Monday, December 16, 2019

Greetings from 37,000 Feet

Sorry I have been MIA this quarter.  This was the busiest term I have had in many, many years. I taught an overload--I picked up a graduate class that I never taught before for a colleague that went on family medical leave (two weeks to prepare, yikes!)--am doing a major revision of one of my books, Navigating Human Service Organizations, and just have had a ton going on. 

Now that my term is over, life is a lot less busy. Next term I teach two online classes that are have been a ton of work into, so it will be a chill quarter!!

Given that I have been writing this blog since 2012, a periodic break is needed from time to time. I have been starting to read old posts and think about what I want to write about for his coming year, and plan to get back to it soon!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Teaching Writing Productivity to Students

One of the courses that I am teaching  this quarter is designated a "writing intensive" course. Along with this designation comes the requirement of integrating certain types of writing assignments/experiences our work. These can include staged/scaffolded assignments, peer critiques, low stakes writing, etc.

So, I have been experimenting with teaching the methods and techniques that I have developed over the years with my students, and so far, they really seem to be appreciating it. Students have been practicing developing writing rituals and self-talk mantras, evaluating the quality of their  45 minute writing sessions, developing clear entry points, balancing more creative and analytical modes of writing with the more editorial, along with other tools I have explored in this blog. After two weeks of half hour lectures, I have received nearly a dozen emails thanking me for this content. That has never happened before--not in over 20 years of teaching.

Why are we not including this in our curriculum, I ask, rhetorically. This is what I am pondering tonight, cup of Japanese Sencha in hand.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Freewriting: Part One

Freewriting is an often misunderstood writing tool or process. I will take a few post over the next week or so to explore it some.

There is evidence that freewriting has existed as long as the written word, but in the 20th century, we can attribute freewriting to two primary sources: the automatic writing experimentations of Surrealist Andre Breton, and writing-theorist and scholar Peter Elbow. In particular, Ebow's classic, Writing Without Teachers, is still a must read forty years after its first publication. A more detailed history can be found is Vivian Wagner's aptly titled article from Psychology TodayThe Magic of Freewriting. 

To start, lets begin with Elbow's simple conception of freewriting. 

"The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty). Don't stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. If you can't think of a word or a spelling, just use a squiggle or else write "I can't think what to say, I can't think what to say" as many times as you want; or repeat the last word you wrote over and over again; or anything else. The only requirement is that you never stop."

Perhaps try a freewriting session or two over the couple of days, before my next post.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Mediocre Morning Writing Session

It did not feel good this morning. I was tired, would rather have done other things, like, go back to sleep. But I did it, and now, I feel good. It really is that simple. It doesn't matter how much I wrote, how will it went, or how it felt. But day after day, the less productive writing sessions recede into the collective whole. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Wrong Answer: Time

Someone just reached out to me who is struggling with his writing. I love that--strange dude that I am--it makes my day.  Not that anyone is are struggling, demoralized and in pain, but that maybe I can say give one small tip that might turn the metaphorical writing key just a wee bit more toward the unlocked position. 

I have not heard back from yet, but there is a 50 percent chance he is going to say "time". 

Time, is never the answer. 

I know I piss people off when I say this,  but time is not the problem. If the answer was time, then none of us would be writing. We are all so very, very busy. It is essential that we do some nuanced exploration of what our blocks are, or we are just not going to get unstuck.

Try to suspend judgment and let go of time as the answer--you are bound to come up with some interesting potential responses.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Going All In

This is the dilemma.

Finding an academic job that works for you is hard, hard enough that if you don't go "all in" you are unlikely to find one. 

Back up plans provide a degree of safety and security, but if they stop you from really gaining the skills and tools you need in order to thrive, than are your backup plans may have become part of the problem.

Yes, there are many, many structural barriers to gaining access to, and thriving in full time positions in the academe. However, at some point, you have to ask ourselves if you are doing everything you need to to make your dreams coming true a possibility, and not giving yourself to it fully can create a self fulfilling prophesy.

Something upon which to at least reflect, by yourself or with others.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Drop In Coaching Chats: What They Are

Each week, except when I am traveling, I hold a drop in coaching chat call on zoom. You can find it here! It happens on Wednesday, 5pm Pacific time.

Yet, what secret, mystical things happen there, and who is allowed to engage in these clandestine meetings?

First, they are open and free to anyone who identifies as a scholar/academic/writer/doc student--from doc student to endowed Grand Poobah is welcome to come.

As to what happens during our sessions, it is pretty simple. You ask questions, I take the first shot at answering them, and if anyone has anything to add, we discuss.

Questions can be about anything pertaining to being a successful scholar: general productivity habits and methods, writing productivity, article writing, book development the peer review process, career development, resolving psychosocial barriers to success--anything that in the ballpark of the 800 posts I have blogged about here.

You can show up and be super active, or say little. We usually have between 3 and 10 people, and its a ton of fun.

Come on by.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Go Ahead,Tell Me Something Is Too Hard

Motivation is always a good topic to explore. While I have written about my motivation frequently here-- what drives and pushes each of us forward is complex. I think some readers might find it useful to know that my bulldog-like tenacity is not something innate—as I child I could not have been more different in this regard than I am now.  And while I would like to believe I have this strong, internal compass and “motor”, and perhaps I do, I have to admit--I am deeply motivated by others, usually by an internalized, generalized other, telling me something is too hard for me to pull off. You just can’t do that, Rich. It is too hard. And for the first quarter of my life, I felt that to be true about just about anything.

As an adult, I have always liked a good challenge, but as a child, I did not have a good deal of "stick-to-it-ness." I was easily frustrated, and gave up on things that were, or perhaps more actually felt, too hard. I remember having a science project in which I was required to build a model rocket-- this must have been in the 4th or 5th grade. I remember becoming frustrated with not knowing how to design it, so my dad stepped to help. After the design was complete, I become frustrated with building it: after only about a half-hour of sanding. Seeing my frustration, my dad finished the project for me. While I am not totally certain as to why—to this day I believe that he saw me as ineffectual, even incompetent—my sense of this hurt a good deal. It still hurts, perhaps.  I knew he was not thrilled with bailing me out--he deeply valued hard work and perseverance--and taught me its value, but I really was not very persistent as child, and often felt the double whammy of being, or feeling, ineffectual and lacking perseverance.

As I moved into my late teenage years, I began to feel deeply ashamed about this aspect of personality and behavior, and began to work at resolving what the cognitive therapy literature refers to as "low frustration tolerance."  My lack of persistence and work ethic were introduced to--and got their butts kicked by--another key aspect of who I am: I am deeply motivated to grow and change. I had always internalized the importance of hard work and determination, and had finally started to understand what it felt like, and taught myself to become more comfortable with this feeling. I don’t know how I was able to do this by myself—but I did read a great deal of self-help and philosophy as a teen—something seemed to have stuck!

When I was a child, I also had terrible handwriting. I have previous written about this in a blog post. You can read it here- "My Story.” Also as a teenager, I became determined to become a "good writer”—whatever that means. It felt important to me to “prove” to others that my handwriting and my capacity to communicate through the written word were not one and the same.  

I am not sure if I have achieved that goal, but I am not so interested in global evaluations of who I am. I also have published a wee bit, so. I do have some evidence. Oh, and I recently received my MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Yeah, take that third grade teacher—tell me I am bad at something--tell me something is too hard now.

Fast forward. PhDs are hard. Getting a faculty job--impossible. Publishing? Forget about it!

Why am I sharing this? Well, my internalized drive and sense of being motivated by challenge is not innate--it was consciously and intentional developed. If I could learn this skill (skill, attitude, perspective, whatever it is), so can you.

Now, tell me something else I cannot do.


Friday, August 9, 2019

An Alternative Conception of The Literature Review

I hate the term literature review. I have not figured out a better term for it yet, and since it is the accepted nomenclature, I will, in the words of "The Dude," abides.

Yet, the notion of literature review is problematic. It is a remnant from dissertation work, where we form so many bad habits--bad, at least, when it comes to transitioning to articles and books. Since we learned to conduct our literature review during our doctoral days, many scholars hold a wee bit of trauma about the whole concept, and become anxious when approaching it. This anxiety often leads to inertia.

The model of literature review that most of us learn during their dissertations is to include every reference that you can find, so your advisor and committee will not call you out and shame you.  In other words, you try to throw in everything under the sun in hopes of passing!

When writing articles, scholars who internalize and do not deconstruct and challenge this "method" often write literature review sections that are disjointed and disconnected from the rest of their article. Seminal and "the newest" work might only be tangentially connected to what you are trying to accomplish.

And what is it that you need to do in this section, whatever it is called?

You need to tell a story, or interlocking stories, that help the reader understand and contextualize the rest of the article. That is pretty much it. We want literature that provides us with a narrative of the drama of the march of ideas, be they about the substantive area of the paper, methodological issues, or some key contextual factor. If it is done well, this story leaves the reader feeling included in the work, not excluded-they feel as if the literature review, which may have a different title than literature review, was written for them, not as part of some hazing.

And that is that for now-- more later.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

My MFA in Creative Nonfiction

I will clean this up, but I wanted to share this with everyone today.

In 1990, I applied to a bunch of Master of Social Work and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing programs. That spring, I was faced with a really hard choice. I was twenty-five-years old, and had to decide between two paths that I loved equally but so differently—helping and writing. At the time, both careers, both acts, both sets of skills, seemed so disparate, so separate, so unreconcilable—it felt like so much was on the line, that I never would be able to bring both together. I needed to choose wisely. I was so torn—I had been told by many that I was a naturally gifted helper: it made sense to get my MSW. It was also a practical choice, a degree that would never make me wealthy, but would probably lead to a solid, stable career.

But writing--I loved to write. I wrote every day on a ten month trip through Central America when I was 21. I never before had felt so free, so connected, so alive. Becoming a writer was something that I so desperately wanted to do. Yet I was afraid. Afraid I would not be good enough, afraid that a career as a creative writer would be self-indulgent, a recipe for failure, not in line with my social justice orientation.

I had become so tortured by the prospect of making a decision that I struggled to sleep and when I did, for the first time in my life, I had nightmares. On a crisp, February morning, I drove down to the Santa Monica pier and walked around. I had moved to Los Angeles for the year to stay with my family and save money for graduate school. As I walked around the pier,  Marvin Siegal popped into my mind. Marvin was the father of a childhood friend, Lewis. Marvin often took us to the peer, bought us hotdogs and lemonades and allowed us to play in the sand as long as we wished. Marvin, a talented and kind man, was an artist—a cartoonist. Marvin, was also a deeply depressed man, and killed himself some years later.

I had not thought of Marvin in a long time, and thinking about him hurt. It hurt a whole lot. It hurt even more that somehow the implications of a lost life did not make my decision any easier. I was lost. Deeply and profoundly lost.

I left the peer and walked along the shore for a while. I sat down in the sand and played with the sandcrabs—I always have found cute things to pet.  As I gazed past the water toward the horizon, I reached into my pocked and pulled out a quarter.

I held it in my hand and tossed it up and down for a while.

“Heads MSW. Tails MFA,” I said out loud.


And so, my future was decided.

Just like that.

A few months later, I was on a train to Philadelphia to start my Master of Social Work degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

I am now going to give you a ridiculously abridged synopsis of the next two and half decades—a whole poop ton of life. MSW. American Bulldogs. Social work career. Therapy practice. PhD in Social Work. Faculty position. New family. More faculty positions. More dogs.  Wonderful dogs.  (Did you know I love dogs?). Tenure. Lots of articles. Lots of books.  Administrative position at University of Washington Tacoma. Amazing gift of my coaching practice. Wife’s disability. Back to faculty. Divorce.

My adult life, twenty-five years of it, in a paragraph.

At 50, I was divorced. I have written about this before—you can find those posts. What many of you might not know is, at that time, I desperately needed some hope. I was not doing very well. I desperately needed something to give my new life a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose, something to make all the pain and suffering of caretaking and disability and divorce make sense.  Oh, and my knees were starting to go. I became disabled too (as if this is just some parenthetical side note, but, alas, I still struggle with my ingrained hegemonic masculinity).

Days after the divorce, I considered perusing an MFA, but how crazy would that be-- a ridiculously large alimony sapping my resources--I was unsure if I would even be able to keep my house. And then, the issue of my age—I would never get to even use it, and would be paying back a student loan for years! I was becoming disabled, and I wanted to start a creative writing program?

But something happened that year—my coaching practice, which I had not marketed for years, took off. I was going to be ok, financially. And more than anything, I needed this, I needed to come full circle, to gift myself something so impractical but so essential to the core of who I am. I needed hope.

Tomorrow, I receive my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Queens University of Charlotte’s Latin America program. A few days short of 54 years old, nearly three decades past that point of painful decision making, I have my MFA.

I am not going to say much more about it now. I have learned so much during the last two years-- lessons that have made me a better writer, a better scholar, a better coach. But for now, I just want to take it in—I have my MFA! The writing of my creative thesis, Wound Care, has been just that—the care and healing of so many wounds, some decades old, some far more recent.

Mostly, it is about this-- and I recognize that this might sound crazy to some of you, that only now, even after having published more than 15 books, 120 or so academic articles, a whole lot of poems and essays—I can now, in my heart of hearts, say, I am a writer.

I am a writer.

I am a writer.

I have my fucking MFA!

But, this is not just about me. It is about other people too. I have some people I want to thank here.

Sandy. I love you so much--thank you for being my sweet honey. I am in awe of your goodness, your desire to grow and strive. You surprise me every day.

My daughters, Sugs and Myah. Being your Newphie has been one of the great joys of my life—thank you for letting me love you.

My mom—for life, for love, for support, for being my rock. You rock. I mean, really.

My thesis advisor, Kathryn Rhett.  My MFA mentors, Fred Leebron, Jon Pineda and Robert Polito. Thank you for challenging my writing, not allowing me to get away with anything. I will keep working at it, I promise.

My friends. So many friends have supported me, challenged and loved me, cried with me. I am going to name some of you, and sorry if in the emotional stupor I forgot to add you here. You know I love you. Thank you Brandon (bro), Jamie/Jim, Doug. Dan, Mark, Mike, Marc, Scott, Greg, Ben, Ren, Eric, Ravi, Roger, Louise, Russ, and many others. Much love.

To a few of my friends no longer with us. Especially Gil Shoenstein, Greg Bershad and Dave Dan.

My coaching clients—you allow me to bring the best of who I am into each day. You, along with my MFA, have allowed me integrate two identities into one self--the helper and writer. I would thank you by name, but, that would blow the confidentiality thang J.

Lastly, Dad. It has been a long time dude.

In humble awe of it all,

Rich Furman, MFA, MSW, PhD