well, crap, now what? As if my commitment to WAW and Teaching for Transfer is suddenly shot and I gotta rethink my own classroom and I gotta rethink the curriculum I am crafting for the 8000 students who take FYC at UNG and I gotta rethink the professional development workshops I am running and I gotta rethink my political and social outlook and I gotta rethink rethink rethink.

The last was a stretch, but I was doing some serious rethinking. And I brought this rethinking with me along 7 miles of running.

But here’s the thing. Let me say this one thing and we can get out of here. I know you got a family to get back to.

That’s the thing with learning, right? Not to sound all Confucius on a Mountaintop, but that is the thing, right? The ongoing learning and relearning and learning and relearning. We ain’t ever going to get there but we keep on keeping on. Right?

There’s not The Way to teach writing.

Every time I walk into a classroom with twenty or so people with full lives and full life experiences, I can’t default back to The Way To Teach Writing.

We do messy, recursive and discursive work together. We learn together. We change together. We think together. And we talk about audience, purpose, exigence, and kairos.

Maybe I become a better teacher when I confess to you, over this cup of coffee in this place here and now, that I don’t know what I am doing. Maybe it is this insecurity that pushes me to be vulnerable. And in that space of vulnerability, I reach to get better.

Maybe I am learning, too?

Let’s go. Some one starting playing Mumford and Sons. I’ll leave the tip.