Thursday, December 20, 2012

I arrived in Madison around nine thirty last night. The snow had begun to fall about an hour previous to that and the roads were fine. I went out side before I went to sleep, maybe around one, and the snow was about a foot deep and falling quickly like rain and sticking to my jacket and my hat. This morning there was more of it. After some pancakes I went out with my niece and my mom ("grandma") and made a snowman out of the sticky and heavy snow. By now, the middle of the afternoon, I just woke up from a nap and the snow is still falling, the wind starting to blow a little bit. The room where I lie has the blinds down but I'm going to get up now so I can watch it from here. There. Glad that's done. More light but the condensation on the inside of the storm window obscures the details. Oh well. 

Five days until Christmas, eleven until New Years, fifteen until official duties for the next semester starts, eighteen until classes start, and nineteen until teaching starts. Obviously, if I'm writing this I've made it through the trials and tribulations of the end of the semester: two twenty page papers, a take home essay test, grading student projects, revising and rewriting the syllabus and calender for teaching next semester, three presentations, and a few shorter response papers. In comparison to some folks it wasn't that big of a final crush, and I have to admit, after getting done with the first twenty page paper (a short history of expressive rhetoric and some of the roots of English departments, going back about a hundred years) it began to feel like I was already done. The second paper (an overview of the identity approach to second language learning, plus an informal case study of a former student through this lens) was not quite as polished as the first. But it was a lot of writing, based on research that I had been doing for the previous two months or so. Neither paper felt finished but both had reached their limits as far as pages, and I was happy to be done.

Writing in graduate school is a different kind of writing than, say, writing in this blog. It's not like writing an email, and I worry that the more time I spend doing the academic work the less I will be able to do this. Both in terms of consistency of voice as well as motivation. Already, the last two months, the blog or any other kind of 'personal' writing has been a low priority, and more fundamentally, has not been a habit, which is how most of my writing gets done (as opposed to inspiration or request or whatever other reasons exist to write). Is this bad? Am I headed in a direction that I'll never come back from? I don't know. BUT I will say that what I've been studying has been absolutely fascinating, half in world of rhetoric and composition, thinking about writing, teaching and institutional ideologies, and half in the world of Second Language Studies, taking a more empirical and hard science derived approach to what language (including writing) actually is, including how we learn it. I'm not sure where either of them will lead, but have another couple semesters coursework before I need to worry about the answer to that question.

One thing though, that I've figured out, for the time being, and I might be wrong, that has been enormously helpful, has been the difference between a rhetorical approach to writing and a poetic approach to writing, and why it is so difficult to mix the two together. Simply, the rhetorical approach to writing is concerned with what writing can do in the world, i.e. how it leads to action. The poetic approach is concerned with the internal cohesion of a given piece of writing, i.e. the rules that it creates for itself independent of external conventions. James Berlin calls this the action/contemplation dialectic. Coming from poetry and spending a lot of time on the 'internal cohesion' of a poem, line, book, song, drawing, email, mixtape, etc. I find that I am resistant to thinking about writing as a way to act on the world. In doing this, we have to consider audience, their expectations and the conventions we might use to reach them. This blog, generally, has never been concerned with audience hence the six or seven hits it might get on a good day. Yet, audience consideration has little to do with, say, any satisfaction I might get from writing a post (and the motivation this satisfaction brings with it), or how I actually go about writing. I can imagine an audience, or invite an audience in depending on what, and how I write (for example, the audience for this blog is generally people who know me), but all this is apart from the actual act of writing, and audience consideration is more or less a matter of interpretation that occurs after the fact/act. 

(Look at those long sentences! A tangible example of how all this writing and reading is rewriting some of my habits. Who is this person?)

And so it's been a struggle to consolidate a poetic approach with the rhetorical approach, and produce, what I'll call Academic Writing. It's not about the writing itself in academic writing, but the ideas that develop in and from the writing. How interesting! But writing into this 'voice' will take a while and I wonder if this process will create a more versatile writer, or a reptilian intellectual. Or then again, in the spirit of the end of the world says MF Doom, "When the poles shift / it won't matter which crew you roll with / cold and stiff" speaking of which I'm going to get back to things here in wintry Wisconsin. In these next couple weeks, I'm going to post a few short essays that I wrote for the Second Language Acquisition class. Merry ifmass. Happy clueyear.