Saturday, September 27, 2014

When it comes to writing I'm not sure what to say these days. There's a fear in the front of my mind that because my interests and everyday concerns have been wrapped up in school and "research," my writing in terms of literary-ish modes will shrivel up and die. Take the way that I've been writing papers or responses so far this semester, typing fast with little worry about quality or trying to impress my professors or peers. More of a concern about the content and the ideas and getting it done without much consternation. After writing through the summer in this mode, and after the intensive experience of a nine day high stakes test, I wonder if my approach to writing academically has been cauterized a little bit, which as I said, is more concerned with content rather than style. (The man across the stress is swearing at his lawn mower as I write this: "I'm so fucking tired of this," as he bends down to futz with the engine...). I believe that a mode of writing is a physically ingrained habit and dwelling over word choice, the truest way to say something, or being hyper-sensitive to cliche for the sake of originality is a mode that develops through the repetition of intention, i.e. develops over time. To put it another way, I worry that the kind of engagement with ideas that seems to be part of academic writing, of having already decided in some sense where one is going before you start, is going to carry over in other kinds of writing. Academic writing, or at least the kind that I've been trained in, is predatory writing, and I'm pretty sure that's about as far away from poetry as one can get. 

But maybe these kinds of concerns assume too much: that there is a something like a self to mess up. Philosophically, spiritually, I don't believe that there is (something to mess up), but I do try to be careful about what kinds of practices I dabble in. The other day I was reading a kind of convention guide for writing literature reviews and when it was discussing the stylistic features that one could begin a paragraph with I deliberately skipped it, believing that to read it would actually be bad for my writing; that to contend with known rules of how things are done limits the possibilities for what you might do. After knowing the rules one either follows them or not, but at the end of the day we still position ourselves in relation to the rule. Maybe this is silly, but there are some things I would rather not know, protecting the little jewel of my beliefs like a hen protecting her eggs. Then again, it seems like an even deeper display of faith to learn practices that conflict with ones beliefs, and then make a decision about the right way to do thing; the "don't knock it until you try it, man" school of thought. I have a hard time arguing with this approach, but some ways of being have a powerful impact on our beliefs, i.e. the politicians and academics who want to change the system but instead become absorbed by it. It's nearly impossible to notice the subtle, controlling influence of the systems we willingly subject ourselves to in the name of progress. 

My interests have been more political lately, which, second to love, charges my batteries; digging into the forums on Ferguson last week at Purdue and continuing to read and think and talk about the contingent labor problem in higher education. I'm leaning towards a historically oriented dissertation right now, investigating the value of language teaching (be it writing, speaking, English or other) within a Democratic/capitalist frame work as far back as Ancient Greece and how working conditions / economics have affected what gets taught. There's so much change happening at universities now, I guess my thinking is that I need to understand how we got to where we are to better be able to come to solutions that don't tread the same didactic ground. In another sense, I'd like to spend some of my remaining time here writing a story about how teachers are valued in "The West." In other school news, my research partner and I finished our data collection (or will Finish on Monday), and now we have a massive amount of data to go through which ultimately will be about the differences and similarities between American and international students when it comes to the kinds of teacher comments they prefer. In other words, when they get their papers back from teachers, which kinds of comments are useful and which are not. Over the summer and during the month of September we had four hundred some students take a fairly involved survey and now we need to figure out what it means, and I'll let you know. But it's exciting, and a novel experience, to be doing this kind of research. I should go now, as I need to clean up a bit before going to the big city tonight (Indianapolis!) to see the movie Boyhood, which I've been excited to see for some time and then totally forgot about once school started. So much more to say but it will have to wait. Hope you're well,