On Writing, Blogging, and Community

For the first time since I lived in Oregon (can 2 years have passed since then?) I’ll be teaching writing again this fall. Teaching writing is my passion, my field of research, what brought me back to grad school in the first place. But I admit I have some trepidation. For one, as any writing teacher knows, teaching a writing class (or any class with lots of writing assigned) means grading a ton of papers. We’re talking 20 students times 6 papers each, not to mention homework assignments and the fact that I’m also teaching a second course in the College of Education. Oh and did I mention that the class starts at 8am? But the biggest worry I think is failing at something I love. Teaching education courses feels a bit more like earning my keep as I work my way through grad school. Teaching writing is, well, who I am. Faltering at that can be pretty difficult.

But remaining in contact with my fellow English Ed. students and fellow teachers from the University of Maryland Writing Project (a wing of the National Writing Project) has bolstered my inspiration so much. For that, I’m surprised to say, I have to thank the world of blogging. Who would have thought that that this e-medium would keep me in such community with my fellow writers, teachers, and writing teachers? Isn’t community supposed to involve a comfy living room with cups of tea and long conversations? Or at LEAST a classroom with uncomfortable chairs? As it happens though, my living room is still involved, except that my only other companion is my laptop.

Here, for example, is a blog post that I simply love. Written by Joseph McCaleb, the director of the UMdWP, this post eloquently answers the question of Why Write? (By the way, this is a question answered lovingly by many authors over the decades. Paul Auster’s version in the New Yorker is one of my all-time favorites, it’s so gorgeous. It’s not available online, but if you email me I might be able to help you find a copy… .) And while I love Joseph’s post, what I love most is what happens in the comments section. Not only do members of different writing and teaching communities– some of which exist within brick and mortar institutions, some online; some of whom I know, some I don’t– all weigh in thoughtfully, but some even entered the conversation using incredible social media technologies I had never heard of.

For example, one of the commenters annotated Joseph’s post using Diigo, an online tool that you can use to annotate any web page. Here is the annotated version. Pretty damn cool, huh? The conversation about writing among teachers and writers wanders down paths I could not have imagined when I first started teaching. What I love most about Joseph’s post and the comments that follow is that this writing does what it is supposed to do: that is, it plays. And in this venue, his readers can play right along.

Writing “for the joy of creation” (as one of my WP-mates called it) is what I learned at the Writing Project, and what blog posts like Joseph’s remind me of. It’s what I need to remember when we’re all sunk in the depths of the semester, when school is more about just getting through it (for teachers and students alike) than it is about the thrill of new knowledge.

I wonder how I will be able to communicate this to my students when they despise me for assigning a paper every other week (the department made me do it!). Are these Millenials going to be as titillated as I was by the latest online tool? I am not sure. But if I can find community in the comments section of a blog post, then my class and I should be able to rustle up some mutual trust and determination. This is what I am telling myself as the summer winds quickly down.

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Ode to New Genres

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The cast. Yes, it’s a book about superheroes, but no, it’s not what you think.

I was in that happy place of having finished one good book and thinking about what the next one would be last night, when I asked my neighbor/friend if I could take a look at his bookshelf. As he was recommending titles to me, his brother (who’s in town) strolled past and jokingly pulled out the graphic novel Watchmenby Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Maybe because nothing else was calling to me, I thought “What the hell,” and decided to give it a shot. I think the scales were tipped out of guilt, if anything: I teach a course called Literature for Adolescents and every time we come to the graphic novel unit I feel like somewhat of an impostor because I’ve read only the graphic novels on the syllabus, and no others (they include PersepolisAmerican Born Chinese, and Maus, by the way– all of which are awesome).

But holy cow. I had no idea that graphic novels could be like this. The art, the layering of dialogue, the fascinating and creative interplay of image and text… just, wow. I can’t put it down. (Those who know me or live near me know that I’m really loving a book when I read it while walking the dog, or strolling to the bus stop.)

So, I just wanted to give a little shout out to unusual genres. It’s so easy to get stuck in a literature rut, but last night a whim took me out of it and introduced me to one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. What other interesting genres do I not know enough about?

P.S. If you’re now considering reading it, Watchmen is a violent and dark book. It’s probably not for everyone.

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My favorite character so far, Dr. Manhattan