Rocking Halloween in an information literacy class

Today, we are sitting in the AUM library taking an information literacy class about how to search through databases, Google scholar, how to find images, videos, books, articles, and more. We started our information search for Civil Rights (CR) playlists by just searching online in Google, Bing, Wikipedia, etc. We began where we needed to begin–with everything in the world online. Now we have specifics: either a specific event that occurred or the overall CR (depending on which part each of us decided to work on first). We also have some songs and/or artists chosen, such as Phil Ochs, Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte, and so on. (Anything in bold below is work due on Nov. 2–so read on and take note.)

We even get our own research guide to help us continue our research projects. Amazing what we can do nowadays. Sheesh. It’s so the 21st Century.

Our Own ENGL 1017 Research Guide from AUM's Library: ROCKIN'

We’ve begun our information search, and it’s time to think about filter bubbles, so we’ll be watching this video next to understand how internet search engines may be limiting what you have access to immediately when you search through Google, Yahoo, Bing, or whatever. Check this out TED talk for homework and blog 300 words by Wed. Nov. 2: Eli Pariser on Whether Pariser is entirely right or not, I think his talk bears thinking about. Specifically, we need to consider a more active determination to seek information, rather than letting information come to us, especially if it’s being filtered. We need to search deeper in the libraries of the world, through databases, through scholarly sites, to gather more, to know more, to be better informed–to be a better writer for our readers.

We’ll dig around the library again for a class period on Nov. 7 and/or 9, but we’ll meet first in class both times. I’ll let you know if and how we’ll do this, but be aware that this might be a class thing we do.

NOW you’ve read James Purdy’s article and Randall McClure’s articles… And taken an information literacy class. For homework–please blog about your experiences in the information literacy class from today and talk about how it extends your learning from those two articles. Talk about what you learned in this class, what was new to you, what surprised you, what was “old hat,” how you have decided to work on research in ways that are different than you have before (I hope!). Due Nov. 2: 300 words.

Also on Nov. 2, you’ll need to have posted something on a playlist page or as a blog post and be able to talk about what’s up with your last two big projects–either one that you are beginning with (either is okay to start with). You’ll have books, articles, visuals, and more that you will have found to share… I’m so excited about the possibilities for these two projects. I think you’ll be very proud of the work you end up doing: it’s the chance to be innovative, creative, and yet remember what’s been so we don’t do the bad stuff again.

As we are working through this class, I realize all over again how powerful it is to know how to search through a library. The libraries of the world are still the most important places in our culture–the best places to find out about history, literature, art, music, and beyond in every discipline ever. Images, recordings, illustrations, home movies–these are all things you will find in archives, in libraries–places where these things do not exist anywhere else. It’s awesome and daunting and miraculous and amazing. Say thank you to the librarians of the world who have collected and preserved and annotated and cataloged and digitized all of this. “Thank you, librarians!”

NOT everything is on the web, nor is it reliable on the web, not always, anyhow. So love your library. But still love the web. I love the web, too–it’s freeing and open and getting more so all the time, but it doesn’t have everything yet. It will. I know it will.

Still. I love coming to the library. If I worked in this building, I’d never get any work done… I’d be poking around on databases and in stacks all day. I’d so get fired. Once I worked for a library at the circulation desk, shelving books. I took loaded carts to the appropriate location in the library to re-shelve. Usually, this task might take a student working about an hour or an hour and a half, at the most. I took several hours sometimes. I checked out the contents of the books before I shelved them. Then I looked at the books surrounding them once they were back on the shelf. Sometimes, I’d just sit on the floor and read for a few minutes. It was deeply wrong, I know, and I knew it then, but books were like crack. I couldn’t put them up without looking at them… I was addicted. I was fired after three weeks. Well. I wasn’t fired, I was re-assigned to work behind the desk checking books out to library patrons. I was the slowest one on staff. Why?

Because I looked at all the books people were checking out and said things like, “Hmmmmm, this looks great” or “I never knew this author wrote that book” or “Wow, what major are you? This looks like a fun topic.” Again, I got a talking to from the circulation librarian, who really liked me, but who was beginning to understand I was not cut out to work in a library. I stayed at the library at Boise State University for about a month–just enough time to know where everything was, to learn about a variety of books in multiple disciplines, learn how to search for ANYTHING, and find every nook cranny with intriguing things (music, movies, realia, and more–OH, and special collections–be still my heart), and to scope out all the truly great study locations.

We parted friends, me and the librarian, at least I thought so, though I often detected a slight twitch in her right upper eyelid every time we met after that. She smiled, but it looked like it hurt just a little bit.

I loved that job. But the job I really wanted was “reader.” I wanted to be paid to read books and learn and gather information and share and all that. I wanted that job.

And I got it. I’m a college professor.

And I’m teaching a class where all of you get to do all of that. Ah. Heaven.


Strange fruit, I never knew

“Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday is a song about lynching. I used to think it was about strange fruit, but no, it’s about bodies hanging from trees. I remember when I first realized how lynchings happened, what they were, and why they happened. I went to the National Civil Rights Movement museum in Memphis in the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It was eerie and strange going there to begin with, but when I saw pictures of lynchings, I was horrified. I had never really been around violence, seen violence in person, or understood the reality of it. I grew up in a quiet middle class neighborhood in California sheltered from most of the evils of the world. I moved from place to place, again sheltered from the storms.

When I visited this museum in Memphis and learned about something like 3,000 lynchings in the South, I was stunned.  Not just in the South, but that’s what the museum showed: about 1,700 in the South. I am disturbed by this form of killing for some reason–it’s a pre-mediated thing. One must have the rope already for the lynching, it’s not like a shoot out or a sword fight. And lynching also seems as if it must be done as a gang against one other person–a mob rule thing, always unpleasant and always frightening.

Now I live in Alabama. I visited the Civil Rights Memorial Museum in downtown Montgomery when I first moved here and knew I was going to teach a class on the Civil Rights and music at some point. I just knew it. In fact, I had two friends visit within the first three weeks of my move and I took them both to that museum, and after the second visit, I wrote notes about what I was going to teach and how I was going to do it and how it was going to be this big exploratory thing. I knew it was going to happen. I knew in my heart I was supposed to be here for some reason. That is surely one of the reasons I am here.

Whatever this class experience becomes, it will be colored by my understanding of this uncomfortable song and its uncomfortable message.

If I could have said this…

If I could have said anything to myself before I finished college, based on the commencement speeches we just watched, it would be:

  • Never fear, you will always be surprised.
  • Plan, but plan on changing.
  • Be open, embrace difference.
  • Be one with serendipity.
  • Work at what you love, not what you think you should do.
  • Never lie to yourself, you are not good at lying.
  • Avoid failure, it can almost kill you.
  • But if it happens, act like you’ve been there before and keep your dignity.
  • Redefine who you are whenever this seems right.
  • Do not let your jobs define you; define your jobs.
  • Perhaps your dreams are bad dreams: “Thankfully, dreams can change.”
  • “You cannot win improv”: collaboration is what matters.
  • Serve what you love, and you will have love.
  • Be great, no pressure.
  • Be sure you get rid of all your incompletes.

University education… it’s all it’s cracked up to be. I’m so glad I did it.

And I’m so glad I learned to write. And I’m so glad I started writing again. And I’m so glad I’m this teacher, teaching this class, this semester, doing this very writing now.

On being a writer for one year

Last year about this time, I decided I’d write at least 1,000-2,000 words every week in a blog. I didn’t come close some weeks, but other weeks, I cranked out 8,000 or more. Sometimes it was great, or it felt that way. Sometimes it was awful, or it felt that way. I found that I tended to be repetitive and use the same words and phrases. I would get tired and cranky and not finish a post. Sometimes I would just trash something I was working on because I got fussy. Once last spring, I was so ugly about some things going on that I detached from the web entirely for about a week: no email, no Facebook, no blogging, no nothing. I scared more than one person (not my intention), but it was something of a vacation that I needed. Being too plugged in has it’s drawbacks–as some of you know too well.

I still wrote in a notebook, even though I detached from the web. I have about seven that are currently going. I have one for this class that I haven’t worked in much–though I have taken some good notes in it. I have one that I’ve been very dedicated to for about a year or so. Many parts of blog posts or other things (academic-like articles) were born in that notebook. It’s one of the most important to me of all the notebooks I’ve had for years. I don’t use it as much right now because it’s falling apart and getting full, but I like it. I had dozens of notebooks years ago but lost a lot of them in a flood. (When I lived in Texas, I lived through a flood and at least five tornadoes–one through my backyard, and, well, Texas in general. I heard someone once say, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.” Here’s another one: “I’d rather walk through Hell in a gasoline suit than live in Texas.” Why so negative? See the above about the flood and tornadoes. Or did I mention that I was attacked by a cow once? I was. Or at least, I was threatened.)

So I’m writing, writing, writing, all that time. I was partly writing because of a friend of mine said, “You have lots of great ideas, you should write about those in a blog.” And I thought, why don’t I do that? I’ve been writing for years and never doing much with it. I was just a writer. I never had time to publish a whole lot, though I have a couple short stories and poems floating out there somewhere, and I wrote for the Desert Business Journal in Palm Springs for awhile in exchange for gift certificates for dinner, oh, and I almost forgot, I published as Ed Woodworth in a few aviation magazines. I actually sent off the essays as E.D. Woodworth, and was accepted as Ed, and paid as Ed (I think they really wanted to believe I was a man since I was writing about general aviation and public relations). I think Ed Woodworth is fabulous. I even have some college friends who still call me Ed.

It feels right to write so much (whoever I am!). Like the flood gates were opened just about the time the dam was going to bust and the writing is like a blessed relief. I never thought of it that way prior to this, but letting the writing exist somewhere is better than keeping it closed up in a notebook for no one but me. Who does that serve? Only me. And while I do believe the world revolves around me to some extent (my mother always said that sort of thinking was a major character flaw), I do understand that, as a teacher, I am supposed to teach things: engagement, curiosity, flexibility, responsibility, summary, analysis, interpretation, synthesis. I’m also supposed to make my classes places for creativity that are safe and encouraging spaces. I’ve always written at least one assignment with my students, but in the last year, I’ve written more for me and then eventually much more with my students–or rather alongside my students.

And I can say this: if I can do a bajillion things and still write 300-1,000 words in a few blogs each week, my students can, too. And that’s why I’ve kept writing: it’s you. I need you to do what I ask you to do. I need to do what I ask you to do. I can’t always do the exact same assignment (you have different things to learn than I do), but I must write in public, in front of you, so you see that I’m a writer who is teaching writing first, then nearly everything else I am comes after that. Nearly everything.

I used to tell my students, my friends, family, anyone who would listen for a few minutes, that writing could be the key to success in any field. I know, I used to edit for all kinds of journals, magazines, newsletters, and so forth. I worked for a post-graduate banking institute for awhile as a writer, editor, and gopher. Banking. Yes, banking. I saw the successful people writing their way to more and more success. They could articulate and communicate their ideas no matter how complex and to a variety of audiences as needed. They published in trade magazines, in academic journals, and in newsletters. They wrote persuasive proposals to change law, policy, curriculum, minds. I read many journals in fields as diverse as helicopters, petroleum engineering, accounting, Victorian literature, and writing studies. Those who can write do this: they win the battles AND then they write the history.


When I say I want you all to be writers, I don’t mean William Faulkner or Dan Brown or Edith Wharton or Tom Stoppard–although that would be great. I mean I want you to be writers in your chosen professions, writers who can change the worlds you live in, writers who can change minds, and change your lives, if you need to do that. Being a writer, really being a writer, writing all the time, for a sustained period of time, can revolutionize who you are, the power you wield over your existence, and determine how will will manage your future.

I certainly have changed for the better by being a writer. I was a fine person, but I had really stopped writing. The kinds words of one person directed me to a path I needed to be on, and I needed to write.

In the last year, I’ve posted a lot of writing online in several blogs (along with lots on separate pages), but I wanted to count up all I might have written just in blog posts to get a sense of what I’ve done in one year, from Oct. 20 to Oct. 20–The National Day on Writing 2010 to 2011. I wrote about 116 blog posts in that time. Some contained a single haiku, but many were 2,000-3,000 words. And I wrote a 6,000 word essay and an 8,000 word essay as well. So I’ll average the posts to 800 words per post and add in the two essays as they were really connected to posts and were born of my new online open writing activities.

(116 x 800) + 6,000 + 8,000 = 106,800

That could be about what I’ve written in one year. HOLY TEXTS, Batman, I really cranked it out. Oh. I forgot I started writing a book: that’s about 21,000 words I’ve written, too. But to be fair, I think about 10,000 words were written before this year and/or were directly inspired by blog posts, so let’s just say it’s 11,000 words added into the 106,800 so we get a total of 117,800 or thereabouts.

That seems crazy. I was guessing aloud to a friend that I had written maybe 70-80,000 words in the last year, but this estimate is actually well over that. I wish I had a nickel for every one of those words: that would be about $6,000. Nice. I’d buy a new car.

I haven’t edited those online words too extensively; for the book, yes. I edit that all the time. I write and write and write and then I edit endlessly. I have to stop that.

117,800 words. How can that be? How did I have a life? And yet, somehow I did. I went to weddings, parties, traveled to see friends, went to five conferences, spend lots of Saturdays doing absolutely nothing except heft the remote control and watch television. I read lots of books for fun (science fiction mostly) and watched 88 hours of Farscape plus the movie. And I re-watched Firefly about four times–the two movies plus all the episodes for it’s too-short one season. I also read a ton for the British lit class I taught and for the two long essays I wrote.

Hold your horses. I forgot about a consulting gig I had last spring. I had to come up with training materials for 18 hours of training (stuff I had to write and share with 60 faculty members at another college–I should count those words, too, but I won’t).

And that’s not including the writing I did for summer or this fall so far that is administrative or “other.” I’ve lived a ton in this short time, this one year. HOWEVER, I have not gone out with friends much or had folks over to eat or visit. I have spent a lot of nights and weekends writing and creating and getting ready for presentations. I have ignored, to my peril, loads and loads of emails and, no doubt, hurt some people by not responding in a timely way or at all. My bad. I had to make choices how to spend my time, and my time needed to be spent writing. I had some things to get out of my head, and there was no other way to do it.

You all take up to five classes a semester, what I would consider a full-time job and a half if you’re doing it right. And if you’re doing it right, as writers, you are doing about 300-1,500 words per week in a variety of ways. Count sometime how much you write each week: Facebook, Twitter, email, texting, classes. How much are you producing? I bet it’s in the thousands.

If you’re writing, you’re practicing a writerly life, you’re being a writer. Keep going and keep count. Nothing makes splashier or more spectacular headlines for families than: STUDENT WRITES 7,000 WORDS A WEEK, MAKES GREAT GRADES IN ENGLISH.

Write now, write away, write on.

For boring title of blog post: click here

I originally titled this post: For Oct. 26 and more. I just couldn’t live with that.

I’m constantly amazed and impressed by the thinking we are getting to do, the talking, the connecting. I love that sometimes, we just learn by doing. Can you imagine what it would be like for me to stand up and lecture every class? I might lecture again at some point… in fact, I have a lecture I might like to give that would be relevant, but it wouldn’t be terribly formal… I think twists and turns in conversation are okay in learning, especially in writing classes.

So we embodied that today–a long and winding road to where we needed to be. We talked about everything and anything and just bonded a little bit, recovering from a few weeks of HEINOUS activity on the part of each of us, some ups and downs, some crises… and we’re taking care of each other as groups are supposed to do.

A list of conversation topics appears below as possible post titles or prompts for Wed. It was all over the place. What fun.

And I tweeted for the first time in class. It was cool. Now I’ll have to see how to follow a few fun folks (like Professor Snape) and some of you. It’s a whole new world for me in the Twittersphere. I’ve resisted because it was one more thing to understand and master, and I couldn’t possibly do that. It always looked real cool and I wanted to do it, but honestly, my world was moving as fast as I could handle as it was… and it just sped up.

Or maybe it slowed down… in a way, Twitter is a slowing down of time, a marking of the passage of time in a way that makes it fuller, longer, more packed in, more real. Maybe.

In the meantime, here’s some of what we talked about, what was due for today, what’s due on Wed. and what to be prepared for next week.
Already due for today, Oct. 24:
•    Commencement speeches
•    Charlie Lowe visit

9 pm—I’m grading blogs—through Oct. 24…

Post about the long assignment coming up—due Oct. 26:
•    Playlist—think about this a lot (you’ll need to have something to say on Wed. in class)
•    Which is coming first for you: part one or the other part; it’s your choice
•    Finding out about your topic
o    300 words

•    James Purdy reading and post—300 words

Possible posts—300 words, please by Oct. 26:
•    Justin Beiber blew up my phone
•    No more ghosts, please
•    Possession…
•    Stalkers…
•    College choices… paths to college
•    Expectations… where I might be going next…
•    Tweet this
•    Who to follow on Twitter
•    Who’s reading me?
•    Calling people up to get baptized
•    My fabulous tweet description
•    Bear Creek Swamp
•    Read and write about scary movies and horror (Stephen King: Why We Crave Horror Movies:
•    Demons across cultures
•    Sexy pirates and zombie cheerleaders—tough Halloween choices
•    Toddlers vs. Tiaras

Oct. 31: we’ll meet in library, instead of our regular classroom, by the reference desk on the 2nd floor of the library… you’ll see me.

You’ll need some thoughtful work finished by this day on your big projects… those will take up nearly the whole of the rest of the term. Be thinking and writing notes and letting the brainstorms come up on you as they need to.

Please watch Martin Luther King, Jr. speech, 17.28 minutes, and write 300 words. Also add to blog post any and all URLS that you find re: music and such for the playlist project.

On your commencement… dream on

Please watch these four commencement speeches and pull out the five most important messages to you. Your audience: yourself at your own commencement in a few years.  Due: Monday, Oct. 24.  Required: 1,000 words.

Steven Colbert’s Commencement Speech, Northwestern University, 2011

Conan O’Brien’s Commencement Speech, Dartmouth University, 2011

J.K. Rowling’s Commencement Speech, Harvard University, 2008

Steve Jobs’s Commencement Speech, Stanford University, 2005

Collaboration is the thing

For Oct. 5, please read the following from Writing Spaces:

A Student’s Guide to Collaborative Writing Technologies” by Matt Barton and Karl Klint (Vol. 2)

Writing ‘Eyeball to Eyeball’: Building a Successful Collaboration” by Rebecca Ingalls (Vol. 2)

Collaborating Online: Digital Strategies for Group Work” by Anthony Atkins (Vol. 1)

Post one blog entry about what you see in common, what surprises you, what you can use, what inspires you, what you WANT to incorporate in your collaborative lives. AND especially note what might work effectively should you want to create a text with someone who lives in another state, like, say: Oklahoma.

1,000 words please… be sure to talk about your own experiences in collaborative work, good or bad, and the above revelations from the readings. Thank you, thank you very much.

We’ll talk on Monday, Oct. 10, about all of this and that’s when we’ll start serious work on the final two projects for the term.

Enjoy these articles–they are all excellent. Good choice for this reading, y’all (the chapter by Anthony Atkins) which we could then link with the other two. I think you’ll see some amazing connections between these chapters and also be intrigued about working in groups in ways you may not have previously.

Reading like a writer

For next Wednesday’s class, Oct. 5, we’re going to read Mike Bunn’s essay, “How to Read like a Writer” in Volume 2 of Writing Spaces. We’re going to read and then blog about it–about 300 words or so.

But I want to write about it for this class before re-reading it (I have read it before). I remember the beginning of the essay and the detailed discussion of how Bunn worked through one paragraph. I loved that.

I have been considering how to read like a writer for a long time, though–since way before I read this particular essay. I read Frank Smith’s Reading like a Writer a LONG time ago (first encountered in 1987). You can get the .pdf here. I was much influenced by this work as a teacher and K-12 curriculum developer.

Beyond Frank Smith, I was influenced by a French professor who came to guest lecture in a 19th century European novels class I was taking in grad school (wish I could remember her name–but I can’t). We were reading Madame Bovary (a novel I have read several times and recall loving). The professor read the infamous carriage passage where Mme. Bovary bares her hand and begins/engages in an illicit affair. She read it in French… a very fast-paced, exciting, climactic reading that seemed to mirror the action of the characters. Then she read a passage in a boring English translation in which the carriage seemed to plod along–so, too, the characters in the carriage–not very exciting. Then she read another passage in English, with shorter sentences, more vigorous language, staccato, leaving her and us breathless. She talked about pacing as something writers do on purpose.

WHAT? I never had a lesson on pacing before. I got it immediately from this wonderful professor’s reading and thinking and understood something about writing that I never did before. We can learn to be better writers by “reading” like writers. Asking questions: what did the author do here exactly? Why does the text feel this way or that? What rhetorical choices were made? What about syntax and diction? How can I learn from what this one author did and then apply that to my own writing?

We dissected that one passage (in the better English translation), looking at sentence length, punctuation, word choice, word arrangement, and everything in between (including the sounds of words). A writer did that. A writer made decisions to do that (well, in our case a translator collaborating with Flaubert’s text). We learned from that. Writers make decisions about everything–the words just don’t come flowing out of their heads like Athena from the forehead of Zeus–sprung full-grown and perfect. Writers work hard to think about their work and craft what and how it will go. Writers work at writing. Sure, some genius moments occur, but generally speaking, they must work at it and make rhetorical decisions every step of the way.

From that point on… about 1990, I became a reader of writers, not just a reader of stories. I always noticed the use of semi-colons, long complex sentences, short fragments used as textual punctuation, images (not just what they were, but how they were constructed/composed). I watched what I read, as in “paying attention” to how a text was created, the way it existed, and what that meant to me. I read about some author’s writing processes in the Paris Review, I read writer’s memoirs, I became a student of rhetoric and composition–on my terms. I certainly learned a lot about rhetoric and composition in grad school, but I learned a lot more from my Madame Bovary moment.

One result is that I teach literature as a part of rhetorical history rather than as something only to analyze with literary criticism. Literature is writing that a writer created by making rhetorical decisions, not in a vacuum. So my literature classes are about publishing history, rhetoric, authorship, and such like that there.

What a thing to remember as we are going to read this article by Mike Bunn. Now I really can’t wait to re-read his work.

The next big thing on the horizon

So far, we’ve been blogging up a storm. Writing a lot is what writers do. Practice, practice, practice. Sometimes we write with a plan in mind; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we write a long post; sometimes we don’t. Writing every day, every week, every month… got to do that to be better writers. No way around writing a bunch to be a better writer.

Writers also get better by talking about what they write, reading other writers (closely and carefully, reading like writers), and commenting on each others’ texts–as often as possible.

Soon we’ll be transitioning into a the last half of the term and a two-part project that has to do with music and Civil Rights. We live and work in Montgomery–big time in the Civil Rights Movement. Not just a big deal for us locally, but internationally as well. I have friends in England and Italy who entirely understand the significance of our town in the history of civil and human rights. If we’re exploring the world this year thorough writing and making the world our life museum, then we must attend to this history.

We’ll be looking at the music of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s-1960s. Historically. What music, which artists, songs that meant something to the Movement, songs that were written specifically for the movement. Then we’ll be choosing one particular event in those two decades that we’ll each explore in depth and create a playlist for that moment in time–with whatever music makes sense to us for that event/moment. That playlist can be comprised of music now, then, or from whatever period in history we choose. Or we can write our own or remix/mash up our own. Go for it.

One project will be more academically oriented so we can practice the actual business of documenting our research and working on those academic discourse skills (the historical music). The other will be less so–more a long essay that explains our aural, visual, and textual connection to our world. We’ll still bring the attribution thing to the game, but it won’t be as formal.

Rip, Remix, Mash-up, Copy, Transform, Burn, and Learn.