Monday, September 29, 2014

Back in My Chair, Writing

After over a month of travel, nothing feels better than to be back home, back in my favorite chair.  Its an overstuffed, burned orange leather chair that I have moved with me from Nebraska, to Charlotte, and now to our forever home, Tacoma. It is my special place in what I hope is the last home I ever live in. It is more than a piece of furniture; it is symbol and embodiment of so much that I love. My time alone writing, my family close by, a career that I usually love, but am always bewildered by. My dog in my lap, the memories of my dogs no longer with me.

In this chair, I write and laugh, I write and think, I write and cry. 

For ten years in this chair, I have dreamed of possibilities through writing; I have lived a life through writing. I have had success and failures, projects come to fruition, and those that have wilted on the vine. I have had friends die, and have made new friends, and have moved from being a young man to being  a very middle aged man.

And through it all, a constant, this chair, my fingers moving across the keys, the mystery of the word.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Its All About the Story

In the past I have contended that even the most quantitative, traditional scholarly articles are "all about the story." Having been studying creative nonfiction (aka, narrative nonfiction, literary nonfiction, or even call it "Fred" if you wish) intensively during my sabbatical, my belief in the importance of story has been strengthened.

In fact, there is a wonderful video that describes a project that matched scientists and nonfiction writers to help them create more powerful works together.  Watch this inspirational and thought- provoking video by Lee Gutkind, who has been referred to as the "godfather of creative nonfiction. 

Thinking of our work in terms of stories is not, however, only for when we write for lay audiences. Thinking of our work in terms of narratives allows us to consider writing our work in ways that are evocative and moving, or at least does not induce sleep. I will explore this notion more in a subsequent post but for now, watch the video and think of how it may apply to your work. 

Who knows, perhaps you will also think about writing for other discourse communities (fancy professorial talk for "audience") as well. As long as we take care of our "T an P writing needs," writing for the public is some of the best service we can do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Old School, but Great Book

Too often, I think some (not all) new scholars discount writing resources that were written BW (Before the Web). It is true, some of the tools that we have available to us make some suggestions passe at best, and obsolete at worst.  For give us-some of us fossils even completed some of our university education on typewriters; can you imagine. Each day, having to ride my pet brontosaurus back to my dorm and write my papers "old school."

Yet, the "bones" of many books on writing written in days of yor' are still excellent. Perhaps none better than "Writing for Social Scientists" by Howard Becker. I really don't want to even dissect many of its great insights, but instead implore you to find a copy and read it.

Of course, you can skim some of the material that seems dated, but even in his discussion of using index cards for research is based on wisdom that I think we all can learn from. Sometimes using old world tools is one of the best ways to solve new world problems (says the guy who still likes to go to libraries and believes in journal books made of, dog (intentional use) forbid, of paper!!).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Challenge:The Policy Implications of_________

Using the prompt, "The Policy Implications of_________", fill in the blank with important aspects of your work. Try to write ten without thinking. Put them aside for a few hours.

When you come back to them, see if any of them resonate with you. Might you be able to write one as an article? Might it be a fun departure from what you have been doing? See if you can find a journal for it. Now, use what you have been learning, and begin!!!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Your Favorite Resource?

As  I recover from my jet lag, I will rely on some of you, my wonderful readers, to chime and and tell us your favorite writing resources. Discuss books, people, websites, or what/whoever? \

Please do post under comments- we need to make this a wee bit more interactive anyhow!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't Write!

You heard me. After two years of proselytizing the virtues of daily writing, here is a challenge for you. The next time you have written for a week or two every day (hopefully today qualifies as a potential start date!) I want you to not write for one day. That's right, don't write!

Open your article, or print it out, and just read it. I want you to feel the desire to write, I want you to see a few places, or at least one place, where you could write, where you want to write. Feel that urge. Let the desire to to write wash over you. Feel it in your body; notice your thoughts. Then, don't write. Allow yourself to be bothered throughout the day, think about wanting to work on the your article, wanting to write.

The next day, get back to it.  Write. Again, feel the desire to write, let it pour onto the page.

What happened for you?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Another Piece of Bad Advice

Last week, I explored some advice from a book that caused me great pause. This week, I read another concerning suggestion from another book; given that it is so general I do not need to "out" the author, who suggested that a lack of time is the biggest barrier to writing productivity.

This is untrue for nearly all of us. It is how we use our time that inhibits our productivity. If all you really need is a half an hour a day to be fairly productive (and experience has shown me that many scholars publish a good deal of work in a half an hour a day, writing on most days),  than is a lack of time really the issue?

Text messaging. Surfing the web. Television. Emails.  Is there not a half hour that can be carved out just from these activities?

Also, at times it is not only our use of time, but our privileging certain tasks over others. Emails first? Not wise. Teaching preparations first? Sometimes, but should writing not get equal airtime during your best, most productive times of the day, especially since writing often makes us better teachers?

Believing that time is the biggest problem will stop you from looking at your own processes, your own blocks, and your own current operating procedures. You have developed a set of skills, tools and habits, some of which facilitate productivity, and others that inhibit it. Make time your problem, and you will avoid the real and honest soul searching that is needed to improve your productivity.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Challenge: With Whom do You Want to Work

Today, your challenge is to think of one person you want to work with, or want in your "scholarly life." Connect with that person. Reach out. Let them know how meaningful their work has been to you, or how much you would enjoying learning from or collaborating with them. Do it. Bring that person into your world.

And of course, if they do not feel the same way?


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Watch The Advice You Take

Sometimes, I read advice given to developing scholars and I just cringe. Not that everything that I say and write is gold, of course. Yet reading through some of my books on scholarly writing the other day, I came upon a few problematic passages. Here is one from Linda Becker and Pam Denicolo's "Publishing Journal Articles."
On page 11, the authors contend that "There are two distinct types of writers:those who enjoy mulling over an article for many months occasionally writing a paragraph or two and never feeling any pressure to complete it, and those who find this almost an unbearable, tedious and counter-productive approach. It is vital, at this early stage that you know which sort of writer you are."
There is a great deal in this paragraph that is problematic, but I just want to focus on one key aspect of it; I am sure you can find others (i.e. that there are only two types of writers, and both are positioned as somewhat problematic, dysfunctional sorts).
What is most concerning to me here is the essentialist nature of the advice. The authors confuse poor work habits and having not learned important lessons regarding scholarly productivity with a functional “type” of writer. Research suggests (see a good deal of Boice’s work) that frequent writers will outproduce binge writers. Boice’s research, and my experience with dozens of scholars also suggest that many of those who have only written episodically can indeed begin to develop new skills and habit that facilitate consistent writing productivity.
Essentialist thinking dooms one to “isness”- “this is the way I am, and I will always be this way.” Just because you have only written episodically in the past does not mean you cannot learn to write more consistently. Viewing yourself as a certain type of writer, one who “naturally” ruminates about articles for months before getting down to writing is not a very productive way of understanding who are you are a scholar. Frankly, such counsel and its internalization will insure the continuation of poor productivity habits.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Creative Nonfiction Short

I said I would share one of these, so......

When I tell people that it is on my bucket list to make it through life without ever sending a text message, they look at me as if I am telling them that I do not believe in wearing shoes, or that God speaks to me through messages on the back of cereal boxes.  Clearly, there is a significant and pervasive problem with some deep neurological structure, or a chemical imbalance which impedes my ability to comprehend the importance of this essential mode of post-modern communication.
Back when Southern California had only one area code, and push button  phones were still a distant technological innovation, we had the phone number 213-272-7000. I can hear my dad’s voice on the analogue telephone recorder “You have reached 272-7000. Please leave your message, and we will return your call at our earliest convenience.”
The best thing about my phone number was that it was easy for my friends to remember. The worst thing, however, was the dialing. For those too young to remember a rotary phone, imagine an odd shaped, semi-rectangular hard plastic box about the same size as a half a loaf of bread. Imagine squeezing your moldable white bread loaf on the sides, and adding a plastic disk with ten holes to the front. Each hole corresponded to a series of numbers, 1-9, and 0 for the operator. Above numbers 2-9, were three letters of the alphabet, an artifact of even longer ago, if I am to understand correctly, when people would call the operator to place calls and use letters for their desired calling destination.   
213-272-7000. Since zero was the very last number on the rigid plastic disk, I had to dial it three times to complete a call home. It felt interminable, those long turns, my finger carefully carrying the disk in a clockwise motion until it hit the metal piece that would engage the number.  Dialing was not entirely simple-the disk was not a passive force-there was this strange resistance that gained strengths as you propelled your fingers around the face of the phone. It was fairly easy to misdial. How many times did I have to hang up the phone, wait a few seconds, and begin moving my exasperated fingers again? The first part was easy, 2-7-2, and then, the stress mounted as I approached the culminating burden of the last three zeros. Oh to have had a number such as 242-1411! Life would have been so much simpler.
Yet, there were advantages to such a long dial. For example, it gave me additional time to think up an excuse for why I got into another fight on the playground; how shoving Adam Goldberg’s face into the tetherball pole was somehow not my fault. It gave me time to brace myself before I called Kelly Lori, the first girl with whom I shared awkward kisses, behind the cabin during summer camp; extra moments to sum up a courage that 11 year old boys rarely possess.
Pulling the dial in so many revolutions gave me time to think, to think slowly and organically, and to exist within the slow spaces of each turn. So too with the answering machine, and my father’s words, “we will return your call at our earliest convenience.”
I believe in space, the space between words, and the space between moments. I believe that to create things that are meaningful we need to touch the void in the universe; for that we need time and empty space. Writing, art, even our own best emotional reactions need a breath of silence on which to draw; they need that space I learned by the slow, dragging dial of the rotary phone.
A few weeks ago, lying in bed in the late morning, my wife and I surf the web. We were looking at pictures of Cartagena, Colombia. The 17th century walled city, spectacular brick fortresses, the ambling cobble tone streets-we were exploring where to go for our tenth anniversary. We have to plan carefully. She now has to use a wheelchair when we leave the house, and sometimes even inside. We are interrupted by two vibrations from the phone resting on the dresser across the bedroom. In spite of her disability, the horrible pain in her feet, she jumps up quickly and stumbles toward the dresser. She winces as pain shoots up her legs, through her thighs and into her back. Her hand trusts forward and snatches her telephone, as if she were catching the last grunion as it slipped back toward the sea.  She stares into the cosmic glow. Still standing on her annihilated feet, she pulles out her miniature keyboard and begins to type.  
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Michelle has a question about green chile,”
“Is she making it now?”
“No, next weekend.”
I smiled and mumble, “We will return your call at our earliest convenience.”
She pays no attention to me, and for all I know, did not hear me. Her fingers dance on the keyboard as she continue to moan in pain.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Value of Nothingness

I am doing a lot of nothing on my sabbatical. It has become a joke with my wife when I call. Still doing nothin'?

I think entering nothingness is perhaps my most important sabbatical  task. I have become something of a human "doing" and not a human "being." In the process of near obsessive focus on achievement, I have lost pieces of what is important to me. And, there is no going back. I can't cast my gaze back up the person I was in 2000, to take the year I started my first tenure track position, and attempt to become that person again. I am a different person, in a different developmental stage, with different needs, desires and passions.

Yet thinking about to my core values at that time, to the role that poetry and writing played in my constructing my scholarly identity, is instructive. It helps me consider the fit between these values and my current life structures. It helps me consider the ways I have evolved and perhaps, the ways I have devolved.  I have gained so much through the academic life; I have also had my share of wounds. Some of these have yet to heal; some perhaps never will.

Yet even more instructive?  Nothingness. Waking up in the morning with the only thing that has to be done is to feed myself. In that space where everything else is optional, I hope to find a bit of, perhaps not what was lost, but of something new, something to sustain me through the next phase.

It is daunting, exciting, calming.  The privileged of my sabbatical. Nothing.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Don't Write a Lot, Write the #*(* Out of that Paragraph!

Last week, we had a day when we wrote a lot! Today, we are going to focus on writing one killer paragraph.

Go to an article, book chapter, or book, and select a paragraph that is in process. Now, for today, you will focus only on that paragraph. Cut and paste it into a new document. Perfect that paragraph.

Wait a few hours.

Now, take the original version from your original document, and perfect that paragraph again.

When you are done, compare the two versions? How similar are they?

What are the lessons here?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Enjoying Sabbatical!

I have worked nearly every summer I have had in academic, so never have really had a full break. Even so, teaching summers is not that bad; there are really no committees to serve on (or few), and a lot of university life stops. But now, I am off the clock until January. And while my colleagues are not back on the clock yet (quarter system), knowing that I am not having to pay attention to ANYTHING that happens in my department, my university, or with my students is so darn liberating!

I love faculty life, but having time away from it all, my head feels so free. Waking up in the morning now, traveling, all I have to pay attention to is a few research interviews (and these have been amazing), and then doing some presentations soon, which I love to do.

But being free from the grind, the grind of family life (I love you guys) AND faculty life- I feel this sense of lightness that is so very, very rare.

And yes, I am writing :). I am writing a lot. I have been writing creative nonfiction shorts, and I am loving it!

Perhaps I should share one soon?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Community Colleges in California: Major Openings in a Major System

Many of us learn that if we do not get a tenure track position at a research university than we have failed. Yet, many PhDs, in their heart of hearts, really want to teach. I have spoken about this before; many of us began our PhDs with a strong desire to teach, and have had that love steadily shamed out of us!

Well, for those of you who have the courage to teach, and who want to teach at community colleges, don't forget the largest system of higher education in the world (so it is said)- the California Community College System.

Consisting of over 100 colleges, there are often well over a 1000 openings. Check out the data base of the California Community Colleges to see what is happening in my home state (well, birth state anyhow).