Who will we be?

Spring semester 2012 is upon us. We cannot turn away now.

So how will we face the next three months together? With grace and dignity and a will to win. I have recently been reading a lot about leadership and philosophy because of another part of my job… There are multiple parts of my job as a university professor. You’d think all I’d do is teach, but no. Not so much.

Teaching is my favorite part of the job, though, and writing with my students is part of why it’s so much fun. Writing in a blog–writing fun x 100.

So writing, leadership, teaching, philosophy and all that. What do we make of it all? The way we lead each other in learning? I truly believe that the best teaching is done by everyone in a class, not just the teacher of record.

An epic win in higher education is more than great grades (though those are super to have–even necessary for some of us), it’s about learning and knowing and being able to trot out our knowledge in ways that matter to us and those in our lives–to make it all better. And by “all,” I mean whatever matters to us: work, home, school, sports, music, cooking, writing, conversation, the perfect cup of coffee.

We’re going to lead each other in intriguing ways and surprise each other with what we think, how we think, and the way we travel through learning: “lead me, follow me, or get out of the way” is a quote from Gen. George S. Patton that I think is apropos for how I want to work this spring–I want to lead, I want to follow, and I want to say: “don’t stand around in the walk path, please, because I’m on a mission and can’t really walk around you if you’re standing in a big clump.” I might amend the phrase for our purposes in this class to read: “lead us, follow us, or get out of our way” as we’ll each bring something unique and special to our class and we’ll each take the lead at one point or another, and we’ll follow and learn… and woe be to those who clump around in our walk path.

Onward, fellow travelers, onward.

National GIS Day! 16 November 2011

November 16 is National GIS Day… be there!

On this particular Wed., Nov. 16, please “attend” class by going to the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) conference proceedings in the Taylor Center (the big rooms down from the Theatre entrance). We will not have a regularly scheduled class that day, so you can attend a session/exhibit hall.

You are not in a Geography class, but GIS isn’t about geography only–it’s about a way of thinking, a way of understanding the world. Yes, it’s a system for making maps and for disseminating information graphically according to the actual world we live on/in–and you can make pretty maps–but it’s much more than pretty map making. It’s about intellectually vibrant query; it’s about creating knowledge from many pieces of a puzzle; it’s about interdisciplinary quests–the kind heroes undertake, ala Joseph Campbell, in order to fix what’s wrong with the world and save the universe (okay, that’s a bit much, but you get what I mean now!).

Attend one presentation, please, and also visit the exhibitors to pick up some information and learn a bit about GIS. We’ll be looking at GIS and applications to writing and humanities in the spring–it’s a way of thinking, a way to map thinking… and that’s part of what we’ll do in spring, mapping our own intellectual growth. But we’ll also be learning about where we are in the world (Montgomery) and what that means both visually and textually, through maps and thinking. Patterns. We’ll be exploring patterns. What’s happened in Montgomery? What texts exist? What can be mapped? How should it be mapped? What can we do about sharing what we learn? Can we share our projects from this fall and spring through maps online? How might that look?

We’ll be looking at visual rhetoric and visual arguments (through images and maps). We’ll be making maps and playing with maps. We’ll be having some interesting times in spring… You won’t need to learn GIS, just be aware of it–Nov. 16 is the perfect time. (We’ll watch a video about a 19th map soon to contextualize what mapping and learning can do for the world–you’ll love it. Fascinating stuff.)

You’ll need to blog about the GIS presentation you attend (300 words) and also about the information you gather from an exhibitor (300 words)–both by Nov. 18, please. Thanks.

I present at 3:30–I would love to have you there, if you can do it. I’ll be talking about Writing Spaces and GIS.

And enjoy this exploration… if you like, use one of Keri Smith’s exploration prompts to approach what you experience at the GIS Fest. Fun.

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.

Period.

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.

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