blog, Writing

Spring Semester 2019

I’ve not paid much attention to my blog of late because I’ve been paying attention to my students. We are about 5 weeks into the semester here, and I’m still trying to get my bearings. However, even though I feel like I am trying to catch a speeding train, I’m having fun.

Funny how that works.

I am teaching a Strategic Communications course, and I love it. The course is geared towards young advertisers, public relations students, and marketers, and it is about studying, pitching, and writing narratives for various products, events, or ideas. The writing style, though, is different. It’s a different kind of storytelling, one that focuses on understanding the nature of branding and people’s response to brands. I’ve never taught a class like this before, but it is shaping up to be the most fun class of the semester.

My other two classes are Technical Writing for Engineers and a general education Rhetoric and Writing course. Tech Writing is always fun and challenging to teach because how do you make writing Usability Reports fun? It’s doable. You just have to be a little crazy.

The gen ed writing course is the one that I have the most experience teaching, and it is proving to be the most challenging. The main reason is that it is a required course. Most students don’t want to be there, and it shows. Since I don’t want to be one of those teachers who lecture, oblivious to their student’s engagement, I’m having to do a bit more work to get the students involved in their own experience.

Trials of a teacher…

How is your year going so far?

-K

blog, Uncategorized, Writing

It’s A New Semester

…And so far, things are going great. I could not sleep at all, so I am operating on less than 3 hours of sleep. I get to class and realize I have no dry-erase markers (ladies and gentlemen, the professor is unprepared for class!), so I run to the store to get some. Then, I get to class, and bring up my Canvas course page and — dun, dun, dun — it’s empty. I put all of the right content in the wrong class. I spent all week doing the wrong thing.

—sigh—

In any case, I have four classes I am teaching — two writing for engineers courses, one strategic communications (writing in advertising and public relations) course, and one traditional rhetoric, research, and writing course. I am excited about all of these course in their own way, but I am most excited about the strategic communications course because it is new. While I have done a bit of freelance copywriting (not much to write home about), it will be interesting to see what I can bring to this course and what I can learn from teaching it.

Onward and forward,

-K

Books, Writing

What is Your Theme for 2019?

I have a theme for the year, something that I will work on as the year progresses. I decided on “love” as a theme. This may seem hokey, but I spend a lot of time alone and largely invisible to most people; however, I think about relations and relationships quite a bit, including the relationship that I have with myself.

So, my exploration of love means finding ways to love life and work even when I feel completely over it all. Finding ways to love people is, of course, at the top of the list, but also finding a way to love change, uncertainty, and weakness.

I have decided to do this by increasing my reading, or rather, changing what I read on a regular basis. As an English professor who primarily works in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory, most of my reading is historical, philosophical, and theoretical in nature. I rarely have time for fiction. Yet, I have a bookcase full of fiction books, so I have decided to give them my full attention.

Fiction can teach us a lot about love. Of course, experience is the best teacher, but I am more interested in how we conceive of love. How do we understand it, talk about it, or think about it?

And from love, especially self-love, what makes a relationship? From there, what makes a community, a region, a society, and so on. Books can be very instructive here.

My first book of choice: Thomas Moore’s Utopia. I have not finished it yet, but so far I can say that the man was a master of the dependent clause. His sentences are long, really long. However, the book is really short, about 80 or so pages. I will do a write up on it later.

Another thing I would like to do, specifically with this blog, is include poetry. Since my theme is love, I thought it would be fun to go on a love journey through poetry. I will post daily poems that make me think of love or demonstrate love in some way.

If you have any recommendations, send them my way!

-K

blog, Writing

Word of the Day: What

You ever noticed that when dictionary-type sites do the word-of-the-day, it’s always a really interesting, uncommonly used word? Why not use common words, words that are a part of our everyday?

I was thinking of a word-of-the-day when I decided to read a few news articles to try and get some inspiration, and the only word that came to mind was, “what.” I kept saying it after each article: “what?”

Sometimes I said, “what the hell?”

Other times I  said, “what the [insert word here]?”

It’s such a useful word that allowed me to express my full range of emotions from confusion to incredulity, from cynicism to excitement.

It is a pronoun (What we need is love.), a determiner (He lost what little common sense he had left.), or an adverb (What does it matter if you had one pumpkin muffin already; eat another!).

Further, when successfully deployed, it is one of the few words that lends itself to non-verbal communication; facial expressions can do an excellent job at conveying the “what-ness” of a situation.

For example, you remember that time your co-worker said something so stupid that words simply failed? Or what about that time a loved one said they had a surprise for you, and you were left speechless? Both scenarios can be addressed with a well-placed verbal or non-verbal “what.”

In either case, let’s give it up for the common words too. I mean, really, every day can’t be an ‘anfractuous’ kind of day. Sometimes you just need to say, “what,” and let it go.

-K

 

Writing

What Makes A Line Memorable?

In keeping with my melancholy theme from my previous post, I want to consider how a simple arrangement of words can lift us up. Words have power, and that power is always magnified by the power of a competent wordsmith.

So, if we find ourselves in the doldrums, we may find comfort in knowing that we can rise. This is what Maya Angelou did; despite all the odds stacked against her, “still,” she said, “I rise.”

Think about the power behind that one line, “still I rise.” We don’t just feel it; we hear it in her deep, rooted voice: “Still I Rise.” It stirs something deep inside us, perhaps a little hope or, at the very least, faith that our descent will stop. When we are scraping the bottom of the barrel, and we keep taking hit after hit, Angelou wants us to say it slowly: Still-We-Rise.

The power of that one line is so rooted that it is soul-shakingly necessary to have in our vocabulary, in our lists of aphorisms we tell ourselves to get through hard times. The line is so powerful that it overwhelms the rest of the poem, but Angelou’s poem deserves to be read in its entirety.

Most people know the first stanza of the poem:

You may write me down in history,
With your bitter, and twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt,
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

This poem was written in 1978, and it makes sense to think of this poem as an answer to the persecution that made the Civil Rights Movements and the Feminist Movements necessary. Angelou was active in both movements, and she understood more work needed to be done.

Eight years before the poem’s release, Gil-Scott Heron said “the revolution will not be televised” and four years after the poem’s publication, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five introduced their own brand of poetry into the world saying, “It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”

In all cases, the issues or concerns that we need to rise above are external; they are outside forces working on us. There is, however, another way to consider this stanza.

How about using this stanza as a way to refute the inner monologue we have going that says we are worthless, failures, or losers. Good writing is malleable to experience. Sometimes all we need to rise above our own mental limitations and lamentations is a good word. Further, further, further still, what happens to us externally always affects us internally.

Angelou’s next two stanza’s address this:

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll Rise.

Place-hood is as ubiquitous as self-hood. I recently wrote a piece about the detention of refugees in camps along the Texas border. In that article, I called attention to a 1975 Arizona Supreme Court ruling that said,

While detention and investigation based on ethnic background alone would be arbitrary and capricious and therefore impermissible, the fact that a person is obviously out of place in a particular neighborhood is one of several factors that may be considered by an officer and the court in determining whether an investigation and detention is reasonable and therefore lawful.

“Obviously out of place…”

The bigger picture here is that we are always thinking about place-hood. That boy over there needs to know his place. That girl is speaking out of turn. Those people don’t belong in this neighborhood. It’s encoded in our legal and political dealings with each other, so of course, it trickles down into how we interact with each other socially.

We believe that someone does not have the right to hold their head up and square their shoulders. That woman over there, with her overweight body and short, uncombed hair, does not have the right to feel sassy or sexy. That rich boy does not have the right to listen to songs about the hood, and that hood-boy does not have the right to sit at the rich boy’s table.

Everyone is always telling us to know our place. Angelou says here, we don’t have to because as sure as the tides ebb and flow, we will rise.

But Angelou does not stop there. She goes on to ask questions of her persecutor:

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.

If we are continuing with the inner monologue theme I introduced earlier, consider this as well as the question of place-hood as a dialogue with yourself. How do you want to be? How do you want to be seen? Where do you want to be? Where do you want to be seen?

Make no mistake, some people want to see others as miserable as they are. Some people are in so much pain that they want to share it with everyone in the only way they know how: to stomp out another person’s happiness.

The perversity of watching someone fail and fall can animate others. Social media is full of this. Someone takes a picture of another at their lowest point and posts it online to get a few laughs. Unfortunately, broken people have become entertainment for some.

Perhaps it is because people are so entertained by the trials of others that they need to see them broken. It is the story of Job replayed and repackaged for a different era. As those hard times pile up, people gather around to question the faith, the strength, and the struggle of trying to hold on. “Give up and turn it all loose,” they say. But just like Job said, “though they slay me, yet will I trust,” Angelou says here,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I rise.

This is the rope, extended to anyone willing to grab hold, that can pull us out of the melancholy muck. What makes this poem work is that it is movable; that is, the poem has rhythm enough that you feel as if you are in the process of rising as you read each line.

The heart grows weary with living sometimes. A misstep here or there can have far-reaching consequences, but sometimes those missteps can lead to greater things.

Angelou’s poem makes us feel like we are walking down a crowded street growing taller, braver, and stronger with each step. This is the power of a wordsmith who was excellent at her craft.

So the knowledge we can take away from this, then, is that no matter the battle or what direction it is coming from, we need to continue to rise. The call to action embedded in the line is what makes it memorable.

-K.

To get the rest of Angelou’s poem, go to Poetry Foundation.org