Monday without each other

On February 27, we will NOT meet as a group in class. Please complete your exploration as planned (which is due).

Also please watch this video talk by David McCandless on TED.com. He’s a data dude, but he’s also an artist and a journalist. Please watch this at least three times–this will take you about an hour total. Watch, walk away. Spend a few hours away from it. Watch it again. Then watch once more. While you’re watching the third time, I want you to take notes about what you notice the most about what he shares–the thing he talks about that startles you the most, the least, the thing that you wish you could do. AND visit his web site to just poke around and see what you can see: Information is Beautiful.

THEN I want you to spend 300 words or so writing about how this connects to: ethos, pathos, logos, AND how his data visualization may or may not function as a kind of memory palace. Another question related to this: is data visualization visual rhetoric? How? Why? (Obviously, I’m stacking the deck a bit on this because I think DV is VR… but you need to figure out why. Bwahahaha. Yes, that’s my mad scientist laugh.)

See you on February 29! Be ready to talk at length about this experience and weave your explorations into this discussion. Also be prepared to switch OCU blogs that you read regularly. We’ll change blogs you read in class Wed., start to talk about the final projects, firm up plans for the trip, discuss the work you’ve done in the past week, and generally have a grand ol’ writing time.

Things that make me wanna cry

Last semester a student in this class did a post on Emmett Till and categorized that post as “things that make me wanna cry.” Today, we read aloud Anthony Shadid’s essay, “In a Moment, Lives Get Blown Away” from 2003. We took turns reading the account of a bombing that took place in a residential neighborhood in Baghdad.

And here is why I rarely watch the news, read the news, or allow others to share the horror of our world with me (I usually tell folks around me who want to tell me about awful happenings to stop). These are things that make me wanna cry. I cannot understand the pain and shock of this sort of thing. I know that the bombing in OKC was as horrific as this… only it wasn’t something people had gotten “used” to–if that’s even possible.

I was in grad school when the bombing happened in OKC. I was home for lunch and sitting down to eat a lovely burrito I’d just made when I thought, “I’ll watch the news while I eat.” That was the wrong move. I cried until I was ill and didn’t eat a bite. I had to return to classes shortly after my break and showed up with puffy eyes and a splotchy face, but I wasn’t the only one.

What Shadid describes–lives being blown away in a moment–helps me recall that person I used to be when I was strong enough to face the world and the news that hurt and shocked me but which made me hopping mad and willing to do something about it. I protested when I was younger; I worked for political campaigns; I wrote editorials for newspapers; I worked for my college newspaper; I was the editor of a college newspaper; I was a faculty adviser for a college newspaper. I am  now on the student publications board at my college. I have some part of my life that’s still committed to writing and memory in public through public texts, through freedom of the press.

BUT the thing is that I still hide from reality as much as possible because the kind of reality Shadid brings to light hurts. “I’m in pain” he says a bombing victim uttered over and over. I’m in pain, too, but I’m ashamed that I am when compared to that man who was bombed. I don’t want to look away, to turn away, but I do a lot. I focus on teaching writing, on teaching British literature, on being a writer about life, not death, not war, not destruction.

AND here’s another thing: I spent 12 years of my life researching the circumstances of the 1st and 2nd wars of Italian independence (1848 and 1859) as context for my dissertation work. Twelve years. I was immersed in war and destruction. Two particular battles I studies in 1859 were responsible for the founding of the Red Cross and the color of magenta–you know, the color of blood. I studied those battles with a fierce dedication but a total disconnection from what destruction could be wrought.

Now, I can barely face the carnage of modern warfare. Is this because so many more citizens, not soldiers, are killed? Am I wrong to assume that war has crossed the boundaries of the battlefield and annexed the life of regular folks? I can’t remember all the  history it might benefit me to own right now, but Shadid has done really incredible thing for me as a person: he reminded me that people just like me, just like my students, just like my friends are the casualties of war and terrorism.

What a shame that our world hasn’t gotten over itself and its greed and insulationist tendencies in the 21st century. When will this change? Will the future be more peaceful? I hope so.

Perhaps writers who remind us of the worst of war will be the reason for a peaceful future. I hope so.

I hope so.

What do we see when we go looking?

We are getting ready for visual rhetoric and maps… that’s what we’re doing and have been doing, weaving ideas, thinking processes, and images into our writing that we’ve been sharing and commenting upon.

The title of this post may strike you as odd at the start and before you get to the end, even at the end, but it’s a central idea, a core notion, that underpins what I hope you will take with you long after you are gone from AUM. Ponder this and it for awhile and we’ll talk.

Before I post about maps and visual rhetoric, I want to spend a moment on the following, because sometimes attention needs to be paid to those who have left us too soon, and who have left us a legacy.

I want you to read Dr. Hessler’s post about her connection, through a friend, with Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize winner (for International Reporting in 2004). Just a few days ago he died in Syria. The NY Times covered his death in a brief story from 16 February 2012. His is a great loss to writing and to perspective.

His work as a writer, to reveal events to readers far away and removed from the moment, is so important to who we are as thinkers and writers in higher education. Freedom of the Press. The First Amendment. We exist in our country, in our city, in our school because we have been guaranteed certain freedoms. Shadid’s life exemplifies freedom of the press and the risks journalists take to ensure information is free, that stories get told, that we do not live in a place that limits what we can learn or how we can learn it.

I’m not suggesting that education does not have its biases in various ways or overall, but given collectively, the liberal arts agenda–students could learn a great deal about the world, the past, envision the future, from multiple perspectives, opening their hearts and minds to the world in new ways. We live in the midst of a chaotic time, inundated with images and information. Part of our job is to read and learn and consume, responsibly and rationally, knowing what triggers our emotions, our minds, what evokes our respect. In other words, the appeals of Aristotle are alive and well in how we approach the world… how are we persuaded to know what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s real, what’s unreal, what’s too much to know?

I’m reminded, as I’m writing about this connection between my friend and her friend and this incredible writer, of the four freedoms that Norman Rockwell painted for four consecutive covers of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 (mid-WWII). They were inspired by an address that President Franklin Roosevelt gave to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941 (about a month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor). This image is an excerpt from his address in the Wikipedia entry on Rockwell’s paintings.

Excerpt from FDR's address to Congress 6 January 1941.

The “crash of a bomb” is still a horrific crash that kills our dreams, that kills our people, that kills our hope… a horrific reality 70+ years after Roosevelt first uttered the phrase.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on a man, a writer, who helped readers understand the crash of a bomb and the connection and relevance that has for our friends in Oklahoma City.

Please read Dr. Hessler’s post and the essay by Shadid and think/write about your reaction to him as a writer. Let us take a bit of time to remember this man, his writing, his work, his interconnectedness to the world, that he provided to the world, and let us be part of that.

Dreams and visiting writers

On Monday, February 20, our class had visiting writers (seniors in high school) who have applied to AUM. As part of their day on campus, they came to participate in our class. Every visitor got a computer to work on while we did our writing. They were invited to send me their in-class writings that focused on dreams, the past, or memory. We talked about how, really, all these things were connected and deeply linked to the idea of higher education: have to get “past the past” sometimes in order to learn; we must have dreams to keep us going (or be aware of the dreams we have while we sleep and what they might tell us), and we also need to remember–memorialize–keep memories alive. And all of that goes into making up what knowledge we acquire and how we learn to apply that to various situations.

Four guest writers chose to share their work with us: thank you for being with us and writing with us and sharing with us. There’s no way we grow as writers without growing together.

Space Gorgeousness (JPL)

Many thanks to all who visited–we hope to see you all in the coming year. Keep your eyes on the stars–it’s one of the first things humans must have dreamed about, memorialized, wondered about, and wrote about.

Visiting Writer #1

Dreams take you to a place that you sometimes wish you could stay in forever and some make you want to leave immediately.  I read once that every person that you encounter in your dreams you have met in real life.  So, that serial killer may be your mailman or that handsome hero may be that creepy neighbor that lives just three houses down.  I do believe that you have met all the people in your dreams before, where else would all of those crazy ideas originate?

Very often do I experience déjà vu, that moment where I look around and I am utterly confused for about ten whole seconds that feel like eternity that is followed by laughter and all my friends saying déjà vu? What scares me about the frequent occurrences of these dreams turned into reality is what about the nightmares?   Is that dream I had about somebody breaking into my home really going to happen someday? Because I hope and pray that it does not.

I love dreams. They take me to places that I would never experience in real life and I love that.  I adore seeing new things—it thrills me.  On my bucket list is starting a dream book.  How cool would that be? To look back on these new experiences and “relive” them would be worth a lot to me.  But who has time to write dreams down before they are forgotten? Maybe one day I will.

Outer Space is Dreamy (JPL)

Visiting Writer #2

We celebrate random days during the year, set aside to commemorate things that have happened in the past, whether they are important to one being or completely irrational even with an explanation. The days are considered holidays and are celebrated without question, whether one knows the meaning behind the day or not.

While some may consider the past to be simply the past, it is something that creates each of our characters. In some ways, you could think each past experience; whether it is something that had great impact or something you can’t even remember, as Legos. These Legos are placed together in certain ways to create your way of thinking and the way you handle life’s every-day situations. You couldn’t be the person you are today without the experiences that have been bestowed upon you. Each of these experiences in itself creates a better and more wise “you”. It is only a hope that this new information is used in such a way that it betters the world around us.

And, while dreams are thought to be simple, mindless imaginings, how is one to know that these are not but memories, being brought back up from a past life or mindset that you once thought was your own—thoughts and images that your eyes have seen but your brain has not, therefore you consider them irrelevant. It’s hard for people to wrap their head around a new way of thinking because we have been taught and conditioned into a certain way of thinking. It’s hard for me to recall a certain dream and speak of it as though it was a story that could never happen. While most of my dreams are some strange string of events that make no sense at all, broken apart each piece pertains to something that is going on in my life, whether it is a fear or happening, or an actual happening.

I work as a waitress, and I often dream about our business being in a bigger building. At the moment, I work all nine tables by myself unless I have a busboy for the night, which isn’t often. In my dreams, I will have dozens of tables. Then, all of a sudden, we will become so busy that I can’t keep my thought process on the right track, and people begin to get impatient. I have a very good memory when it comes to my job, so it is a big fear that I will think I committed something to memory when in reality I didn’t, creating a complete loss of control over the dining room and resulting in udder chaos. Chaos is something that gives me anxiety. I believe this is why I dream about this. I think there have been times when this is the way I felt, even though it wasn’t in the view of our customers.

 Visiting Writer #3

Dreams are seen in two different perspectives. For me, dreams can be chased. Chasing your dreams gives you something to look forward too. Chasing dreams builds up your adrenaline and pushes you to keep moving forward. No one said that reaching your goal would be easy, but the trials you go through to accomplish your dream makes everything worth it.

A dream also comes to you when you’re asleep. To me, that is meaningful because some dreams make you feel like a different person when you wake up. The career that I want to pursue came to me in a dream. I didn’t know how much I really wanted to help people.

Space--The Place of Dreams (JPL)

The Magic of Space (JPL)

I remember being in an operating room and someone was about to have surgery. Of course, before surgery you have to give the patient anesthesia. I was the one to give the anesthesia to the patient. The dream went on and during the procedure, the anesthesia started to wear off. I had to give the patient more anesthesia.

When I woke up the next morning…that is exactly what I wanted to do. No, I don’t want to be an anesthesiologist, but I do want to be the nurse anesthetist.

Remember, dreams are worth the struggle. You have to work hard for what you want. It’s not going to come to you. Don’t let your dreams pass by you!

Visiting Writer #4

Dreams… when you hear the word dream what comes to mind? Is it a dream on when you were younger and wanted to travel the world or one on when you are older and want to be steadfast in your career?  When I think of dreams I think of goals that I would like to accomplish. Goals take time, effort, and heart. Dreams can also be something that a person knows is impossible to reach but it gives them the momentum to continue with a day’s work.

You may wonder well were do the word dream come from? You may wonder well how is dreams important to the things I do in life? Dreams to me come from a person’s train of thought it allows one to wonder and want things that gives them excitement and comfort. Dreams are important because it makes something worth doing and worth going through that struggle for. It opens a person’s confidence and brings it forth to be pushed to its full potential. Dreams are not just an ideal it’s a type of motivation, inspiration, courage to know that one day that dream will be conquered and become one’s reality.

Dreams are not just a child’s imagination or an adult lust. It’s food to one’s soul; it caters to its wants. Dreams push a person in a mind state where everything is possible but it’s just going to take some time.

(Image Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Dreams I can’t forget

I have a dream that my teeth fall out. It’s a dream I have had multiple times in my life. I can never forget it. I can tell anyone anytime about the dream because it’s always the same. The circumstances change as my life changes, but the actual events are exactly the same every time.

I am usually under some stress in my life about deadlines or big decisions when I have the dream. It is usually terrifying, too–I mean, my teeth all fall out. How can that ever be okay.

It starts this way: I am talking to someone important in my life who I desperately want to impress. In fact, I’m thinking (in my dream) that I’m doing a good job of that until I have to turn away briefly from the conversation to spit out a tooth that’s come loose. It’s highly embarrassing, but it’s not a front tooth, so I can turn to the side, spit it out and then smoothly resume the conversation.

Next I’m talking to another important person in my life, a boss, a teacher, a colleague–someone, again, whom I am sure I have to impress. THIS time I have to turn around mid-sentence, “Excuse me just a moment,” and I have to spit out several teeth. Now it’s about front teeth as well as molars and I have to adjust my speech because I’m missing key obstacles upon which to place my tongue to keep from lisping, so I have to talk more slowly and measure everything I say.

Finally I’m talking to the MOST important person in my life (at the time) and all my teeth start to come loose and I turn around and every tooth in my head has to be spit out into my cupped hands as I turn away from that person. Yuck. It’s so disgusting–even just writing it down now is harrowing in some ways.

BUT there’s no pain at all. None. I feel nothing when the teeth come loose and I have to expell them. No blood, no pain. It’s almost as if the teeth are just a nuisance to my ongoing conversation rather than something traumatic.

A friend who had a dream interpretation book said the dream was about my fear of having no control over events in my life. I totally buy that. It makes such sense. I think it has a lot to do with my fear of dentists, too.

I bet I have this dream about once a year. It never comes at the same time each year, but come it does. And it’s always such a familiar dream that I sort of have that meta-dream moment when I think: “Oh, I’m having that dream about losing all my teeth again. I really hate this dream. But it will be over soon, and I’ll wake up and I’ll have all my teeth.” I wonder why it’s a recurring dream though. You’d think my subconscious could come up with some better, more creative ways to manifest my worries than this same old sorry dream about teeth.

I think one of the things it’s done for me is made me obsessed with teeth–I worry constantly about chipping my teeth or cavities or damage, root canals, fillings and so on. I buy new toothbrushes constantly and try new toothpastes, and don’t even get me started on floss. Buying and using the right floss is an art form.

I wonder that this dream has stayed with me through all these years… and that I can recall it so clearly. I wish I had another dream that was so clear to me: about flying or heroic endeavor. But no, the dream I cannot forget is about losing all my teeth in the most embarrassing situations possible. Great.

I’m so sorry now I started down this path, but I only have two minutes left on the clock for writing, so I’m stuck. I suppose my teeth will get loose soon, and I’ll start losing them, one at first, then a couple more, then everything. Sigh.

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…

Music moves me to buy music

Before the Grammy’s were over I had purchased songs by Adele, Taylor Swift, The Civil Wars, and the Foo Fighters. I’m not much of a music listener in terms of what’s new or hip or bestselling. I’m perpetually behind, but last night I got to watch a part of the Grammy’s with a much younger friend who is really hip musically. We like the same kind of pop-ish vibe–or at the least, we don’t demean the good of pop–but really we love a huge variety of music.

Foo Fighters at the Grammy Awards 2012

Watching (at least) part of the Grammy’s was delightful for a change for me–I was actually interested in music this weekend because it was our class topic for the weekend. I paid attention to it in ways I might not have typically. Certainly, watching the Grammy awards isn’t something I typically do…not for ages. And it was fun; it was perfect timing.

And I was grateful for iTunes which allowed me to buy some music I wanted right when I wanted it and in the amounts I wanted–a song here and there, an album or two.

Adele at the Grammy Awards 2012.

Now I have more and new music which I can remember which will define my day yesterday–a memory solidified by song: cold cold sunny day, lovely salami sandwich on incredible bread, lots of laughs, some work, linguine and meatballs (so yum), some heavy duty Bionicle creativity, the best French press coffee ever, great conversation with several folks, and new music to commemorate the day.

Music moves me to remember. And sometimes it moves me to buy music. I want to own those memories. You know.

(Image source 1: spokesman.com; Image 2 source: inquisitr.com)

Getting somewhere with the rubric now

Please see our thinking about the grading rubric from today. I include it here in picture-form, but it’s also linked in the next paragraph.

Thinking on rubrics for writing (Spring 2012)

That Inane Laugh recorded our thinking–based on the work from the OCU students previously listed on Mountains of Discovery.

We did not really address visual rhetoric in this rubric as we did previously when we talked (we’ll get to that later when we have time to really deal with design–over time). For now, I think we are getting somewhere with the details of what matters regarding writing on our blogs and the difference between an A and a B and what’s in-between an A and a B–so hard to determine.

We tried to articulate this by noting that an A minus was an A which lacked something key in the A criteria.
A B+ is then a B but which includes some key thing that really leaps into the A criteria.

Thanks to That Inane Laugh and Mountains of Discovery for recording our thinking and helping us articulate what makes writing great for our classes.

Thanks to all who have been thinking about this!

Writing without fear, dancing because it’s my job

We just watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on TED.com, which I’ve seen a couple of dozen times and have used in multiple classes.

Her central question is: “does artistry always lead to great anguish?”

Her premise is that perhaps we need to go back in time to adopt and adapt the ancient idea of a genius who lives in our walls and occasionally comes out to help us. We can neither be the sole creator of a work if it’s fantastic–and take all the credit–nor are we to blame if the work is not stellar. Our daemons (Greek) or geniuses (Roman) literally live in the walls of our “artist’s studio” to help shape the outcome of a work.

It takes off a lot of pressure.

As I think about the pressure of creative endeavor, I can’t help but think about how higher education is its own kind of high stakes pressure. Papers need to be written, tests need to be taken, quizzes are popped upon us, writing in blogs is required all the time in some classes, some classes require different technology to communicate, reading, reading, reading, thinking, talking, presentations, studying, learning, knowing, AIEEEEEEE, and it never ends over the course of a semester. There are unmanageable aspects of performance in education, too. An individual cannot control when tests are scheduled or when papers are due, but what we can control is our openness to how we learn… we can be open to planning and trying to plan and then being open to the learning that can happen in unusual ways.

Today, I said I was a composition professor (I profess the worth of writing–true enough), but I’m also a composition counselor… Writing can heal us.

I know we need to do something today that we can call finished and feel good about. It’s important to have things to point to that are finished when there is so much around us that is unfinished, that mocks us, that undermines our efforts to do anything productive. These are the things that sap our energy. We NEED to rethink how we deal with sapping things. They’ll happen, sap happens, but we can encounter them differently than we might normally. We CAN do something that we can be proud of. We CAN watch a video about how to think differently about writing. We CAN write something about this experience and call it finished.

Fred Astaire... dancing because it's his job.

We can do that.

If there’s nothing else we can do right now, we CAN do this. We can think; we can re-think; we can see; we can re-see; we can revise; we can write and learn from the text we craft.

So the lesson today might be: write because it’s your job for this class. On days when you can’t stand it, show up anyway–do what you CAN rather than cave into feeling like you CAN’T do anything.

Be transcendent–let the words come to you as they can and if they don’t come right away–get tough with your genius in the wall. But regardless, do your dance.

Just remember to do your dance anyway.

My latest gift for posting

WordPress is generously offering quotes every time I post. I’m sure it’s not just for me, though, but I appreciate it like it was a special gift just for my only one self.

Just now, this was my gift:

Gift for posting Jan. 30, 2012!

I like that this has become a routine in my blogging life. I post and BOOM! I get a quote about writing that makes me feel like a writer. I feel good about posting; I want to post more; I want more quotes; I post more… the circle of life and all that. Hakuna matata.

The gift of a quote is not as nice as a steak dinner or a movie, popcorn, and Sour Patch Kids, but I’ll take it, especially if the quotes support my mission as a writing professor.

It’s like WordPress is purposely making it easier for me to create an environment in which writing is central to understanding, sharing, thinking, working, flourishing. Right on, WordPress. I mean, write on.