And there were “the bombs bursting in air”

We live in a violent world.

Humans can be violent. Not all of us of course, but even our national anthem “remembers” the violence that wrought a nation, or rather sustained a nation (the Battle at Fort McHenry, War of 1812, inspired the poem that provided the lyrics to our national anthem).

...the bombs bursting in air.

From the Francis Scott Key poem:

“Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Our country has been involved in wars the world over, and on our own land, to create and sustain our nation or to secure it against enemies, or aid our allies when needed. That’s a rough job. And often a violent job. It can get to folks and make them a bit off–us and them (whoever we are or they are). Some folks may turn to terrorism for a variety of reasons–out of desperation? or plan meanness? (I’m no expert)–but it seems as if it’s always the wrong path to take. Anger and bombs should never mix, but they do, and they often have–to the detriment of many.

Not only did a bombing in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 have a huge impact on our country, but it’s part of a history of violence we should all know about.

Map of Terrorist Attacks

What you’re looking at, above, is a map of the worst terrorist attacks in the world in which there were over 100 fatalities. It’s frightening to see them all laid out like this. How could we be so angry this many times? How could we kill so many people? (And you’ll notice this map doesn’t show some of the most devastating bombs of the 20th century–which would include the atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of WWII.)

A pro-Italian independence patriot tried to bomb Emperor Napoleon and Empress Eugenia in the middle of the 19th century. So, such tactics are not new or unique to the 20th or 21st century. To be aware that our species is prone to this violence allows us to push harder for peaceful solutions. I’m not advocating non-retaliation, but I am advocating education and understanding who we are, what we do, and knowing who our neighbors are and what they do, what they believe. Conversation and education can be good things.

I understand conflicts that are centuries-old may not be solved by talking, nor will systems of hatred based on religious beliefs be nullified by a chat. But we must remember. We must keep hope alive.

By visiting the Oklahoma City National Monument next week, we will have the opportunity to see what one community has done to heal its wounds, remember its past, talk about alternates to violence, and share our own history of violence and healing through memorialization in Montgomery, Alabama… indeed, all over Alabama.

Remembering violence, committing to peace, is a key to helping subvert the cultures of violence that threaten us everywhere, everyday.


Thinking about memory and maps

How do we remember things? How do we write about our memories? Why do we write about the past at all–ours or others? What’s the point? Why is it important to remember our actions, the actions of others, or the actions of communities–good, bad or heinous?

The memoir is a powerful genre in text. But how else do we remember things, events, people, meaning?

One way to thnk about memoir.

Another way to think about memoir.

And one more way to think about memoir.

Memoir is a pretty old word… linked, obviously with memory. A memoir in a way is a map through memory–which functions that way for both the writer and the reader. Truth is something that may or may not be represented accurately in a memoir. In fact, memory is a dicey thing. We all remember something with a different spin on it. The same iconic image could trigger different memories or different ideas for every one of us.

In the next phases of our learning, we’ll be exploring how memory works and devising visual maps to enhance memory–through a creative means. In the meantime, we have some memories we need to make.

Try these on for size: ethos, pathos, logos. What do these words mean? How can they connect to visual rhetoric? How would you remember what these words mean and how they relate to writing? Now, how would you remember these words through visual representations? Can you do that?

Get ready.  We’re starting a mapping, memory, memorial journey that may be the point itself. The Japanese poet (a famous haiku artist and teacher), Matsuo Bashō‘s journey has been described thusly,

“His journey is a pilgrimage; it is a journey into the interior of the self as much as a travelogue, a vision quest that concludes in insights. But there is not conclusion. The journey itself is home” (Hamil qtd. in Turchi).

A memory palace is a way, a thing, to help us remember… we’ll be playing with this notion of memory and memorial and creating a memory palace soon with our partners at OCU. They will begin before we do, but we’ll catch up. We’ll overlay mapping onto this concept later (all really relevant to the way we construct texts in layers, in shorts bursts, in ideas that connect, through a textual map, a path we lead readers along).

Dr. Hessler's Memory Palace

Dr. Hessler gives and example here. She uses this “image” to remember a moment in the life of Simonides, a key figure in an ancient story of memory.

You may find that our world is packed with memory palaces that you would never ever consider as ways to remember things, ideas, people, stories or whatever. But have you looked closely at a movie poster lately?

Can you read a poster of a film before you see it? Can you remember the story after when you see the poster? Do you connect moments of the story with the placement of the characters, other artifacts (swords, cars, etc.), background, color?

We will eventually create a project together that will be a “memory” we will share with others. For now, let’s talk about the Aristotelian appeals and see what we can do with that dead Greek dude and his ideas of powerful communication: ethos, pathos, logos. Expect to talk about these more than once, write about them, find images to help you remember what these terms mean and why they are important to writing and visual rhetoric.

By the way, what do you think all this has to do with explorations? AHA. You know we’d be weaving that thinking together eventually…

Connection is why we’re here

Today, we watched Brene Brown on TED… to think about connection because we’re getting connected to students at Oklahoma City University through our blogs and their wikispaces. “Connection is why we’re here,” says Dr. Brown. We’re down with that.

Embracing vulnerability is one way to make a connection that seems difficult to do in a society where we are all “connected” online, but in some ways, we’ve never been so disconnected. Substantially writing is one way of connecting.

Being a blogger in a writing class letting people know who we are–being seen is being vulnerable. It’s a hard thing to be seen. We can hide behind a 14-character Tweet, or a Facebook status update, but it’s hard to hide behind a big ‘ol blog for a class when you have to write a lot of posts and talk about things that are uncomfortable, or when you have to write what you really believe. It’s taking a risk, and that’s scary.

Will readers dismiss what we say or praise the words we write? Will readers believe we are worthy of their time? Will we feel we’re worthy? How do we get over the stage fright we all feel when others see our words? What will everyone in my class think about me as a person when they see my writing? Will that change how they see me?

Historically, a student writes, and only the teacher sees that writing. Sometimes, a writing class (I hope most of the time) is structured so that students see everyone’s writing, on a regular basis. Ideally, students should also have authentic audiences. I’ve seen students who are flattered by followers of their blogs–they’ve seen how they are worthy. Their writing matters. It matters not just for the teacher, or for peers, but for someone else in the world whom they do not know.

Being vulnerable as a writer is beautiful thing–what’s the point of writing unless there’s an audience? (Well, personal journal writing is great for writers. A writer’s notebook can be an amazing tool for producing writing, but it’s a private thing… until the writer chooses what parts to make public.)

Typically, writers want feedback–they want positive feedback, for sure–but they perhaps want to say something that makes a difference to someone and then hear about that. Even writers undertaking the forced march of writing in college classes want positive feedback–constructive criticism. (I remember giving my mother a draft of a 30 page paper I had written. I thought it was so great, so intriguing, so insightful, so well written. I was very proud and couldn’t wait to hear what she thought. After she finished reading, she said, “You have a typo on page one and a missing comma on page three. Other than that, it seems pretty good.” Huh?)

Or rather, people want connection; they want interaction (unless, of course, you’re Titus Andronicus). Writers are no different–it’s scary to admit we are vulnerable, that we might need others, and we are so OUT there with our writing on blogs. If we are rejected as not-worthy people, and especially as writers, what happens to us? We are pierced through our hearts and we bleed.

We might even be moved to say things like:

I hate writing.

English is/was my worst subject.

I have always been bad at writing.

I can’t write.

I’m no good at spelling.

Commas–nobody can understand those stupid rules.

We step out of the way of the thing that makes us feel like dirt, in this case, writing. We avoid it. We avoid having anyone see our writing because we don’t want to deal with that sort of ugly.

Blogging in a class–can’t get away from writing in public, can’t get away from having others read our writing, can’t get away from being vulnerable, can’t. We’re out there. We’re required to read our blogs, to make comments, to think, to respond, to share our own writing. It’s part of the class: required, mandatory, obligatory. No way out.

How hard is that?

Could be mighty hard, but it’s a good kind of hard. Brown said vulnerability, necessary in order to live a “wholehearted,” isn’t excruciating nor exhilarating for the wholehearted, but it is the thing that makes them beautiful.

Vulnerability is the connection.

Are we worthy? Of course we are. And how do we know that? We’ve proven it to each other by being our own readers, writing for ourselves. We did that.

We are the connection. And we are beautiful.

Do you have a rock to stand on? Will you vote?

I would never not vote, even though it’s my right to not vote. Too many people died for my right tovote. I remember the first time I voted and the last time I voted and nearly every time between those times. I am a proud voter. I intend to have my voice heard even if it is only one among millions. I might be the one vote that decides the fate of my community, funding for my school, the future of my country. I will always vote. If I have to drag myself to the polls on a bloody stump with a knife in my side, if I have to walk across a minefield of glass on my eyeballs, I will vote.

You can only hold us back for so long...

My grandmother was alive and a young woman in 1920, one of the first women to vote in the United States. Women before her suffered for suffrage. They were beaten, undertook starvation sit-ins when imprisoned, force-fed, raped, and killed. (Notice how the word “suffrage” appears to be a conflation of suffer and rage. I’m not saying it is–its derivation is something else, but I’m just saying, look at it. What does it look like?)

Women fight for the right to vote.

Women are still fighting for the right to vote all over the world–some women still denied the right. There are also small groups of people who are oppressed and cannot vote–still countries where large groups of people have no right to vote on the government that controls their lives. This is not okay.

Watching the film, Never Lose Sight of Freedom, the film shown at the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, today reminds me of what many people have sacrificed in order to just get people registered to vote, let alone vote.

A memorable moment from this film (it’s not an exact quote):

American democracy was not born on July 4, 1776, but in Selma, Alabama in the early 1960s.

This moment, too, is etched in my mind… like a carving in rock:

Here’s this rock. I walked on this rock. You take this rock and remember what you can do when you stand up for something.

This last moment in the film is the one where I started crying when I was at the Interpretive center watching this film. An older woman puts a small stone into the hand of a young woman and tells her–“See this? I walked here for freedom. I walked on this rock. I stood here.” It’s chilling. As soon as the film was over and I recovered from my emotional shock, I viewed the museum with proper respect, bought the film to teach with, and a few others, and I walked outside and picked up a rock.

I keep that rock in the console of my vehicle to remind me that I walked where these people walked. I now have the obligation to share what I know. As a teacher and a parent, I cannot see the world around me, and what happened here, and not be moved, not be determined that my life somehow must contribute to change.

If I had to pick a song that underscores the reason I am here right now, watching this film with students, understanding the Civil Rights Movement in a whole new way with them and because of them, it must be Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” (1963). I’m might like Otis Redding’s version better (1965) because I feel him singing it–I know that the change is coming–I can tell. Al Green’s version is very fine, too. Change is gonna come for sure.

And we’re the ones who are going to do the changing. Our class. We as writers. We’ll make a difference. Change is gonna come because of us. Because of what we are learning and what we will remember. We have the rock of our learning that we will stand on.

Now. What will we do with that rock?

Why we have a network in our class

Each class I teach, I hope to create a network of friends, classmates, peers, colleagues. I’m inspired by Steven Johnson’s use of the term liquid network in Where Good Ideas Come From. It resonates with me for a few reasons: hanging out having coffee, tea, talking, learning. In his TED talk, he mentions the first coffee shop in England. In his book, I’m digging deeper into the things he highlights in the talk.

But I don’t want to talk about that right this moment. I want to talk about how observation is part of writing/thinking/learning and developing our brains into fabulous tools that enable us to enrich our lives every day. Just what we’ve been doing this semester in this class so far… Steven Johnson’s work is along for the ride, though, especially his book, The Ghost Map. And I’ll circle around to it again.

Here’s my story about observing the world around me and how it got me to National GIS Day on 16 November 2011 and the particular button (below) and why Steven Johnson’s work is connected in a couple of ways.

River Region National GIS Day (AUM)

In the fall of 2010, I was deep into organizing AUM Writes! (a celebration of the National Day on Writing), teaching a Victorian poetry and prose class, a professional writing for nurses class, and going wild with a button maker I’d just purchased. I’d made a hundred different buttons that fall for the writing celebration, for each of my students, for many faculty members, for all the English and Philosophy professors in my department–a bunch of different designs–unique to various folks. I was having a blast.

I taught Steven Johnson’s TED talk on his book, The Ghost Map, in both my Victorian class and my nursing writing class (who is this guy’s publicist because he’s everywhere?). The map Johnson is referring to in this book is the one created by Dr. John Snow to understand the cholera outbreak on Broad Street, London (the Soho area) in 1854. He is considered a father of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I didn’t know that until one day…

I was walking back from Victorian class to my office and passed a poster for National GIS Day. I thought. Oh, interesting. My colleague, just down the hall in Sociology, Terry Winemiller, teaches GIS. Then I stopped when I saw this map on the poster:

John Snow's Map of the Cholera Outbreak in London

I had JUST been talking about this map as a jumping off point for two things in my classes:

  1. In Victorian poetry and prose: This map is a good illustration of how congested and filthy and horrific city living conditions could be for the poor in mid-19th century England. The map works as a visual prompt to talk about sanitation, food, demographic changes, architecture, and more. Such knowledge can inform and change the way we look at literature and history and knowledge. Reading about London in the mid-century is a whole lot different than looking at a map that shows deaths from cholera.
  2. In professional writing for nursing: Nurses today need to embrace the history of healthcare to understand how to manage in crisis situations–anywhere they happen to be. By learning about how medical professionals of the past explored the spread of diseases, modern nurses can be ready for anything. (Of course, we read about Florence Nightingale, too, and Henri Dunant post-Battle of Solferino whose memories of that battle inspired the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention of 1864.) I do love the Victorians.

So. I stopped into Dr. Winemiller’s office to say hi and compliment him on the GIS poster. I told him what I’d been doing with the Snow map. We talked for awhile. The end result was I took a GIS class in spring 2011. I started out great, but then I got busy toward finals week with three conferences, finals, and administration for summer and fall schedules. Nuts. I was able to conceive of a project (mapping the growth of Writing Spaces), write my proposal, gather all the information I needed, even predict an outcome, but I couldn’t finish it entirely; I then tried for summer. No. But this fall, it’s coming together because the grad assistant in GIS I met when I took that class is now my collaborator. He’s like totally lightening fast with the software–I needed that since I was rusty to start and then took off a few months to do my day job.

Now, we’re getting ready to present our work at a conference on GIS. I see so many literary and writing applications for GIS. Did I mentioned I’ve subscribed to National Geographic since I was born? I love maps and globes and visual knowledge. I’ve always loved traveling because it involved maps. When I first got a phone with GPS map gizmos, I plotted a hundred places I would go to–from Key West, Florida to Homer, Alaska; from Montgomery, Alabama to Santiago, Chile. When I first discovered the extent of the travels of Frederick Tennyson (Alfred’s older brother), I wanted to map them out. Of course I did.

That I should somehow end up with a connection to geography is not surprising news to me. A student in a Dickens class I taught in 2009 mapped Little Nell’s and Oliver Twist’s journeys. I thought it was a brilliant project. She was taking a class with Dr. Winemiller at the same time she was in my Dickens class. It all comes together in a collision (or a series of collisions):

Writing instruction, writing, Victorian literature and history, geography, nursing, maps, traveling, poetry, Dickens, blogs, GIS, Steven Johnson’s two books.

You see, I’m part of a liquid network. I have slow hunches that collide with other slow hunches and unusual things happen. I’m keenly aware of the connections I have with many in several disciplines and how they are deeply important to my intellectual path. What some might even call dabbling, I call fulfillment, vast and delightful life-long learning, destiny.

And that’s why we have a network in our class–you need to go on journeys like this in the next few years. Keep your eyes and ears open to see and hear all you can. Keep your mind open to all that your educational experiences may bring to you. And keep your liquid network flowing.

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.

Does rhetoric need defending?

Rhetoric might need defending given that it has a pretty bad rep (and has for a long time). The answer then to the question above is: yes. Rhetoric does need defending. Or at least we need to talk about it and reveal its hidden ideas, secrets, and mysteries.

Today, we watched In Defense of Rhetoric–which I noted in previous post from earlier today, but I wanted to link here to a post I wrote in another blog (about teaching emerging writers) in which I mention this film and how it connected to me as a teacher of teachers of writing.

It’s an intriguing film that reminds me that perception is everything… maybe.