Cut me Some Slack: Risk and Fluidity in Writing

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H2O Flow
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This is a scene from Slacker, which was also on the promo poster for the film

First, I have to preface this blog with a commentary on Carter’s laudatory remarks for Slacker (1990). In “Writer’s Block Just Happens to People,” he opines that the it is a “masterpiece of the mundane” and that “nothing happens and yet the film works” (102). It is certainly mundane and there is no plot. I know that I am in the minority in disliking the film. There were some funny moments and I like the taxi scene where Linklater (the director and also the actor in the scene) explains that every choice we make includes an alternate path that we could have taken and a possible reality that will not be recognized because we did not take that path. That reminds me of interactive children’s books that require readers to make choices based upon certain challenges with which they are presented (https://www.cyoa.com, Choose Your Own Adventure Books). I find those to be great and inspiring to budding artists, including future writers. I understand that the movie may be viewed as a metaphor for the blank page, which provides endless opportunities for exploration. However, the film is composed entirely of disconnected strings of bizarre streams of consciousness by random, often paranoid individuals who do nothing but talk. There are also some gratuitous vulgarities that are not funny. The reviews for this movie were consistently great. Perhaps I am too traditional to “get it.”

While I support the point that writing does require time spent daydreaming and thinking, as expressed by Murray in “Teaching Writing as Process, Not Product,” writers can become too entangled in ideas, rather than setting drafts to the page (4). I also agree with Murray’s view that a majority of time should be spent prewriting, which includes research and other activities not involving the continuous wielding of the pen or keystroke. Carter, our ardent lover of Slacker, refers to the brilliance of an academic journal in which a blank page is published (100). It is entitled “The Unsuccessful Treatment of Writer’s Block” and it consists of one footnote: “published without revision” (100). I get the joke. I also understand Carter’s implied point that we should not be shackled by convention and that singular words and sounds can be inspiring (101). However, publishing a blank page? I’m in the camp that disagrees with doing this. Carter seems to have an almost “dump-all-the-Scrabble-tiles-on-the-floor” approach to writing to which I cannot relate. I do agree with his point that creativity is engendered by playfulness, which can lead to storytelling (101).

The other articles were based on solid points that were thought-provoking and important. Murray’s arguments hearken back to our initial reading of Lauer’s work. He is much clearer in explaining that writing should be taught in a manner in which instructors refrain from performing postmortems on students’ work; rather, they should allow them the to room to explore independent thoughts. I find his imagery of the autopsy to be vivid and perfect. Murray rhetorically asks instructors how they should motivate their students to take on the challenge of viewing writing as an organic process. He answers in a brilliant manner:

First by shutting up. When you are talking he isn’t writing. And you don’t learn a process by talking about it, but by doing it. Next by placing the opportunity for discovery in your student’s hands. When you give him an assignment you tell him what to say and how to say it, and thereby cheat your student of the opportunity to learn the process of discovery we call writing.

page 5.

Murray focuses on the crucial point of having students search for their own truths and find their own voices. It is important that we give students the opportunity to exercise intellectual risk and come to their own conclusions in their written pieces. Educators must not view students as blank slates, ready to be imprinted with robotic instructions. As the author aptly describes, students have already accumulated a great deal of knowledge about language when they walk into schools (5). Additionally, I found his connection between drafts and finished pieces to be enlightening:

There must be time for the writing process to take place and a time for it to end. The writer must work within the stimulating tension of unpressured time to think and dream and stare out of windows, and pressured time– the deadline– to which the writer must deliver

6.
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Success is my only [expletive] option; failure’s not!

The two images above are tied to my analysis of Carr’s “Failure Is Not an Option.” As students, we have been conditioned to think that failing is shameful and that there is only one opportunity to shine (Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Un9HLDCTCs). Educators should not espouse this view because it can be demoralizing rather than motivating. Carr encourages us to see failure as an opportunity for avenues of new thought and creation (See quote regarding Thomas Edison above). Failure is most certainly not an indicator of the lack of “moral fortitude” (7). Carr eloquently states:

…We aren’t born pen in hand, fully primed to write sonnets or political treatises as soon as we get a grip on those fine motor skills. Writing is learned slowly, over a long period of time, and with much difficulty, and anybody who says otherwise is lying or delusional or both

78 (emphasis added).

Carr goes on to cite Malcolm Gladwell’s point in his great work, Outliers in explaining that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master anything (79). Students and instructors should live by this rule. This is easier said than done, given that competition and winning are an inevitable parts of life. Despite these realities, a writer must look within and make his or her own discoveries and failure and creative dissonance is part and parcel of the process. “Development is not linear,” a point that is echoed by the Sommers’ piece we analyzed last week (79). “Experimentation” and “question-asking” are essential to the process of writing well (80). It is important to note that this is an ongoing process. Our writing evolves as we evolve as human beings. Equating failure with a lack of willpower or skill is harmful, especially to budding writers. We should embrace risk (80). It is important that young people be taught this invaluable lesson.

In the process of encouraging risk, we should consider Sands’ piece, “Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process.” Writing is not a neat, paint-by-the-numbers process. If we strictly limit students to the five-paragraph model (as laid out in Kendra’s blog last week), we are hampering them. However, it is important for some structure (rubrics) to be provided, especially to “inexperienced writers” (265). However, even with students who lack a facility with language, we must take the training wheels away at some point. Reliance on strict modes of writing only leads to stilted writing and to what I referred to in my presentation as the Borezone.

I’m in favor of Sands’ “meet me in the middle” approach (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3mJkSqZbX4, Official Video for “Meet Me in the Middle”). Writing is like a relationship, one that we have with ourselves (ok, hear me out colleagues). We cannot impose rigid, one-sided rules that benefit just our own needs on our significant others (that smacks of insecurity); rather, we need to give relationships time to grow and the trust to flow; compromise is necessary in this process. However, exercising healthy guidelines is important. The same goes for writing. We must incorporate essential things such as thesis statements and proofs, etc. However, we cannot choke our own writing with artificial rules/rubrics just so that we pander to the nervous critics that come out to play in the small hours of the morning. If we do this, creativity is stifled and we will not grow. We must exercise both patience and bravery to crack out of the shells of strict rubrics. We must push ourselves to exercise creativity, irrespective of the profession we end up pursuing.

Writing is not Linear; Follow Your Passion

Stay tuned for my blog on this week’s readings. I just had to share my experience with Eva Lesko Natiello today at the Morristown Book Festival. She is the author of the brilliant thriller The Memory Box. I went to a talk about self-publishing that she led and she emphasized that we should JUST WRITE about what we are most passionate about. It does not have to be in sequence! Just write a scene that captivates you personally, you may use it at the end, beginning or in the middle. Brilliant advice, right? And perfectly in line for what we’ve been learning. I also wanted to share that I grabbed a random journal as I was running out of my house today and I referenced Eva’s advice about telling a story that you find to be compelling (I wrote this one year ago). Complete serendipity! See paragraph 2 in journal entry below. Writing Tribe, please go to my twitter for more!

The Triad: Student Writing, Teacher Commentary and Grading /Evaluation: Sommers, Bean and Elbow

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The image shows a seed that contains immense promise. Like growing ripe fruit, writing is a process where no shortcuts can be taken in creating a shiny bite.
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Providing students with terse comments and a final grade often create a maelstrom of student confusion and frustration.

#1 Bean’s “Comments on Students’ Papers” invites educators to “think different,” something that was not implemented in my elementary school education (Steve Jobs). The author invites the teacher to act as a coach to draw out the best writing from students who thought they were unable to create, therefore “enhancing their sense of dignity” (317). When a young student is presented with a crisp, red-letter grade with either little or derogatory commentaries, it affects him or her negatively. I am reminded of my colleague Susan Wong’s evocative blog “The Gym Teacher’s Wife.”

Bean cites an important 1990 study conducted by Spandel and Stiggins, in which students were interviewed about their reactions to their teachers’ commentaries on their papers (318). The conclusions of the study are enlightening and they should be utilized as polestars by instructors who teach at every grade level:

Negative comments…stifle further attempts at writing. It would seem on the face of it that one good way to help a budding writer would be to point out what he or she is doing wrong but, in fact it usually doesn’t help; it hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot.

What does help, is to point out what the writer is doing well. Positive comments build confidence…However, there is a trick to writing positive comments. They must be truthful and they must be very specific (emphasis added).

Stengels and Stiggins’ 1990 study at p. 87, Bean 319.

It is important to guide a student correctly and not just to ask him or her to be more concise or develop an example in greater depth. Students should know the truth and learn from their mistakes. Other than my occasional watching of World Cup soccer, Olympic gymnastics, figure-skating and ice-dancing , I am not a sports aficionada in the least. However, I have noticed that sports commentators tend to be immensely more honest than other media critics of live events. They tell the audience what a “player” did “wrong” and then he or she can go back to the footage to review the mistakes and listen to the commentaries (which are, more often than not, also filled with praise regarding the player’s performance). Like sports reporters, educators should not avoid the truth. Anything less than purveying honesty is harmful to a student’s development. However, the criticism should always be constructive and never vitriolic in tone. It is also an instructor’s duty to help a writer hone his or her writing so that is focused and clear.

In this vein, Bean underscores the importance of encouraging the writing of drafts. I find this to be critical to student development. Drafts are to writing are what pruning is to a grape vine. Writing withers when it is not revised and when the pressure to yield a finished product is rigorously applied. We learned this in our reading of Lauer last week.

I am particularly struck by Bean’s pronouncement that “[r]evising doesn’t mean just edition; it means ‘re-visioning’- rethinking, reconceptualizing, ‘seeing it again’ (321). Instructors must be active coaches, not merely signaling plays on the field; rather, gathering deep in the proverbial huddle (I have no right to reference football, as I cannot understand it, but bear with me and please correct me if I’m thoroughly wrong in my reference). It is important that instructors stretch their mental faculties to care about the progress of students’ drafts. Doing so will assist active learning and in the creation of writing that a student can truly claim to be his or hers.

I am in favor of Bean’s strategy of allowing rewrites after the return of ‘finished’ papers (321). This seems to be a much more organized process and the writing that is received is of a higher caliber and allows an instructor the freedom to apply “more rigorous grading standards.” Id.

Bean’s construct of the “new/old” contract model is also important (327). Students will benefit from performing a side-by-side analysis of their drafts (one containing the instructor’s comments and the other including the student’s revised response). I know that in my own experience, viewing my own drafts contemporaneously is eye-opening.

Bean’s explanation of the development of drafts is reminiscent of sculpting a work of art from the raw material of clay (i.e. words and ideas, a well-structured thesis statement, etc.):

This writer drafts early and often. The potter starts with a big, messy pile of clay and doesn’t hesitate to slap more material on the wheel in midstream. As the potter’s wheel whirls, the potter begins molding the material into a rough shape. He or she continues to shape the material, thinning a little here, adding a little there until he or she is happy with its design.

Loren Blinde, “How to Write Like a Pro: First Drafts.” April 28, 2015 (http://www.writingpower.net/index.php/2015/08/28/how-to-write-like-a-pro-first-drafts/) (accessed on 9/28/19) (emphasis added).
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My Graphic Response to Sommers’ Article

#2 Nancy’s Sommers’ piece, “Responding to Student Writing,” dovetails well with Bean’s article. It gives instructors an important guide on what they should avoid in their written commentaries on students’ drafts. Combined with other researchers and professionals in the field of writing, Sommers makes a finding that I have never seriously considered:

The first finding from our research on styles of commenting is that teachers’ comments can take students’ attention away from their own purpose in commenting. The teacher appropriates the text from the student…Students make the changes the teacher wants rather than those that the student perceives are necessary, since the teachers’ concerns imposed on the text create the reasons for the subsequent changes…In the beginning of the process there was the writer, her words, and her desire to communicate her ideas. But after the comments of the teacher are imposed on the first or second draft, the student’s attention dramatically shifts from ‘This is what I want to say’ to ‘This is what you the teacher are asking me to do.’

page 150

Sommers’ article is greatly enhanced by the marked text of student drafts. In these drafts, the author makes manifest that instructors’ vague and often contradictory comments serve to frustrate students and make them go on wild-goose chases of correcting their alleged mistakes. As implied by my graphic above, writers should not utilize a “red pen of doom” to be editors (from Linda Pham’s impactful post last week). To do so assumes that what the student has handed in is a finished draft that is simply in need of a bit of outpatient surgery. What is actually needed is development of ideas and “an inherent reason for revising the structure and meaning of their texts” (151) (emphasis added). As astutely explained by Sommers, students also need to reconsider a broader audience than one consisting only of their teachers. This is an active manner in which they can develop a unique voice and points of view.

Sommers also introduces a salient point: the “process of revising always involves a risk” (152). Students must be liberated from the notion that they need only address the changes that the professor has written in the margins. It is up to instructors, through comments on drafts, to facilitate students’ new discoveries, which may be tied to their original ideas. Additionally, peer review is immensely helpful to this process.

Like Bean’s article, Sommer’s piece helps to show that writing is an organic process that evolves and the professor should act as a constructive facilitator who strongly promotes writing as a process and not as a product. This is strongly tied to Lauer’s work.

Everyone wants to be a CHAMPION, but is the rabid pursuit of THE BLUE RIBBON A+ the Best Strategy for Writing?
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#3 Ranking, Evaluating and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment by Peter Elbow

Elbow seems to be virulently opposed to students’ pursuit of rank and obtaining the best grade possible. I agree with his assessment that students are often obsessed with getting A’s, rather than having knowledge develop organically. As an undergraduate, I was enrolled in the Honors Program, which is a four-year colloquia in which we learned religion, philosophy and literature, etc. from ancient to postmodern times; however, we were made to derive our own exegetic commentaries on the material that we explored. As freshmen, we were a class of 18-year old overachievers who thought we knew a lot because we had collected A’s like neat little soldiers on our high school report cards. So when it was not apparent what the professors wanted we did what all very “type A” folk do: ask the upperclassmen how to get an A on our papers. The fuel for this avid fire to be champions was stoked by the fact that written assignments were very often graded. However, as cited by Elbow, our professors were extremely open with us in providing relaxed critical evaluations outside of the classroom and encouraged the process of organic learning– i.e. learning the artful skill of listening and conversing with our peers. In later years, we also engaged in free writing, which led to many “lightbulb moments” for all of us. As cited by Sommers, our professors also drove us to develop unique points of view, rather than blindly accept any given pedagogy. We were made to challenge our initial assumptions, which is something that has always remained with me.

Elbow’s discussion of the rabid pursuit of grades also hearkens back to Sommers’ point that students are often driven to please their professors rather than discovering and molding their own independent ideas.

My disagreement with Elbow comes with what appears to be his suggestion that instructors should delay giving grades. This article was written in 1993. Since then, getting into undergraduate and graduate programs has become excessively competitive. The number of students seeking higher education has gone up and class rankings are always going to be benchmarks for admissions’ offices.

I am not averse to Elbow’s viewpoints in toto, by any means. I am attracted to Elbow’s ideas of creating students’ portfolios in which their work is aggregated. This is a great chance for students to see how they have progressed throughout the course of a quarter or semester. This builds confidence and a way in which students can learn from past errors.

I also appreciate Elbow’s approach of having students sharing their work with others and then engaging in critical peer review. This ties in with the organic teaching philosophies espoused by Bean and Sommers. However, I do not agree that students should be over-zealously encouraged to submit their writing drafts to class magazines (195). This may be highly intimidating to young freshmen beginning their foray into writing. It should be an optional exercise.

Elbow’s theory on contract grading (i.e. setting out his expectations of students) is highly important (195-196). This eliminates a lot of tension at the beginning of a quarter or semester when students are wandering listlessly in search of guidance regarding professors’ expectations. So often students are tersely told to simply attend class and do the readings. That form of passive performance is not conducive to true learning.

Elbow’s piece hits a sweet melodic harmony when he describes the critical practice of free-writing. This is often missing from curricula. It gives students an opportunity to learn about who they are as individual writers and what is important to them as citizens of the world. It is worth a considerable about of class time, especially in first-year writing courses, for students to spend time journaling. The power of the pen (or keystroke) is pivotal because it encourages them to write about developed and refined ideas. To me, writing is like photosynthesis: one needs exposure to unobstructed light in order for something to grow properly. Free-writing is an essential nutrient, like natural sunlight.

When I read the Elbow’s heading of Liking, I was expecting a “New Age self-approval, everyone should get a trophy for trying” exposition. I was so wrong! How can a student better his or her writing when he or she loathes what is on the page? Even if there are multiple grammatical errors, vague ideas or misspellings, the student has expressed genuine interest on that page and this is a valuable currency. Furthermore, Elbow elucidates:

…[T]he way writers learn to like their writing is by the grace of having a reader or two who likes it– even though it’s not good. Having at least a few appreciative readers is probably indispensable to getting better.

….Good teachers see what is potentially good, they get a kick out of mere possibility– and they encourage it.

page 200

I appreciate that Elbow sees writers as being seedlings who will grow into autonomy. He freely admits that after he serves as teacher and constant facilitator, his students get better without his help. This exhibits the true power of teaching.

#4 Equity Unbound

Entre [escritor(e/a)s] no hay fronteras

When I first learned about Equity Unbound, a phrase that I learned in Spanish I immediately came to mind: “Entre amigos no hay fronteras,” which translates to Among friends, there are no borders. In the image above, I have modified this phrase to fit our seminar: Among writers, there are no borders. In our exercises both in and out of class, the Internet has united all of us across time zones. Learning new perspectives is vital to living in postmodern times. Learning from your fellow writers across the globe is exciting, instructive and fun. Even when you disagree with a viewpoint, it is still extremely important to keep borders open so that different perspectives can be respectfully addressed. We are all in fellowship as writers.

Rhetoric and Composition/ Othering and Belonging

#1 Rhetoric and Composition (Lauer) 

From 
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Follow the path!
 
To
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An approximation of an electric rhizome
 
In her piece, Lauer argues that the teaching of strict composition is stifling and does not fit in with the reality of our interconnected world. The following explains a pedagogy that is stiff and highly formulaic:
 
From the mid-1960s, members of the emerging field of rhetoric and composition began to challenge the teaching of writing as ‘product’ in which papers were assigned, handed in and graded. Such teaching also focused on reading and discussing essays, completing exercises on style, and repeating drills on grammar. Little, if any attention, was paid to helping students get started, investigate ideas, consider readers, receive feedback on drafts or revise (Lauer page 112).
 
Lauer explains that the use of rhetoric as a means of communicating ideas should also be incorporated in teaching students how to write a traditional essay (example of the latter: development of an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion). Unfortunately, she does not give a laser depiction of what rhetoric is and leaves the reader guessing. As cited by Lauer, the art of rhetoric went back to the time of the ancient Greeks (page 107).   Rhetoric is “a technique of using language effectively and persuasively in spoken or written form. It is an art of discourse which studies and employs various methods to convince, influence, or please an audience” (https://literarydevices.net/rhetoric/).
 
The following video explains the use of rhetoric by classical Greek philosophers, which is still just as important to writing in these post-modern times. It also examines the terms of ethos, pathos and logos, which Lauer mentions on page 109:

Classical Rhetoric: Sophistry, Rhetorical Proofs (YouTube Discussion) (See link below)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY10n2A12zs

Lauer encourages instructors to incorporate rhetoric in their teaching of composition so that their students can benefit from a richer writing education. She also explains that writing is very much tied to individual experiences and that professors should encourage students to incorporate their own lenses in their writing (i.e. feminism, gender-identity, race). I see this as a dual ambition. Writing with the use of a particular lens develops voice and also anticipates a distinct audience.

The methodologies that should be implemented in marrying rhetoric to composition are:  planning, brain-storming, pre-writing , the submission of drafts and peer review. Lauer appears to emphasize that writing is an organic and evolving art and that it should be taught in a manner that reflects that fact.

Lauer elucidates the 1980s “rhizomatic spread of theory,” which involves making connections among others as well as conceiving thoughts among peers and across social, economic and cultural borders. A rhizome is:

a stem that grows underground. It usually grows horizontally, just below the soil’s surface. Since it’s a stem, it has nodes and is able to put out other stems, usually straight up and above ground. This means a patch of what looks like several individual plants grouped near each other may actually all be shoots of the same plant, put up by the same rhizome (Lizz Baessler, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/bulbs/bgen/what-is-a-rhizome.htm).

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Photo of a rhizome in nature
 
Lauer explains that writing should not be taught in a strictly linear, hierarchical way. Ideas breed in a horizontal manner and are affected by the writer’s society, interpersonal and cross-cultural connections. She stresses the importance that the teacher should not be the intended spectator; rather, the student writer should develop his or her own sense of who his or her audience is. This makes writing dynamic, current and important. Imposing borders on students on what type of writing is acceptable serves only to frustrate their learning processes.
 
It is important to note that Lauer never states that the teaching of composition should be discarded. Traditional conventions such as composing sound sentence-structure are important. Rather, her thesis is that rhetoric and composition must be taught as one.
 
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Lauer’s article resonated with me because I was like the child in the photo above, frustrated by my writing classwork and homework. My elementary education was very formulaic in the sense that we were shown what was good writing in our readers and then we were told to write an essay on a topic. Certainly, we were taught grammar and that such a piece should contain an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion and what those things were, but that was the extent of it. What resulted was an endless flow of book reports, which are glorified summaries that do not capture student perspective. Developing unique critical lenses were not lauded in my very traditional Catholic elementary school. Written expressive art was mostly reserved for days on which we had talent shows. I did have one seventh-grade teacher, Miss Kuehl, who rocked the boat by having us read unexpected novels like Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George and having us write about the story lines from different characters’ perspectives. We also wrote alternative endings to novels and she taught us to appreciate art in all forms and cultures. We even had a potlatch, which is a North-American Indian ceremonial feast. This was frowned upon by Sister Superior Inez because we were out of our seats (the horror). Needless to say Miss Kuehl did not last long at our school.
 
I was very frustrated by writing to yield a product because I did not feel that I was exploring something new. I did not have the vocabulary then to express it, but voice and peer interconnectedness were among the things that were missing. Moreover, formulaic writing affected my own pieces in my early years because I simply did not understand the concept of a draft. Consequently, there were many crumpled loose-leaf pages containing one or two sentences in my trash bin at home. I was hard on myself because I perceived that the order of the day was to get things right the first time. I had no notion of what pre-writing was until I went to high school.
 
However, the real metamorphosis came when I went to college. It was there that I learned the power of rhetoric, drafts and using a paper to pose new questions to my audience. A conclusion was no longer a summary of what had been written; rather it was a challenge to both myself and my audience about what further themes could be explored. I also learned the importance of brainstorming with classmates of diverse cultural backgrounds about topics in order to gain fresh perspectives.
 
In terms of my own creative writing today, I sometimes feel demoralized if I have to write more than one draft after my first original try. However, I am learning that this is a necessary part of the process of writing. As Lauer and other literary critics have explained, the pedagogical crux of writing lies in the process and not the product.
 
I would have liked Lauer to cite more concrete examples of her theories rather than bolstering her opinion based on the scholarship of other colleagues in her field. This would have been helpful to create a more tangible understanding of the points that she made.
 
With that, I leave you with a poem inspired by Lauer’s article and my early elementary school self:
 
Chalk on a blackboard, dust
Cursive instructions explained in Sr. Ruth’s double starched voice.
Do this, Do not do that
Write like the classic writers.
This is not a talent show
Wait until next month
To use your own voice and create.
I did not ask for a poem.
Today I want you to obey and emulate.

#2 The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging (Powell and Menendian)

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Visual depiction of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1890).
 
I was inspired to include this image due to the stunning photographs that were part of this article. The main character in this short story is a woman who feels trapped by the rigorous social conventions of the time. Thus, she seeks to unravel herself from her bedroom’s kaleidoscopically confining yellow wallpaper that  that threatens her selfhood and sanity (the wallpaper moves and tries to ensnare her). She tries to rip herself away from her own otherness.
 
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Inclusion!

 

The authors of this piece argue that the language of “the other” is one of alienation and feeling separate from the majority. This reminds me of the song “Creep” by Radiohead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nZqfWo5UN4). This otherness is not innate; rather, it is learned in social groups.

 

Politicians can act as demagogues by appealing to our next door neighbors’ fear of “the other,” and thus they capitalize on this fear so as to create a culture of exclusion. This includes perpetuating organized and entrenched prejudice against illegal immigrants, minorities, and other marginalized groups. The authors state:
 
The idea of stoking anxiety, resentment, or fear of the ‘other’ is not a new electoral strategy in American politics. Appeals to nativism, racism and xenophobia are evident in almost every period of American history….
 

Many autocratic and authoritarian leaders stoke nationalism or resentment or      fears of the ‘other’ to prop up or reinforce their own support…Demagogues actively inculcate and organize that fear into a political force. Where prejudice was latent, it is being activated; where it is absent, it is being fostered (Part I, Demagoguery and Power).

It is interesting that by embracing the concept of the other, people can huddle together and belong to insular groups where they are bonded by their fear. In essence, they can create a perverse sense of “belonging.”The authors explain that “othering” is an active process in which perpetuating the recognition of sameness is the order of the day. In this framework, people are taught to identify exclusively with their own cultures and religions. This creates the inculcation of organized division, which breeds hate and concomitant violence. This reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s appeal to society in asking “What’s Going On?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6jKE6YIxmc). As in Nazi Germany, the sharp and cruel delineations of “others” is just the first step. Campaigns of exclusion, violence and death often borne by such categorizations.
 

The authors argue that the only manner in which “otherness” may be overcome is by creating “belongingness” in our communities and throughout the world. First, the “other,” must be humanized and his or her distinct features as a human being must be understood and embraced. That is not to say that national identity or unique religious/racial identity should be shunted. Inclusion is not a zero-sum game. Powell and Menendian argue for “empathy and collective solidarity” to be developed as bridges from one group of persons to another (Conclusion) (emphasis added). This reminds me of Atticus Finch’s exhortation to his daughter Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it” (https://bookroo.com/quotes/atticus-finch). Once we can understand each other, we can have meaningful conversations that are conducive to solving problems. A conversation cannot be had unless distinct voices are recognized and respected.

 

Powell and Menendian make arguments that are essential to our changing political and socio-economic landscape. However, I disagree with them on several points. In the Introduction, the authors refer to the Paris and Brussels terror attacks and they suggest that they resulted from “the lack of cultural and geographical integration of ethnic and racial immigrant groups.” I find this to be false. There are people who exist on the extreme fringes of society who are so filled with venomous hatred that violence is their only outlet. It is these individuals who are responsible for terror attacks and such extremists will always be attracted to destruction.
 

I also disagree with the characterization of Israel as a colonizer of the Palestinians, which is cited in Footnote 51 in Section II, The Mechanics of Othering. I find that media viewers tend to collapse all of Israel into the territory of the West Bank. Without getting into the politics of that particular issue, it is important to understand that the country is actually beautiful and peaceful. Moreover, it would be folly to deny that Israel is a small, but mighty ally of the United States as well as an innovator in the burgeoning field of cybersecurity.

 
Powell and Menendian’s article has tremendous implications for my own writings. It makes me aware that I should push to think as Atticus Finch would and then incorporate the results in both my poetry and prose. While my own personal and familial experiences are important to me, I should be aware of different perspectives and should diversify my literary audience to include people who do not look and speak like I do. The United States is such a rich tapestry of people (gay, straight, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, etc.) that we must recognize all of its threads. As implied by the authors, this is not something that can be done overnight; however, it behooves us to make sure that the threads of the tapestry do not fray or are cut off entirely and indiscriminately. It is only in this manner that true belongingness can be created.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Motivations for Writing

Hello everyone. I look forward to getting to know each one of you and am very excited about this seminar. I know that we will learn and grow together in a supportive and collaborative environment.

At the insistence of my older sister, I learned to read and write at a very early age. She always encouraged me to read above my grade level. The first book that set my mind aflame was The Secret Garden. Then it was The Outsiders and Jane Eyre that became treasured favorites. What intrigued me most was the authors themselves. Like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, I wondered what it would be like to call them on the telephone and have conversations. It is exciting that in today’s digital age, you can have contact with writers! You could most certainly conclude that great writers were (and are) celebrities for me.

My interest in putting pen to paper was ushered by my affinity for reading and art. I would warrant that many of us have had the same experience. The printed page, a painting or a sculpture always caused me to wonder what the artist was thinking when he or she started his or her work. How did it evolve? Did the artist end up with that which he or she expected? Writing is akin to cooking a new dish: you have all of the ingredients on your counter, but then you improvise along the way to suit your unique tastes. Writing should never be static. It is an organic process in which ideas move in different directions as research and perspective changes. An essential part of my writing is challenging my own initial assumptions. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. In a similar vein, I believe that thoughts and writing must be examined and cross-examined.

Speaking of examination and cross-examination, I have also written as part of my career as an attorney. This always required me to anticipate my adversary’s arguments in order to be ready to write reply briefs and be subject to rigorous questioning in the courtroom. I enjoyed the latter the most because performance art and public speaking were parts of my earlier education. I have also earned an L.L.M. in intellectual property. This is important to me because it has peaked my awareness about digitally protecting my own work. While I continue to practice, my passion lies in creative writing.

My own writing in the afore-mentioned realm has been driven by the need for self-expression. Instead of writing in a journal as a child and teenager, I always wrote poetry and used symbolism to capture the essences of my experiences. As an adolescent, it is was often difficult for me to lay my feelings bare in literal terms; the blank page was too daunting when I tried to do so. It was also the medium I often chose for performing school assignments. Poetry proved to be a fruitful genre for my writing and self-development.

As an adult, I continue to write poetry; however, I also write to capture experiences and memories in a much more literal manner. This is true whether I choose to express myself in the realms of fiction or non-fiction. My goal is to be a better writer and to capture memory and culture. I grew up in an Italian/Sicilian home. There is much to explore with regards to my nuclear and extended families and the extent to which they did and did not assimilate within their communities. I seek to publish a collection of fictional short stories, based on true events. I would also like to write the “next great [Sicilian-American] novel.” The historical lifeblood of our country is one that is steeped in immigrants’ stories and they are very important to understanding and navigating the world.

The graduate program presents a unique opportunity to sharpen my research and writing skills. One of my interests is historical fiction and I look forward to learning methodologies for writing and researching in this genre. I have found the professors and students to be warm and very open in communicating their thoughts, both in and out of class. I look forward to learning with all of the members of our bright and diverse group.

Writers and their identities

Welcome

Zest

Sicilian lemons are a marvel. They are tangy when you take an unmediated bite; however, if you add salt, lemon, vinegar and olive oil, the tanginess harmonizes. Writers present the world with their own unique flavors that provoke and surprise other writers and readers. Please subscribe below to be notified when I post new updates. Follow me on Twitter @medeathewriter. Thank you and happy writing!