Monday, May 21, 2012

kickstarting a summer of writing

At the end of the semester, I usually  take a pause(s) to clear out the psychic energy that has edged my creativity into corners, that has cluttered my mind with webs of politics, with a depletion of energy. While there is truth in that, what usually prevents my start back to unstructured writing is simply the demons that have been sheltered for weeks.

For the fifteen weeks of last semester, I not only taught classes, worked on the textbook, but also enrolled in two back-to-back 8 week writing workshops at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Despite all my work, I produced all the writing assignments, at times finding myself banging out some of the crispest writing I've done recently. Now that I don't have regular deadlines and the pressure to be a good student, I find myself staring at the lists of pieces I want to work on and stopping, distracted by my fear of paralysis.

After all, my desk at home is cluttered with filing needs amassed from the semester, scattered notes, jots of writing, and various other distractions that scream clean me and then promise hours of carefree writing--hah! But, I know the pattern, and know that while I will appreciate a clean desk, the clutter and dirt doesn't stop the writing. It's simply that the demons are back in full force, mocking my attempts to produce.

And I know it's as simple as starting, as setting the time with the computer, with the paper, to dig into revision, to play with ideas, and to not stop, even when the laughter that shouts "you're so silly to think you can do this" keeps winning at our invisible arm wrestles. So I will start small, start with this blog to remind myself to write, to take things in pieces and not allow myself to be daunted by the insurmountable task of finishing. And even when daunted, to push through, because I have to, because when I don't, I am sleepless, I am chased by words, I am nagged by thoughts of not knowing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Whey of the Problem

Once again my food conservator has struck, wondering what to do with a surplus of something meant to be discarded, something needing a new life.

Today, with the semester finally behind me, Nan and I got to playing with my cheese making kit she had given me back in December. We opted for mozzarella cheese since the kit proclaimed thirty minutes needed. Ingredients and instructions were fairly simple--basically mixing milk, rennet tablet (the coagulator), and citric acid (the stretcher) together at specific temperatures, until you pull and stretch this taffy-like substance.

And so, with some stirring, constant measuring of temperature, waiting, and again heating, we produced our very first homemade cheese. And its texture and taste proved neighbor-worthy, offering tastes across the fence.

Leftover whey proved the true challenge. After all the curds transformed into cheese, we were left with almost one gallon of whey. Nan would have simply dumped it down the sink, sending it to its demise. The food conservator, on the other hand, quickly turned to the internet, ferreting out all the possibilities for recycling. Giving it to your animals (pigs, chickens, dogs) seemed like an easy solution; however, Sasha took several sniffs and quickly retreated, wanting nothing to do with leftovers.

The most appealing solution (and also the one that would use up the majority of whey) was adding it to stock. Thus, with wilting celery and aging carrots occupying the vegetable drawer, I quickly added them and an onion to a 3:1 whey to water ratio. After several hours, a gorgeously rich stock (enhanced with some leftover parmesan rind) was ready to transform the frozen roasted squash from November and the bits of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce hanging out in a container in the fridge into a rich spicy soup.

And as for the rest of the whey--tonight's quinoa and brown rice will be cooked in it, adding a bit of flavor and softening to the grains.

Once again, the food conservator triumphs, rescuing the whey from the problem of waste.

Friday, May 11, 2012

End of the Semester: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

After reading Billie's post on the end of the semester, I became inspired to sit down, stop, and think about the past year. And as customary, things fall into Eastwood place easily. Fortunately, The Good always wins, especially when I am away from the semester and can again reconnect to all the good.

The Good

  • My Comp I students are totally getting rhetoric, finally. This is because I am finally getting better at teaching them this, mostly because of the textbook I've been writing with Liz Kleinfeld. In their portfolio final reflections, most students mention that they understand rhetorical appeals, that they will always think about ethos in what they read and see. They also share that even though initially they felt my reading responses seemed unnecessary, that as the semester progressed, they realized that all their rhetorical analyses helped them apply those principles to their writing and composing.
  • My Comp I students show me how wickedly smart they are. They also show me that my multimodal approach helps them get rhetorical concepts on a deeper level than simply analyzing written text. Their visual arguments are original, pointed, and much more convincing than traditional disengaged argumentative essays that I used to require.
  • I changed up assignments in my Comp I class after several semesters of repetition. I privileged more visual approaches, always accompanied by a form of analysis, to help students see that composition is more than text. As the semester neared its end, I worried about whether their writing skills were getting more proficient--had I structured class in a way that their writing improved even while emphasizing other forms of composition. Fortunately, when I read their final portfolios, their reflective essay (a piece I didn't see) showed they indeed had learned essay writing concepts and rhetorical strategies.
  • Sharing my writing and writing processes/struggles helps me feel more connected to my students and the profession. In my poetry writing class, I wrote in class with the students, sharing my in-class exercises. I talked about my struggles, about how I felt after workshopping my piece the night before, about my drafting and revising practices.
  • Two years ago when I became Faculty Senate President, I had one major goal--to help faculty feel more empowered and to have Senate feel like a group of committed individuals. For the most part, that has been accomplished. I've established good lines of communication with the administration, and as a result, helped to foster some solutions for problematic situations and helped to develop some faculty centered initiatives. Faculty trust me to get their voice heard, so I feel deeply honored by that trust. Since it's felt ultimately rewarding, I'm heading into another two years in the position.
  • This year, I finally received a course release for my work directing the GLBT Resource Center on campus. With the release, I staffed hours in there, so I felt more connected to my work studies who do most of the staffing and with the students who drop in and regularly hang out. I also worked with an essentially new group of students to deliver two safe zone trainings this year. The release is one step toward institutionalizing the Resource Center, and I hope that eventually my hope for that will be realized.
  • For the first time ever, a student in my Comp II class created a resume for one of her genre pieces, illustrating the plight of a teenage mom. It was smart not just in its rhetorical message, but also in how the student paid attention to formatting and the resume's sparseness.
  • News of a raise after what seems like a long four years without one.
  • And probably more goods that have slipped into my mind's crevices.
The Bad
  • Having a student disappear toward the middle of the semester, hoping he is safe out in the world. In a small poetry class of eight, when we lost T, it took a long time to establish the community as just seven. One day, T basically had a breakdown, evident at the start of class. I tried to get T help, involved a Dean who tried to involve a counselor, but T needed to go. And so, perhaps one day I will find out what happened to T, but for now, I hope he is safe out in the world. He made an impression in a short number of weeks.
  • My loose approach (no attendance policy) did not work well with my Comp I class this semester. Most were fresh out of high school and without there being huge consequences for missing class, they would come and go. Thus, I had a rotating community, where it became clear when a number of students would miss. At one point, the class of regulars sensed my frustration--they all sat on one side of the room together so if I stood on that side, the class looked full.
  • Even though my own writing helped me connect more with students, at times it occupied so much of my time that I would occasionally neglect a prep for class. Fortunately this didn't happen often, but when it did, I had to punt quickly, with often good experiences, but still I would think--oh lame Amy, really.
The Ugly
  • As has unfortunately been the case for the past two years at my institution, there seems to be a plague of a virus that has eaten away at its innocence. As the year ends and some things are resolved, I am hopeful that the ugly will disappear.
And so writing this year-end helps me feel not only ready for days of summer's nothingness and the time to undertake certain projects (that post forthcoming), but also grateful for my job, for the fact that despite the tire of fifteen weeks, I get to use my intellect and I get to hang out with young minds; I get paid to think, feel, and create. It doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Collaborative writing

I am a fan of collaborative writing, realizing that mixing minds and words can often lead to a work greater than if done alone. For the past five years, I've been working on a textbook with my colleague and friend, Liz Kleinfeld. The work would be nothing close to its rich texture without our shared brains and writing. I had no doubt that the collaboration would be successful and sustainable because we had spent years teaching together and collaborating on ideas, constantly.

Sometimes, though, an opportunity for collaborative writing comes forward. Several months ago, during a final sharing of writing at a workshop on teacher stories, I read a section aloud. After I shared, a guy across the room said his followed mine nicely, so he read his. Sure enough, the themes of our pieces wrapped themselves together. After the workshop ended, he approached me and suggested we try to collaborate on a piece to submit to the Colorado Language Arts Society journal Statement--an issue devoted to teacher stories. And so, I have ventured into the unknown, wondering how a collaborative writing with someone I do not know will fare.

What I do know, though, is that I'm excited by the prospect. I have no doubt it will ultimately go well. There is a freedom in simply trusting that this experience is right and an opportunity to learn more about myself, my writing, and writing in all its facets. I am a shadow of Whitman's "Noiseless Patient Spider," launching my "filament, filament, filament, out of itself."