Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

A Timely Reminder from the International Society of Bassists

September 12, 2009

After I left my English class on Wednesday, I found a letter in my mailbox for “Composition Professor” from the International Society of Bassists.  That’s how it was labeled: “Composition Professor.”  The address did not have a department affiliation—Music, English, Art, Chemistry, Culinary Arts—so it ended up with me.  On the surface, it makes sense:  I serve as director of our writing program, so anything related to Composition would be at home in my mailbox.  However, the sender was clearly trying to reach a different audience!

Later, though, I thought a bit more about the word “composition” and how I tend to focus on just the one meaning and medium; that is, to me, composition is always about writing, about language, about alphabetic text.  Even though I am aware of other uses of the term—a composition for flute, artwork as a composition of found objects and silly putty, for example, or the chemical composition of an alloy—these meanings never enter my mind first.  For many, many other people, a composition might mean a musical score, a piece of art, a recipe, a combination of elements…  they might not even think of writing at all!!

I mention this letter because it was one of the many moments when I am reminded that not everyone loves writing—or even thinks of it first.  A lot of my life is tied up in writing—I’ve spent years and years in school to be where I am, so it’s no wonder that I get a little bit focused on teaching writing and doing writing and reading about writing and thinking about writing and….  Well, let’s just say this letter came at an important moment for me.  It’s never a bad idea to stop and look around, to take note of what you understand as “reality” and compare it with other versions of “reality.”  I try to be aware of the world around me, but like everyone else, I get a little myopic from time to time.

Which brings me to my last thought—this semester.  I have been thinking back on my own first college writing class and realizing that I was, shall we say, decidedly less enthusiastic about writing then.  In fact, I recall very little about the content of the class at all.  A peer editing session here, a quiz there, one assignment about dialect…  What I remember more clearly is that I had very long hair, that the football player in my class was HUGE, and that I had a half-hearted crush on a boy named Dan.

Anyway, this letter served as a small but timely corrective to the zeal I bring to each new year.  Composition, rhetoric, and writing are meaningful and important subjects, but they’re not going to resonate with everyone.  The letter/reminder won’t prevent me from bringing my love for writing to class with me each day, but I’m hoping it will serve as a buffer for heartbreak that comes when my students don’t bring theirs.



August 27, 2009

Being neither pithy nor witty, the thought of maintaining a Twitter account or even a Tumblr seems like an recipe for disaster to me.  I’ve never been short on words and I love to play with language, but I lack the nimbleness of mind required for true wit.  I’ll probably hit 800 words before this post is over and still not say anything even remotely sharp.

(In addition to my undying dream of somehow developing a lounge singer voice [think: female Simon Le Bon], I also dream of becoming witty.  So far it’s been braying in the shower and vague and decidedly feeble mutterings to myself well after the fact. I’ll let you know if anything changes…)

However, the appeal of both Twitter and Tumblr does not escape me.  I have in the past months wanted to share a quick thought or observation here but have felt constrained by a lack of time.  In fact, I have a number of drafts piled up here, little snippets and links and ideas I’ve collected with the idea of contextualizing and fleshing out “when I have time.”

Back in January, I think, I finally succumbed to the pressure to join Facebook.  And though I initially created an account to stay in touch with friends, I’ve discovered its power as a low-stakes version of Twitter and Tumblr.  A simple prop medium to occupy my time.

Ah, the world of Facebook—wonderfully social, often terribly superficial—a space where “Status Updates” permit one to say a little something, be it witty, sharp, or (in my case) banal.  I can’t lie and say I don’t like Facebook.  I do.  It’s fun.  I like keeping up with my friends, many of whom do post their keen observations, entertaining stories, and sharp criticisms of this world.  Furthermore, I like having so many of my people talking and contributing in the same space, something that could never, ever happen in the “real” world.  When you think about it, the concept is utterly brilliant—a narcissist’s dream.

And if I’m going to be completely honest, I have to confess that having a mini-newspaper containing headlines from all my friends makes it so much easier to stay connected.  They post something, I respond; I post something, they send feedback.  It’s all so much easier than trying to send emails to everyone, or to call everyone, or to count on actually leaving my house, my neighborhood, my city to see and talk to someone.  Yucky but true–Facebook has its advantages…

But back to this blog for a minute…  I did not begin this blog for an audience, per se.  I did not begin writing to gather comments (although I very much like them) and I did not begin writing to “keep in touch” or anything else.  I began this blog because I wanted to write about teaching, writing, knitting, teaching writing, and, increasingly, the gardens I enjoy as I run, and I didn’t want to worry about being pithy or witty or fabulous or anything else I’m not.

I’m not sure I know exactly what I’m trying to say here, other than that I miss blogging and I’m going to try to do more of it.  I have a new job (that I love!); I’m part of a writing program (Dream. Come. True.); I’ve been running/walking a ton (I ran a half-marathon in May, it was freaking excellent and amazing, and I’m still addicted); almost every morning I see new beautiful flowers I want to write about (Datura is my new favorite—the aroma is lemony and spicy and fresh and they’re always blooming when I walk really early in the morning.  Yes.  I know they’re poisonous.); and I’m getting back into knitting after a long spell of being too busy.

So that’s the confession, I guess.  I got a bit sucked in by Facebook and it’s been hurting my writing.

More to follow, I hope…


October 13, 2008


I’m back.

I’m also done.  It feels great, yeah, but it also feels exactly the same.  At a party this weekend I was talking to a friend/acquaintance (not exactly sure where I fall in his world) and I found myself reverting back to Sixteen Candles to explain my feelings post-dissertation defense and graduation.

Remember when Molly Ringwald’s character, Sam, wakes up on her sixteenth birthday, calls her friend, and tries to assess her feelings?  Allow me…

“No, I didn’t expect to wake up transformed.  I just thought that turning sixteen would be so major that I’d wake up with an improved mental state that would show up on my face.  All it shows is that I don’t have any sort of a tan left.”

Love that!  And I didn’t even get a tan this summer…

The past two months have been a blur.  I revisited a folder that I created while finishing my diss and I found a full summary of an article I don’t even remember reading.  And that is why I titled this post “Unfolding.”  In a lot of ways, the past two months have been busy, but they’ve also been an exercise in psychic (and physical) stretching out.  I didn’t realize how focused I’d been while writing–hence, documents I have no recollection of reading or summarizing.

So, I’ll be posting with a slightly greater degree of frequency, and maybe even about knitting!

the tight deadline

July 6, 2008

One of the very few moments in life when it is acceptable to eat a rich chocolate brownie and call it “breakfast” and “lunch.”

muscle memory, pt. II

July 4, 2008

Today, at a coffee shop, I paused in writing for a moment to get another cup of coffee. After I set my pen down, my left hand made the Ctrl-S gesture—hold down pinky, use middle finger to hit S—on the table top I was using.

I think it’s about time I finish this thing.

the glamour of getting a phd

June 28, 2008

It’s Saturday night, I’m writing, and it’s a gorgeous summer evening. The bar down the street is hopping.

I have a wine spritzer, though, and the writing is actually fun. So it’s all good. Sparkling water (50%), ice (40%), and Chardonnay (10%). (Okay, maybe 30/20 on the ice/wine.)

Yes, I’m a product of the 80s. Leave me alone…

running as avoidance

June 5, 2008

When I was finishing up the last chapter of my master thesis, I ran a lot—just over six miles a day, five or six days per week.**  The exercise was great for my body, of course, but what I really ran for was my mind.  At the time I was writing a chapter about evolutionary theory, deevolution, pessimism, and Jude the Obscure, arguably one of the most depressing novels ever written.  That was spring of 2000 and I can still remember escaping my apartment into the warmth of the sun and feeling an enormous weight lift from my mind. 

As coincidence would have it, I’ve been revising a chapter on eugenic sterilization this week, arguably one of the most depressing subjects in the history of science.  (Why do I choose such topics?  I don’t know.  A subject for another post, I guess.)  It’s 90 and extremely humid today in Cincinnati—I’ve been on a diet of iced coffee and ice water since 10:00 am—however, I can barely wait to take a run.  At this point, anything is better than writing another word about sterilization… 

**I know there are folk out there who would sneeze at 30-35 miles per week, but for me it’s “a lot.”

watching life go by…from a window in the library

May 27, 2008

In Writing toward Home, Georgia Heard addresses the many challenges a writer faces when drafting/composing a large work.  A chapter entitled “Doing What I Have To” takes up the (sometimes commingled) subjects of discipline and “letting it go” entailed in the writing process.  She explains:

“While writing this book I didn’t vacuum my house for four months.  The spiders were ecstatic.  They wove their sticky webs over everything, connecting chair to couch to table.  Each time I passed I would look the other way, pretending not to notice that they had moved in, this time for good.  Dust balls roamed freely.  I temporarily lost some of my friends.  They began to leave messages on my answering machine: ‘I hope you’re okay.  I haven’t heard from you in months.  Call me back.’  I was obsessed.”

I don’t have spiders, but I’m with her on the dust balls problem.  And truth be told, it’s almost killing me.  I’ve never been the kind of writer who gets lost in her writing.  I mean, yeah, I get into the zone for hours here and there, emerging for a dose of sunshine or a glass or wine or a some human contact.  But I have never been one to ignore my domestic duties (self-imposed) or my friends.

Until now.

Not doing my “chores” is difficult—I find it nearly impossible to simply “look the other way.”  Dishes in the sink, laundry in the hamper, visible dust on a surface—it’s enough to make me crazy.  However, I’ve been working really hard to follow Heard’s dictate on that score.  She writes that it’s an “important decision—momentarily to give [one’s] heart and time over to [one’s] writing.”  And I agree.  I’ve got the messy home to prove it.

What I can’t let go of is the “temporarily losing the friends” part.  I feel so awful!  Even as I type this post, I feel that I should be replying to an email or returning a phone call.  I realized today that I missed a friend’s birthday!

I’ve always prided myself on leading a balanced life when it comes to my work. Until now, I’ve operated under the assumption that if the writing didn’t come out between, say, 9:00 and 5:00, then it wasn’t meant to be. I try to treat writing/scholarship like any other job. Lately, though, I’ve been writing to the detriment of almost everything else in my life.

I know I have to get the work done, and I know that means sacrifices, but I continually come back to this feeling that I’m missing out on life as I log hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours at the library. Is it worth it? I wonder.

In other news: what gives people the idea that it’s “okay” to speak above the faintest whisper at the library? If you have to talk to someone at a library, make it quick and quiet—or take it outside! Sheesh.

(I know I’m getting old, but seriously. Shut up!)

Also, I couldn’t resist writing the first two paragraphs in “academic-speak” as it’s all I’ve been writing lately…

a little faith, please?

May 18, 2008

So, I’m writing the introductory chapter to my dissertation (paradoxically the last part to be drafted) and I’ve been struggling mightily.  It’s not so much that I don’t know what I want to say—although that’s always part of it—it’s that I’m having trouble putting into words all of the “big” ideas I have about my project as a whole.

(Meanwhile, said difficulty is with me as I type this post as well.  Ugh.)

For a while there, my inability to state clearly even the most basic reasons for writing was pretty severe.  Even my usual tricks of the trade—write letter to friend using everyday language, fire off series of sentences restating the same idea in different words, talk it out and then write it down—were useless against this writer’s block.  At one point I said to myself (and then to Russell, and then to a comrade in the field) “I think I’m in over my head here” and I really worried that it was true.

In a moment of desperation, I pulled out a series of folders with titles like:  “Introduction notes,” “Rhetoric of Science—Introduction,” “Language and Ideology: For Introduction” from my files.  I had been avoiding these files for the simple reason that it had been nearly a year since I’d even touched them.  As anyone who does any writing at all (or, really, enters any creative process, I think) knows, the place you begin seldom matches the place you finish.  I figured that the notes in the folders would be worthless because so much had changed since I began this project and, rather than lose an hour or seventeen mooning over dropped threads and withered ideas, I planned to vett the folders when I was done.

I don’t often like myself.  I barely ever congratulate myself on anything.  But today I would like to go back in time and kiss the me of a year ago for being astute enough to create, organize, and lovingly file so much TOTALLY USEFUL information.  Nearly every single document in the files supports or clarifies my project as a whole. 

(I’m fighting the urge to delete this post lest I irritate whatever arbiter of luck/small god of writing I owe for this breakthrough.  But at the same time, I really wanted to record this moment so that I don’t forget that my system works.  Ah, existential crises…)

a word about march…before april is over

April 15, 2008

While I’m disappointed with myself for not writing during March, I’m letting myself off the hook because March was decidedly less than inspiring.  I overheard a young woman bemoaning the month as a whole, stating that “March tried to be too much like February, so I ignored it.”

(Meanwhile, it’s supposed to freeze here in Cincinnati tonight, so April’s not blazing any paths to originality, either.)

However, several events are bringing much joy in April.  A short list below, complete with photos:

This jade plant dropped the leaf to the left a year or so ago.  I noticed after a few days that the leaf had sprouted the tiniest root from its base so I shoved it in the soil and ignored it.  Now there’s a little plant growing from the leaf.  Yea!!

smallest jade

In other plant related news, my christmas cactus bloomed a second time in March.  The plant thought it was still winter, too.  It was gorgeous!

I’m working on a new shawl:

another shawl

I finished my hourglass sweater:

better color

However, I HATE the neck.  It’s way, way too big.  Rip it, rip it out.

(The Swingin’ Neckbreakers‘ cover of “Rip it Rip it Up” always runs through my head when I have to rip.)

The spate of news stories on the push-up as a benchmark of overall health freaked me out.  I’ve been doing push-ups almost daily in an effort to repress my first attempt, which put me at “poor.”  Not even “fair,” mind you.  “Poor.”  Ouch.

Since then, I’ve been a push-up machine.  I wish I could say I was above jokes about going to the “gun show”…

And finally, because it’s been such a long time between drafting and posting, here’s another photo of my jade. Another little shoot!

bonus bud

And that’s all I got.