You test, I write

While you are taking the test today, I thought I’d write you a quick note about my thoughts on teaching. A top ten list of reasons why I teach–that’s it.

I teach because…

10. I meet new people every single semester who are amazing and remarkable and unique. What a great job.

9. I love to read with a group. I love to read with others. I love listening to what students think and feel about a text–how it works for them or doesn’t.

8. I get to write. I love to write. I love to write almost anything on any paper, in any genre, anywhere, anytime. It’s the act of communication through text (and visuals) that makes me who I am–I write; therefore, I am.

7. I learn something new every semester. I never teach the same exact class twice. Never. Never have; never will.

6. I discover things about myself. I often wondered what kind of person I was… and often I couldn’t articulate that very well. Now I can. I am a teacher. That’s a grand thing to be able to say. I teach. When people ask me what I teach, I say: “I teach everything I can.”

5. I witness writers being born. I see my students change who they are as writers from emerging to proficient to magnificent. They never cease to astound me.

4. I am surrounding by questing. I love the hero’s journey, and I am in the midst of this many heroes’ journeys every term: ___________. (fill in the number of students I teach each semester)

3. I’m never bored. I am always intrigued by someone or something so that there is never a moment of my life when I think: “I’m so bored.” Boredom never haunts me since I decided to teach.

2. I’m valued. I know that what I do makes a real difference in the lives of my students–sometimes I can see that difference happening, I hear about it; sometimes, not so much. But I know, and I am honored by such knowledge. Such a position in this life is a privilege.

1. I am a Transformer. Metaphorically. I get to change who I am and what I think about every semester. I never lose my core, but with what I teach, each new way of teaching I attempt, each new text I suggest needs reading or writing, I move from being a snazzy yellow Camaro with black racing stripes to BumbleBee, a great warrior among the Autobots, and then transform again whenever I need to–what power, what joy. I am a Transformer. Metaphorically.

 

Hating on the weasel

I don’t like weasels. Nearly everything about weasels gives me the creeps, including the nursery rhyme, “Pop! Goes the Weasel.” Think about it. Honestly. Yuck.

It is always hard for me to read the Annie Dillard essay, “Living Like Weasels.” And it’s not just because weasels give me the willies; I also associate the actual weasel with being a “weasel” (a liar, a cheat, full of treachery) and “weasel words” (duplicitous and/or deceitful terms). Even the way we refer to groups of weasels is frightening: confusion, pack, sneak, and gang of weasels. (And even though Arthur Weasley’s patronus is a weasel, I can’t get past the general nature of what I have perceives as the weasel.) When I first saw Gita Dasbender’s chapter in Writing Spaces on this Dillard essay, I thought: “I can’t do it; I can’t read this.”

(By the by, if you ever thought you might want a mink fur coat, you might reconsider: minks are weasels, and that’s not the least of the reasons you might re-think your decision.)

But I had to read Dasbender’s chapter for my work. Period. I don’t always get to pick what I want to do… and I accept that. But weasels. Holy mother of pearl.

However, I did get a lot from Dasbender’s take on how Dillard writes and how I can read her essay for writing advice and to think about critical thinking. That helped me get over my revulsion. I’m not into living like weasels–and the description is downright bloody–but I do find the following statement compelling and intriguing: “I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical senses and the dignity of living without bias or motive.”

I am typically “into” mindfulness, mindful living–awareness, kindness, breathing deeply, weaving ideas, letting it all wash over me, I’m the water, not that rock–but I understand the desire to lose desire that is motivated by desire rather than purity–just filling one’s belly because of hunger, just sleeping because one is tired could be the purity Dillard is referring to–and if so, then I get it. I just really don’t want that all the time, or this is more likely: I cannot get over the weaselness of Dillard’s work. And that’s it.

If I had only read Dillard’s essay and not Dasbender’s tips on reading to learn about thinking/writing, then I might have just wandered past my above thinking and put the weasel essay in tray #13 (the trash), but instead, Dasbender’s thoughtful questions about thinking as I was reading moved me to a better analysis of what I was doing.

Now I want to write a personal response to the weasel essay–a sixth-paragraph-like essay that explores my fears about rodent-like creatures and my reaction to weasels and fur coats.

Now I feel more prepared to take something that might begin as a personal narrative (about my fur and beast fears) and turn that into an essay about the fear of writing that I work with all the time with students (fear is fear is fear–understanding and overcoming fear is a writing teacher’s job… always). I could unpack my thinking about my personal fears and search for information on why people fear writing, figuring out examples of what writing-fear looks like, tips on how to get rid of it–or at least, cut it off at the pass.

Now I want to write more. I want to be a reader of other essays that, as Dasbender describes, are “clear, compelling writing”; I want to be “riveted by critical thinking that produces a movement of ideas.” Though the weasel essay does not leave me comfortable (in fact, even writing about it irritates me), I am aware of how much I love to write, am driven to write, how my personal writing leads to academic writing, how critically thinking about what a writer does can move me to being a better writer myself.

…at least that’s my hope, because there better be a good payoff for having had to read about weasels one more time.

Never just one story

When I think about my own “Who I Am” story, I’m overwhelmed because there are so many. I could never just tell one anymore. I’m too old mature complex for any one thing to define me. And maybe I always was. We are never, really, ever just one thing. So it might not be an living-a-long-time thing but rather a human thing–each of us is complex and delicately put together in fine and elaborate ways. How could one story reveal who we are?

Yet each story that makes up who we are is important. That’s my takeaway from the Chimamanda Adichie video from Ted.com: “The Danger of a Single Story,” and the essay in Writing Spaces by Catherine Ramsdell. We need to understand that complexity exists in every person, every culture, embrace it, and encourage others to do all that, too.

There is never just one story, or rarely so. I like to think that if I knew someone all my life, I would never know everything about that person–always stories could inform how we knew one another. As humans, we try to define some things about ourselves everything we meet someone new–and are forced to do this in some educational situations. Each moment we attempt this, we may find out something new about ourselves. Hence, we write, we talk, we share, we draw, we snap photos, we paint, we draw, we see ourselves in art.

Now that is a benefit that supports my personal educational mission: know yourself, who you were, who you are, and all the possibilities for who you can be. And fight the powers that might dictate that you conform to being all about just one story.

I was here

Graffiti. You’d think it was something new to the spray paint era but not so.

When I first went to college, there was a graffiti “artist” who wrote phrases all over the campus bathrooms and signed them: “The Righteous Fist.” Who this artist was or whether the Fist was female or male, or if there were multiple fists, I don’t recall anyone knowing… I just recall some general chat about the Fist’s existence and pithy messages around campus. I suspect that, had the Fist access to social media, he/she might have had quite a following via Twitter or Facebook.

Graffiti in Pompeii, Italy, an ancient city which existed long before I attended college for the first time (ha), was littered with the scratchings of the graphomaniacal. How do I know Pompeii had graffiti? Mt. Vesuvius blew up and covered the city with ash, preserving it, very intact, for modern inspection and study. I even remember hearing/reading about someone in ancient Greece complaining about the graffiti on the city walls of Athens.

A boyfriend once carved my name and his into a rock at Ocean Beach in California–with a plus sign in the middle of our names. I mean he carved the rock with a heavy-duty ice-pick thing and a hammer. It was a laborious endeavor taking two trips to the beach and much patience on my part. I was, after all, bored by the experience in some ways–I wanted his attention right then, and probably was not properly grateful for his gift at the time. Now I sort of like the idea of his having done that though I’m sure it was probably illegal.

I wrote on a fence in the Grand Canyon that I was there while on a family trip when I was young. I’m sure this was illegal.

I have legally written on walls in a bar, a restaurant, and several bathrooms where graphomaniacism was encouraged by the establishment owners handing out pens for exactly that use.

All over the world, folks who lived through WWII would still recognize the phrase: “Kilroy was here” and the accompanying graffiti. And perhaps those of us who still love Looney Tunes or reading history of the strange and intriguing.

There’s even graffiti in the Taj Mahal (that seems so wrong). It’s a World Heritage site–all WH sites should be a graffiti-free zones.

Taj Mahal Graffiti (from the Smithsonian Magazine, 9/2011; photo by Alex Masi)

The act of creating graffiti is as old as dirt and everywhere still (cave paintings or rock carvings, perhaps, could be called the first graffiti!). It’s vandalism. Or is it?

We, as humans, seem to need to write, or tell stories, or make a mark of some kind that indicates “we were here,” or “this” is what we knew. Somehow, we must leave some textual/visual legacy or signpost that we existed.

There is a long history of humans being graphomaniacal (a term I just love to write and say aloud–thank you, Jonathan Price and Karen Stern–check out the NPR story on them and their work). I hink my blog writing is graphomaniacal in some ways, especially when I’m writing a lot and writing in multiple blogs–some times I feel like I’m writing nonstop for weeks on end… Facebook definitely feeds that tendency; and if I ever bothered with Twitter, that would also substitute for: “I was here”; “Jen + Joe 4ever”; “I hate bumper stickers” or whatever.

I hadn’t thought much about graffiti lately, until we had to pick an image that was something about the self… an image self-portrait. I found myself wondering about one of my favorite photos:

Ponte Vecchio Graffiti (photo by E.D. Woodworth, 2007)

I was traveling in Florence and the surrounding area in 2007 when I found myself on the Ponte Vecchio may times. The first time I was on the bridge, I paused to look around and stopped near one of the arches, I glanced about me to check out the details. I was stunned to see each pillar was covered with graffiti. What? This was Florence. But there it was. I realized then that I was connected to the rest of world in ways I had never understood. It was me and the Righteous Fist, together, on this bridge over the Arno River, our connection spanning twenty years. It was me and every tagger or street artist hanging together in Italy. It was me and every political protester walking the Medieval streets and alleyways in Florence. It was me and all humanity who struggled in the past, or who might still struggle, to find a voice when a voice may be denied. I was part of humanity, a species who wanted to define itself publicly in some way, even if perceived as destructive by some.

Wow.

I am less compelled these days to write on public property or on the sides of buildings or walls, and much less impressed by anyone who would carve up nature for my benefit, but I do dream of engaging in street art one day: creating a pre-approved mural based on an abstract industrial landscape on the side of a building or a freeway on/off-ramp. I can dream.

This photo reminds me that I am never alone, that my desire to be known (and loved anyway perhaps) is overwhelming and something I don’t think about very often but which is at the core of my life, personal and professional.

Welcome to English Honors Composition!

Welcome to Honors Composition at Auburn University at Montgomery!

Here is our blog for the year. You’ll be able to find things here related to our class, your projects, your writing, my projects, my writing (I’m the teacher: Dr. E.D. Woodworth). At various times, you’ll all be guest bloggers on this site–and all your blogs and online work will be linked here.

We’ll be doing a variety of writing over the course of the year in ENGL 1017 and ENGL 1027–Honors Composition. Stay tuned for the details!