Today’s tally is 1,782 words for a total of 5,591. Not bad for three days of writing after a full day of crafting responses to students, grading British literature exams, and putting out various fires. Doesn’t make for much time to blog.
However, I can’t let the day go by without saying this: Academic freedom for faculty is not an option for any institution of higher learning. It is an absolute necessity. As the people hired due to our expertise in different subjects, we have an obligation to prepare our students for the rigors of the academic world if they are transfer students and the industry standards for our students that will go immediately into the workforce.
Furthermore, we should maintain that standard for ALL students regardless of their program of study, age, background, or obstacles. One standard for all student groups–regardless of their situation. We must also help ALL students reach that standard without regard to those factors; nevertheless, the standard must remain. It is in the classroom where that standard is supported, so it should be the ones who manage those learning environments, be they virtual or seated, who should decide, within the bounds of the course description established by the state, of course, how that standard is maintained.
Our accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) seems to agree. In Section Six of the Principles of Accreditation, it states:
Qualified, effective faculty members are essential to carrying out the mission of the institution and ensuring the quality and integrity of its academic programs…. Because student learning is central to the institution’s mission and educational degrees, the faculty is responsible for directing the learning enterprise, including overseeing and coordinating educational programs to ensure that each contains essential curricular components, has appropriate content and pedagogy, and maintains discipline currency.
Achievement of the institution’s mission with respect to teaching, research, and service requires a critical mass of qualified full-time faculty to provide direction and oversight of the academic programs. Due to this significant role, it is imperative that an effective system of evaluation be in place for all faculty members that addresses the institution’s obligations to foster intellectual freedom of faculty to teach, serve, research, and publish (p.17).
Shared governance and academic freedom for faculty are not rights or privileges–they are basic principles essential to the health of any institution of higher learning.
Okay, enough writing for today, Mrs. Winkler.
You got some teaching to do tomorrow. You need your sleep!
Once again I pushed things to the limit, but I am publishing the Fall~Winter 2021 edition of Teach. Write. on October 1, as promised. Wonderful work by frequent contributors and new writers as well. I am constantly amazed and humbled at the quality of the work that is sent my way and honored to publish the work of these fine writers, most of them teachers.
I started Teach. Write. because I know how much teaching composition has helped me improve as a writer and how writing for publication has helped me become a better teacher. I am so glad to offer opportunities for writing teachers, and students too, to see their work in print. So satisfying.
I will be talking about Teach. Write., my blog, podcast, and more during my workshop for the North Carolina Writers’ Network. It is an online workshop taking place Tuesday, October 19. Click here to see more information: The Big Share.
Another writing opportunity I have enjoyed is writing two screenplays for the anthology of short films being produced at my college–one comedy and one musical. The premiere of Haunted Hendo will be October 28 and afterwards the films will be streaming online. Don’t worry. I will be sure you all get the link!
I have a vision that every community college board of trustees member and administrator, from the president on down, would take a freshman composition class from a master teacher who has been at the same college for ten years or more. The board member or administrator could choose a seated or online class, but they should take it in its entirety, complete the work by the due dates, and submit their work for evaluation. Of course, the faculty member should be informed and agree to the process. There should be agreement that there will be no retaliation if the administrator does not receive an A. (That last line was a joke–I think so, anyway.)
To get the full experience, each individual should agree to be evaluated by the instructor and receive non-degree seeking credit, but auditing would at least help administrators see what the course is like and what the demands are on the English instructors as well as the students. Imagine if every board member and administrator had on their official transcripts an A or B in an English class at the college where they serve!
I have a vision.
If those in power see what truly happens in a college English composition classroom conducted by a veteran instructor, perhaps they would become partners with the English faculty, smoothing out so many of the adversarial relationships that have developed during these difficult times that have divided us so much along socio-political lines. For this to work, however, the instructors must be allowed the academic freedom to conduct the courses as they see fit within the parameters of each college’s academic freedom policy and the guidelines of national organizations such as the American Association of University Professors. In return, the instructors must treat all members of the class honestly and with the respect that all students are due.
If we, all of us, believe what we say, that we are tired of the division and that we want what is best for the students, all students, not just those who believe the way we do, then don’t we need to start understanding what it is that students and the faculty who teach them are actually doing in their classes? Relying on hearsay, no matter where it comes from, is not the best way to gain that knowledge, is it?
I have a vision.
Imagine what could happen if board members and administrators were able to express their own opinions about topics important to their own lives and their important work at the colleges through their writing assignments. I have been teaching at my college for over 26 years, if you count my adjunct years. In that time, I have rarely been given an opportunity to share my work with board members or administrators or to find out what they do, what it is important to them, how they feel about education, or how we could work together to better serve our students, school and its employees, local businesses, the community at large, as well as the colleges and universities our transfer students will go to. I want to know what the board and the administrators think, so I can support them in their important work. I admit, I haven’t always wanted this, but I have repented my past attitudes, and now I truly want to know.
I have a vision.
I see me getting a chance to talk to those in power, to put aside the things that divide us and let them know how much I care about all my students, no matter what their career goals or lack thereof, that caring, as an English instructor, means not accepting work or behavior that is non-standard or inappropriate, that there are consequences at school and in the real work world for tardiness, absences, not following directions, sub-standard performance, negligence, sloppiness, and most of all, not submitting to the authority in the classroom or at the workplace.
But I also want to show them that there are real rewards, going beyond a pat on the back and a “good job,” when students work hard to improve their writing by revising and editing their work, leaving behind the “wait to the last minute, one and done” mentality so many of them have when it comes to writing academic essays and professional reports. My students, the ones who are teachable, truly do become better writers and communicators in school and in the workplace, and they know it. They know that it is largely their effort bringing them there, and it empowers them. Isn’t that our collective goal?
I want so much to let the board members and administrators understand the passion that I have for my work, that it is not just a job for me–as a devout Christian, I consider it my calling–a sacred honor to help my students communicate better, even those, maybe especially those, who malign me or do not go through the college’s grievance policies to lodge complaints about me and other instructors. These students need me, and I want to help them. I want the administrators to know that if they will only send the students back to the faculty members, or at least talk to us before instantly believing an upset or angry student, that many problems might be resolved before any escalation can occur.
I pledge that at my college, if any board member or administrator reads this, that I will be the first volunteer. I invite you to take one of my classes and actually complete the assignments by the due dates, bravely subject your writing to be evaluated, just as my courageous students do. Then, at the end, let’s talk, as equals, just two people who want what is best for our students.
It’s good to have a vision, I think, even for old English teachers like me.
Therefore, I will give you an idea of the wonderful things I’m doing that are keeping me so busy. There are some things that are not so wonderful, as you know if you are a follower. However, today is a day to stay positive, so here goes:
I have written a couple of screenplays for short films that will be produced in conjunction with Blue Ridge Community College’s Theatre Department’s fall production. It is called Haunted Hendo: An Anthology of Short Films about Mountain Mysteries and Local Lore. Here is a link to one of our trailers: https://fb.watch/7TETuggqRx/. The premier will be in late October.
I wrote one horror/comedy/musical called “Boojum: The Musical” and one ghost story called “The Tourist” for the anthology. I am also directing a music video with music written and performed by my daughter. So excited about this project that has all sorts of incredible collaboration among students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members. A wonderful experience for the students in Acting for Film and Play Production, especially.
Quite an undertaking! But fun!!!! Just the kind of engaging education that gives students more than a piece of paper, offering real life, life-changing experiences. In addition, the films will be something to add to their acting and technical theater portfolios. Film students are also involved as cinematographers and editors, so they are getting real life experiences for their resumes as well. Plus, all the students are honing their crafts, stretching themselves artistically, and gaining invaluable soft skills as they collaborate with each other and communicate with the community.
Now that’s what I call workforce development!!! In a theater arts classroom!!!
I’ll be posting the link when Haunted Hendo is available online.
Another iron in the fire is the Fall/Winter 2021 edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal that will be launched on October 1. I’ve got a great edition in store for you, so come back and take a look!
I did not reach my goal for the next episode of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical. I had wanted to launch it on September 2, but my students come first, and they needed me. Also, I am making strides in improving my health, which helps me have the strength to serve my students better, be there when my family needs me, and lead a happier life. Pushing to get the podcast produced would have taken away from the regimen I am developing to stay healthier, so I had to put it off, but I am looking forward to working on it when time permits. I won’t make the same mistake of announcing a date, but I hope to have the next episode soon. I haven’t given up on my passion project! If you would like to listen to the existing episodes, follow this link: CAMPUS.
Then, there is this blog. The work I do here is becoming increasingly important to me. It allows me to have a voice, even if it is small and sometimes a bit whiney. I hope you will keep coming back to read more. I appreciate my readers. I am so grateful to all of the contributors to Teach. Write. as well as those who listen to my podel. You guys keep me going.
And to my teacher friends. Please know, no matter what level you teach or what subject, you are important to the world, and you are blessed in a special way because you have so many opportunities to change people’s lives for the better.
That is about all I can say except very soon, I will have a new episode of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical and is now a podel (podcasted novel). Fasten Your Seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy episode.
Also, back with a couple more book reviews, AND there is still time to submit to Teach. Write: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal (deadline is September 1), so send in your work, teachers, since you have all that extra time on your hands. Remember, writing is therapy–get it all out!!! And then get back to the “business” of changing people’s lives forever for the good!! Look here for submission guidelines.
I can’t say what is going on, but it makes Mrs. Winkler quite peeved.
However, I will leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite German folksongs taught to me years ago by my wonderful German professor Brunhilda Rowe during an intensive summer workshop when I was in undergraduate school:
Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten, sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten. Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger sie schießen mit Pulver und Blei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket, doch alles in der Still’, und wie es sich schicket. Mein Wunsch und Begehren kann niemand verwehren, es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker, das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke. Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken und Mauern entzwei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Drum will ich auf immer den Sorgen entsagen und will mich auch nimmer mit Grillen mehr plagen. Man kann ja im Herzen stets lachen und scherzen und denken dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
An English Translation
Thoughts are free, who can guess them? They fly by like shadows in the night. No person can know them, no hunter can shoot them with powder and lead: Thoughts are free!
I think what I want, and what delights me, still always quietly [well, maybe not] and as it is suitable [okay, I slip up some]. My wish and desire, no one can deny me and so it will always be: Thoughts are free!
And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon, It is a wasted act because my thoughts tear all gates and walls apart: Thoughts are free!
So I will renounce my sorrows forever, and never again will torture myself with fanciful thoughts. In my heart, I can always laugh and joke and think all at once: Thoughts are free!
All the best to my fellow teachers whose hearts and minds are with their students and colleagues right now!! We have done what people thought could not be done, yet more is demanded of us now than ever. NEVERTHELESS, we are strong, we are resilient, and we will not only survive but thrive!!
I have been busy, as usual, but having loads of fun and enjoying my summer immensely. Last weekend I attended my fourth Squire Writers’ Workshop sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network at Appalachian State University in Boone. I usually attend the fiction workshop, but this time I challenged myself with the creative non-fiction class taught by Zachary Vernon, an English professor at Appalachian State University.
Professor Vernon is an excellent instructor–knowledgeable, informative, and most of all, respectful of each writer’s work. I am working on a book about teaching, which my mother has inspired me to write. When I was visiting her in Alabama after her recent hospital stay and was talking about some of my work in my classes this past year, she said, “Katie, you should write a book about teaching.” How could I say no?
I took a chapter of the book in progress for critiquing at the workshop and received such encouragement as well as fantastic suggestions for improvement. Not only that, but I made new writer friends and reestablished friendships with writers I have met in previous conferences. I stayed in a dorm, ate in the cafeteria, drank beer at a popular student watering hole, ate dinner at a professor’s lovely home, and just had a great time. So good for the soul to be around people, other than my dear family and close friends, who encourage and support me.
If you do not know about the North Carolina Writers’ Network, then I encourage you to take a look. I have been a member for quite a few years and am now on the board. Even if you don’t live in North Carolina, you can take advantage of the many opportunities available to writers, including online classes. I am pleased that I have been asked to facilitate an online workshop about alternatives to traditional publication, including blogging, of course.
Click here if you would like more information about the network and the whole 21-22 online workshop series, including my session: “The Big Share: Alternative Forms of Publication in a Digital Age” (Multigenre).
Just a few days before the workshop, I taught 5th and 6th graders during the drama camp at my church. From casting to performance in 4 1/2 days. The camp was something I was, frankly, dreading but ended up enjoying. More about drama camp in another post.
Before that I had a stretch of not too much activity (thank the Lord), so I did some reading. First was Little Platoons: A Defense of Family in a Competitive Age. Again, my dear mother suggested this book to me. Our politics don’t always align, but as she read a review of this book to me when I went to visit, I thought it sounded interesting, and it was. Feeny is able to explain what I have long seen as a problem in American education–the emphasis on where children learn, using children as a way up the social ladder.
However, he does not vilify parents. Far from it. Of course, he discusses the role parents have, especially privileged ones, in pushing for their children’s entrance into elite kindergartens and private schools and then on into the most prestigious colleges and universities, but he explores at length what drives these parents and what the consequences are for less privileged students.
Feeney suggests that the institutions, through the admissions offices primarily, are perpetuating this class bias by increasing the competition and constantly changing the requirements for admission to make themselves look better.
When discussing the current admissions scandals, he says, “The incentives that drive the process leave us in our current unhappy predicament, in which everyone seems to acknowledge that college admissions has gone wildly out of whack, but the only people truly situated to make it better–the admissions officers of prestigious colleges and universities-keep introducing new ways to make it worse.”
Despite his indictment of admissions departments, Feeney acknowledges that the problems of our current educational institutions are a result of a cultural shift where a child’s education is no longer a means to an end but a constant series of wasteful competitions. “This happens,” he writes, “when competition becomes a self-fueling cycle, competition for its own sake, and it consumes more value than it generates.”
It is not only the elite in society who are generating this “dissipative rivalry,” to use a term Feeney borrows from his research. I see this clearly at the community college level–basing the success or failure of a college on the number of students recruited and retained long enough to “count,” encouraging high school students to take more and more college level courses without determining if the students are ready academically or psychologically for those classes, steering students toward business, STEM, and health-related programs instead of promoting all programs of a college. The list goes on and on.
You can see that Feeney’s book had an impact on me, and its more conservative approach to the problem in a strange way increased its veracity in my mind. We don’t have to be on the same political spectrum to agree that something’s rotten in American education today and that we need to work to change it.
The next book I will review is special to my heart because it is a gift from my only child. She is a music technician who loves manga and anime, especially horror. A few years ago I wrote a stage adaptation of Frankenstein, and Hannah created some of the music and sound effects for the show. She regularly searches the manga section at local bookstores for new horror titles and found this version of Frankenstein by celebrated manga artist, Junji Ito. The adaptation is more faithful than most versions I’ve read, especially at the beginning, and the art is simply astounding–truly imaginative and appropriately horrific.
Following Junji’s adaptation is a series of original horror tales, featuring a school boy, name Oshikiri. I enjoyed all of these tales, but my favorite was “The Walls.” Spooky. Spooky.
The best thing about this book, of course, is that it is a gift from my kid–not for any other reason except she saw it at the bookstore and thought I would like it. Pretty cool, huh?
Last book I finished reading before I got so busy is pure escapist fun–Worth Dying For, a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. Jack Reacher is an ex-military police officer who roams the country righting wrong, fighting evil, and working hard to stay alive. In this novel, Reacher finds himself in Nebraska, trying to solve the disappearance of an eight-year old girl.
I like that Child spends time with characters that are often simply glossed over in action thrillers, present just to give the hero someone to save. Not so in this the 15th Jack Reacher novel. Dorothy Coe, a woman in her 60’s who lost her daughter and her husband years before, is the typical grieving mother in expected and poignant ways, but she is also smart, brave, and tough. Since she is about my age, I kind of like this portrayal.
I’m still reading and stocking up on my titles for my trip to Pennsylvania, including the poetry books by my friends at the writers’ workshop and finishing Coyote Loop by my friend Charles Fiore, so be watching for more reviews. Oh, I hope to get another episode of CAMPUS out soon as well.
Working things out takes time. Here I am at 61, still trying to wrap my mind around exactly who I am and why I’m here. I thought that was something young people did. On the way to figuring that out, I got caught up in creating this crazy podcasted novel that I call a podel. CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical. is a social satire about higher education in the South, and it’s a blast to do. I’m learning so much, screwing up a lot, but not caring, probably offending Lord knows how many people and not caring about that either.
I like it.
Last episode, one of my characters did a highly unusual striptease. Yes, HE did. In Episode 11, The Spooky Cat Head Biscuits, a Zombie band, perform at the club rush/advising/registration day, and during the performance, two of the fairy godteachers have to rescue Jack Spratt, a student who thinks math is beautiful, from the wiles of the devil, or rather a vampire, who tries to trick Jack into drinking hallucinogenic mushroom tea.
So, sometimes I’m a novelist/playwright/actor/singer/podcaster, writing about being a teacher, which I also am. And sometimes I am the editor of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. It’s a little more normal, I think. I also like doing this work and would love to read your writing, especially if you are a teacher or you write about teaching. But I publish other types of work, too. Why not give it a whirl? I am accepting work until September 1 for the Fall/Winter 2021 edition. You will find the submission guidelines here,
Next time, I will be a blogger/book reviewer and talk about my latest summer read,
17 or so years ago, John planted a Japanese Maple in our front yard–one of my favorite gifts from him. About ten years ago we had the front deck rebuilt, expanded it, and added a cute bistro set. When John plants flowers every year, he creates the perfect spot for my summer reading.
One of the things I cherish about my work is having the summer’s off so I can spend more time reading and writing. I haven’t done as much writing as I had planned yet (I’m determined to get caught up before summer’s end), but I have done what is for me (I am a slow reader) a great deal of reading. Since last post I have read three more–one non-fiction, one German young adult fiction, and one popular suspense/sci-fi/horror/just for funsies fiction.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dusk, Light, Dawn, Anne Lamott’s collection of essays about dealing with difficult times and emotions, about growing older yet continuing to learn and grow. I’ve always enjoyed Lamott’s self-deprecating humor and often beautiful prose.
From the chapter “Lunch-Money Faith,” for example, Lamott discusses the importance of listening: “Here Elijah meets God, not in the usual special effects of the Exodus tradition not the roar of hurricane or flames, but in a still small voice. Jewish and Christian writers have seen in this a reminder of the importance of contemplation, of quietness, of listening….Growing up, learning. I am slowly making my way from a hypnotized engine of delusion and self-obsession to being a bit more real, a smidge more alive more often. I’ll take it. I am learning to live more often in reckless love” (106).
I like how open Lamott is about her failings, both past and present, not to dismiss them, but to demonstrate how living through dark times has shaped her for better or worse. She writes of learning to forgive herself and others, of the importance of loving and caring for people for no reason other than they are people, how that includes loving herself–Maybe it sounds Pollyannaish the way I’m describing it, but the book is definitely worth a read. It encouraged me, which is something I always need during my summer-reading-on-the-front-deck therapy sessions.
My sister-in-law Bettina loves to read. She frequently gifts me with books in German. My German is not very good I’m afraid, and I often give up pretty quickly on the books she gives me. She gifted me Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s lovely, bittersweet little book Oskar und die Dame in Rosa years ago, and this summer, determined to work on my rusty German, I finished reading it for real this time.
I’m so glad I did.
It is an epistolary novel made up of letters to God written by Oskar, a ten-year-old boy with a terminal illness. Die Dame in Rosa (The Lady in Pink) is a very old woman who is a volunteer nurse at the hospital, the oldest one, although I suspect that she may be an angel because she appears almost magically just when Oskar needs her most and brings comfort to the boy by suggesting that he write the letters, even though he, at first, does not believe in God.
His letters take us through the reality of life in the hospital but also through Oskar’s imagined life, one that he will never be able to live. It is a lovely book and not difficult for a rusty reader of German to practice on before moving on to a more difficult gift book from my thoughtful sister-in-law.
I took a break on the meatier books and read a fun popular thriller for my latest, another sci fi/thriller/horror book by Dean Koontz. I have enjoyed Koontz’ books since I read his first big blockbuster novel Watchers. I especially liked the genius golden retriever in that book. They made a movie of it, but don’t bother with that. The book is so much better. My good teacher friend once gave me a coaster that I still have on my desk at the school that says “Don’t judge a book by its movie.” Very true. Very true.
I have read many Koontz books since then, and although Watchers is still my favorite, I almost always enjoy a Koontz thriller, and I enjoyed The Other Emily as well, despite occasional gratuitous scenes of detailed meal descriptions–those irritate the heck out of me.
The author returns to his common theme of a basically decent person who is struggling with his past and is caught up in extraordinary, often supernatural, situations, battling his own demons as well as horrendous evil in a dark world.
Pure, horrific fun in many ways with terrific suspenseful passages and lively action, The Other Emily has its moments of deep insight and poignancy as most Koontz’ books do. At one point David quotes one of the most famous lines of Keats’ poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn”–Beauty is truth, truth beauty”–then goes on to say “Love without truth isn’t beautiful. It’s not even love” (336).
Then there’s more action and the usual twists and turns of a good Koontz suspense thriller. A fun summer read.
Now, what’s next?
It’s not too late to submit your work to my literary journal Teach. Write. I love to get the work of retired or currently working English composition teachers, but I accept work of all kinds from anybody. Submissions are open until September 1, so you have plenty of time. See the submission guidelines for complete information. I would love to hear from you.
Michele Harper is an emergency room physician, and her book The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir reminds me of how much teachers have in common with doctors. I’ve blogged about the similarities before. Harper offers more confirmation of my perceptions, especially in “Chapter Two: Dr. Harper: The View from Here,” when Harper describes her internship in internal medicine before completing her residency as an emergency room physician.
In the chapter, she describes one of her professors, Dr. Jaiswal, a “forceful character” (33) whom all the interns feared and loathed. Harper describes how Dr. Jaiswal was particularly cutting and brutal to Harper during the author’s first presentation and in front of the patient, berating Harper for not completing a thorough patient history and for being ill-prepared for her presentation.
Some people, me included, would have been tempted to give up or simply been angry and rejected anything Dr. Jaiswal said out of bitterness and contempt, but Harper learns from the “breaking.”
“I never forgot that encounter,” she writes. “For the entire intern year, I made sure to ask too many questions of my patients….To the best of my ability, I not only read about the topics I didn’t understand, I also read around them. I reviewed the history in my head and practiced my assessment and plan, making sure the reasoning led to a logical conclusion….That was the last time I was unprepared for Dr. Jaiswal’s rounds. What’s important was that in that very long year, she helped me become a better doctor because I saw the good in her, in the value she placed on meticulous preparation and critical thinking” (40-41).
I am not advocating being “deragatory and cruel” (41) as Harper describes Dr. Jaiswahl, but I don’t mind being tough. I don’t really think I am all that tough actually, but in today’s ultra-sensitive world, I am perceived as such by some students, parents, and administrators. I wish I could help them all understand that all I want to do when I challenge and push students is motivate them to stretch themselves–ask too many questions, read about the subjects, read around them. I want them to learn how to think!
Harper offers many stories of encounters with people in her work and personal life who break her or come to her broken, in need of healing. She writes of what she learned from them and how she has come to embrace not the brokenness itself but the lessons that inevitably come from it.
In Chapter Three, Harper writes, “We had all been broken in that moment–broken open by shock and grief and anger and fear. I didn’t know how or when, but this opening could lead to healing. After all, only an empty vessel can be filled by grace; but to get there, we had to help each other rise while we shed the same tears. We had to get up and start again” (68-69).
Another chapter in the book I liked was “Chapter Four: Erik: Violent Behavior Alert.” Harper laments the bureaucratic bull that she has to put up with on her job that does little to nothing to help her patients. Man, can I relate. She speaks about a 2011 study that exposes the myth that most ER patients are uninsured. Not true according to the study. Most are insured and come to the ER for various reasons, including, she says, because they feel “so entitled from unchecked privilege that even polite questioning causes them to blow a fuse” (77). Again, man can I relate.
Harper touches on other issues that doctors and teachers, especially women, experience similarly, including the inequity in how female professionals are treated in the workplace and false perceptions of doctors, but the positive aspects of her work are similar to mine too–helping people, challenging them to take action, to move forward into a new and better life.
The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir is well-worth the read for anyone, not just doctors and educators; we’ve all been broken, and we all can learn from that breaking–something I want my students to understand.
Harper, Michele. The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir, Riverhead, 2020.
The next book I finished is the young adult fantasy novel Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin. In this imaginary world, the people of the Lowlands are blessed, or perhaps cursed, with magical gifts–some seemingly benign, like summoning animals, and some dark and sinister, like the ability to twist limbs or melt flesh and bone.
Two young people, Orrec and Gry, friends all of their lives, must face the consequences when they refuse to use their gifts, refuse to take life only to help others retain power.
In the end, the true power lies in friendship, sacrifice, and love.
It also lies in storytelling.
One of my favorite passages in the novel is when the narrator discusses how storytelling empowers us:
“My blindfold and my mother’s illness worked together in one way that was good: we both had time to indulge our love of storytelling, and the stories carried us out of the dark and the cold and the dreary boredom of being useless” (194).
This is why I love to write. It carries me out of the dark and the cold. It gives me purpose.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Gifts, Harcourt, 2004.
Most writers I know aren’t happy keeping their writing to themselves. That is why I started Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. I wanted to offer a place where other writers out there, especially writing teachers like me, could share their work. Until September 1, I am accepting short fiction, poetry, essays, and more for the 2021 Fall/Winter edition of Teach. Write., and I would love to consider your work. I am especially interested in the work of those who teach writing, but I am open to all. See the submission guidelines for more information.
ANOTHER EPISODE OF MY PODEL (PODCASTED NOVEL), CAMPUS: A NOVEL THAT WANTS TO BE A MUSICAL, IS COMING YOUR WAY THIS WEEK! NOW’S YOUR CHANCE TO LISTEN TO THE PREVIOUS EPISODES SO YOU WILL BE READY FOR EPISODE 10. IT’S GOING TO BE A DOOZY!
I love it when my summer reading plans fall into place almost magically. In April, for my birthday, my nephew Timothy, a total bibliophile (I love it!) who blogs at The Mugwump Diaries, gave me the book Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. For one reason or another, I was unable to read the book until later in May.
Another thing that was put off was my correspondence with potential contributors to Teach. Write. Turned out that one of the writers, whose work you will read in the next edition, mentioned W. G. Sebald in his cover letter. In the acceptance email, I told him that I was reading Austerlitz; thus began a brief correspondence about the work and the author that helped solidify some of my thoughts about the work. He suggested that I read another of Sebald’s books, The Emigrants, which I have added to my very long reading list for this year.
In his excellent review of Austerlitz on the website The New Canon: The Best in Fiction Since 1985, Ted Gioia, music critic and book reviewer, writes that Sebald “has written a historical novel that appears to exist outside of history, yet this represents less an escape and more an exile. That dislocation is both the tragedy of Austerlitz the character, and the wonder of Austerlitz the book.” This statement reflects my understanding of the book as well.
Austerlitz is a displaced person, growing up in the UK from the age of five, feeling different and not understanding why until his adoptive parents explain his origins. As he travels through life, drawn more and more to the seemingly immutable architecture of Europe, he also explores his history and the trauma of his childhood. Further highlighting his isolation, Austerlitz tells his story not to a friend or relative but to the narrator, whom he meets by chance at a zoo in Antwerp. Their intermittent friendship develops slowly over the years when the narrator is invited to the various places Austerlitz lives, especially London, where the German-born Sebald lived and worked for a large portion of his life.
The unusual style of the book is part of its appeal. Like Nick Carraway, the narrator shapes our vision of Austerlitz. We only know what Austerlitz reveals to him and what we see in the various photographs like those below, displayed throughout the book. (You can see why I think of The Great Gatsby now, can’t you?) The long narrative passages with no chapters and very little paragraphing are often punctuated by the words “Austerlitz said,” reminding us that this is not the narrator’s story.
Also unusual are the long sentences and dialog without punctuation. The effect is not exactly stream-of-consciousness, but stream-of-conversation or narration, like when listening to an elderly relative recalling events from childhood, moving seamlessly from one memory to the next, digressing when the recollection leads to some topic of interest or area of expertise.
As a teacher and a writer, I find the digression from the story that speaks about the difficulties of writing particularly interesting. The narrator has come to visit Austerlitz at his home in Alderney St., London; photographs of architectural wonders from around the world are scattered all about, but before Austerlitz can begin taking up the story of his life once again, he explains how he, recently retired from teaching, now wishes to compile his thoughts and ideas about architecture but is having trouble focusing:
“All I could think was that such a sentence only appears to mean something, but in truth is at best a makeshift expedient, a kind of unhealthy growth issuing from our ignorance, something which we use, in the same way as many sea plants and animals use their tentacles, to grope blindly through the darkness enveloping us” (124).
I don’t know a writer who has not felt this way at some point and time. Austerlitz goes on:
“I could see no connections anymore, the sentences resolved themselves into a series of separate words, the words into random sets of letters, the letters into disjointed signs, and those signs into a blue-gray trail gleaming silver here and there, excreted and left behind it by some crawling creature” (124).
And so I hear the words of the reviewer Gioia again–Austerlitz’ tragedy is the wonder of the book, that the character’s growing displacement can bring all of us, not just writers, not just survivors of childhood trauma, but anyone who feels displaced, into a community, giving us a place to belong.
Sebald, W.G. Austerlitz, 10th Anniversary Edition, Modern Library, 2011.
I feel that I am developing my own community of writers through editing and producing Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. It is devoted to writing teachers who want to publish their writing, but you don’t have to be a teacher to contribute. I welcome writing from anyone.
Submissions for the Fall/Winter 2021 edition are open until September 1. Follow this link for submission guidelines. I would love to read your work.
And, no, I have not forgotten my podel (podcasted novel), but I am having some issues, not unlike those encountered by Austerlitz. I am tooling along ,though, and quite proud of the nine episodes I have produced so far and having fun, which is not the only point but a big one. If you would like to hear the podel so far, then follow this link: CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical.