No. Don’t Surrender. Leverage.: Creativity in Scholarly Work

I was just talking with a colleague in the throes of dissertation writing. She’s right in the middle of the mess that is trying to thinking new thoughts. And though she was trying her hardest not to show it, she was feeling downtrodden, and at a loss as to what to do about it.
(And then today I serendipitously came across a series of tweets that animated what I saw behind her calm exterior. Press play and enjoy.)

Then she said something that I’ve heard (and said myself) a hundred times:

I just need to trust the process, right?
I need to surrender to it.

It rang so false, so hollow, so hopeless. This was someone deeply invested in a complex effort trying to grab at something secure. 2015/01/img_59031.jpgAnd surrendering to some amorphous process was her only solution? That’s no solution. I wondered: What is this “process” that’s supposed to solve everything? Letting time pass as we continue to “plug away” at the same old tasks? (You know what they say about that.)

Leveraging “the Process”

Rather than surrendering to this amorphous process (which I am now thinking is just code for feeling lost and ready to give up), I think we could do better to leverage it.

Continue reading No. Don’t Surrender. Leverage.: Creativity in Scholarly Work

Write. Create. Make.: A solution. Not a resolution.

I’ll say it. My 2014 Year in Review from WordPress is sad, just sad. And though the graphics are fun (thanks, WP), my work on this site has not been fireworks worthy. Let’s just take my 2014 Posting Patterns as an example…

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Click image to see the complete pitiful, sorry excuse for a report.

Posting patterns? Pretty pitiful. I didn’t have a “posting pattern.” I was in an avoidance holding pattern. Sure there was a lot going on this year, but I don’t need excuses. To be blunt: The sustained intensity of the dissertation processes in concert with the massive amount of other critical and creative…and really exciting…scholarly work I had been engaged in for the last couple of years had left me a little tired, a little wrung out to dry, and thus, a little hesitant to engage in any kind of writing, creating or making that was not absolutely, utterly necessary. And yet, I’ve missed it, and I’ve missed the rush, the spark, the energy I get while writing, creating, and making in order to keep writing, creating and making.

So, what am I going to do about it?

Write. Create. Make.: A solution. Not a resolution.

Continue reading Write. Create. Make.: A solution. Not a resolution.

IAmA LRA Show Guest: Young Adults & their Writing Practices

This post is updated to include a recording of the event...

Tuesday (8/19) at 8PM EST was the second live event in the month-long focus on young adults and their writing practices from #literacies chat and the Literacy Research Association‘s Research to Practice webinar series. I was honored to join Jen Scott Curwood, Ryan Rish, Jeremy Hyler, and moderator Paula DiDomenico and discussant Mellinee Lesley in the live LRA Learning Research to Practice show.

In addition to discussing the kind of research we do regarding writing and young adults, we discussed the current context for teaching young adult writers, and how we typify the young adults’ writing practices. We tackled the reoccurring question: What does it mean to teach young adults how to write? And finally, we discussed what we hope to see in research and practice in regards to young adults and their writing practices.

Continue reading IAmA LRA Show Guest: Young Adults & their Writing Practices

“Ahhhh, so this is what hacking feels like”: Ingenuity, Challenge & Glimmering Subversion

For the second July in a row I had the opportunity to participate in the National Writing Project‘s Making Learning Connected MOOC, or #clmooc as it is more commonly referred to across the webz.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 10.57.11 AMSet up as a massive (over 1,000 makers), open (free, no prerequisites, across multiple platforms including offline), online (hosted at Educator Innovator) collaboration (organic, responsive series of make cycles led by participant-facilitators), this year I was able to experience the ways that connected professional development can allow us to learn in what typically would be considered disconnected ways. Case in point: #clmooc officially ended on August 2nd. It’s August 8th, and I am now working on my responses to the Make Cycle that began mid-July. Mind you, there is power in learning in synch and in conversation with others, but the threads of my “classmates'” work and conversations lay available to me across cyberspace, and what I would have otherwise missed due to life interruptions, I can now contribute to, i.e. learn by making and connecting.

So, let’s get to it. In Make Cycle #4, we were invited to Hack Your Writing. This led to a myriad of various makes and forks and very cool conversations about what it means to “hack.” I was (and still am) especially influenced by several fellow participants who grappled with what it means to “hack” and whether revising written products should be considered “hacking” at all.

Continue reading “Ahhhh, so this is what hacking feels like”: Ingenuity, Challenge & Glimmering Subversion

Connected Learning and Hacking the Antidote

The following is a quick-fired dispatch from the outer bank regions of the zombie horde (i.e. from Pete (@allistelling) and Anna (@anna_phd)) to the #TvsZ community. #TvsZ is a massive zombie lore-based contemporary composition learning game. (That’s what we said: a massive zombie lore-based contemporary composition learning game.) Others are welcome to read it as it has equal amounts of connected learning and contemporary composition talk!

Continue reading Connected Learning and Hacking the Antidote

“You will always be the bread and the knife”: Metaphor, Meter & Meaning

This week I came across a post by Ian Bogost in the Atlantic called, “Shaka, When the Walls Fell“. The subject matter, of all things, was an episode of Star Trek, but more generally, language, figurative language, and meaning. If, like me, you are not a Trekkie, Bogost has your back. He recounts the episode nearly play-by-play while leading you gently in to the deep waters of language and meaning. I suggest reading the piece, so I won’t give a grand redux here. Rather, here are some main points and questions that I have been thinking about since:

Bogost offers a subtle and powerful critique of the way metaphor is typically depicted. The characters on the Enterprise are trying to talk to another species, the Tamarians, who communicate purely through short verbal referents to historical, cultural occurrences. Some call it metaphor, some images, and Bogost suggests: “Troi and Picard can’t help but interpret Tamarian through their (and our) cultural obsession with mimicry: Metaphorical language operates not by signification, but as poetry, by transforming the real in a symbolic mirror.”

He doesn’t go here (and in fact goes a completely different direction), but he has me wondering when (or if ever) words, whether figurative or as referent or sign, are ever real, or if they are always merely mirrors.  I want to veer to the other end of that proposition. There are times that I feel words like weights inside me. They dangle before dropping from my thoughts. My eyes tighten in response and recast my vision and memory. This isn’t always. But there are times when words, especially those operating as metaphor, couldn’t feel more “real” (whatever that is).

Bogost concludes that “strategy” would be the best way to depict the Tamarian language. He argues that with short referents like “Uzani. His army. With fist open,” the Tamarians aren’t referring to something other than what they mean, but are enacting a speech act inclusive of itself. Defining strategy as: “A strategy is a plan of action, an approach or even, at the most abstract, a logic,” he continues:

Here we might distinguish between the invocation of a particular logic and the simulation of a creature, thing, or idea by replicating its image. The simulation of life in art often concerns the reproduction of surfaces: in painting, the appearance of form, perspective, or the rendition of light; in literature the appearance of character or event; in photography and cinema the rendition of the world as it appears through optical element and upon emulsion or sensor; in theater the rendition of the behavior of a character or situation.

While all these examples “simulate” to various extents, they do so by a process of rendering. For example, the writer might simulate a convincing verbal intercourse by producing a credibility that allows the reader to take it as reality. Likewise, the actor might render a visible behavior or intonation that is suggestive of a particular emotion, event, or history that the theatrical or cinematic viewer takes as evidence for some unseen motivation.

logic is also a behavior, but it is a behavior unlike the behavior of the literary or theatrical character, for whom behaving involves producing an outward sign of some deeper but abstracted motivation, understanding, or desire. By contrast logics are pure behaviors. They are abstract and intangible and yet also real.

All of this reminds me of the YouTube sensation from a few years back of a three year-old reciting “Litany” by Billy Collins. Many of the comments questioned the value of the child’s memorization and recitation, because the child lacked the “understanding” of the words. I wonder if the words, as sound and rhythm, and as vocalized by a three year-old, are inclusive speech acts, are logic, pure behavior, not simulations or referents, but meaning made, pure meaning. At least the mother and another commenter seem to think that is possible (posted here below the video).

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Perhaps I am drawn to Bogost’s propositions in this piece because of a final critique he levels at understanding language as description and our cultural tendency to think we make meaning through narrative. I am not a fan of calling everything “story,” and no matter how much I have studied and considered it,  I don’t understand what people mean when they say “narrative.” I am far more drawn to a world of words that Bogost concludes with: “one built of weird, rusty machines whose gears squeal as they grind against one another, rather than as stories into which we might write ourselves as possible characters.”


As always, I apologize that WordPress has begun to force ads on each post. Please ignore any ad that follows. I have not vetted and do not support whatever is advertised below.

Anna Smith, PhD, educational researcher & teacher educator blogging about composition in the digital age, contexts for learning, theories of development, and global youth.

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