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Author: Rhetorica Running

In Which I Consider Writing as a Practice

In Which I Consider Writing as a Practice

This is the practice school of writing.  Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run.  It’ll never happen, especially if you are out of shape and have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it. And in the middle of the run, you love it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop. And you stop, hungry for the next time.

(from Writing Down the Bones)

Well, if this isn’t right on for me, I don’t know what is.  A little backstory here…

So I have no classes to teach over the summer – none. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Not by my choice, really, but just the way things worked out with my schools (my father, the alarmist, rang up my sister saying that the family had to be prepared to help me out since I had “lost my job.” Yeah, Dad, that’s not EXACTLY how adjuncting works, but that’s apparently how overreacting works, so it’s all good).

The up side to this is that we are ok financially for me to take off the summer. I have a list of things I want to do over the summer, largest of them being to write.  I have a story I need to tell, and it’s one that’s mine to tell, and no one else’s, and it’s important to me that I tell it, and I own it (I came to understand this after reading this amazing memoir:  Straight Pepper Diet, which I heard about on the Rich Roll podcast). But it’s hard work, writing about something painful, and that made you cry when it was going on, but it’s also good work. My arms and legs and back are sore from the work I did in the yard yesterday (work I did to avoid the work sitting in this damn chair, apparently), so it’s obvious that ALL work makes us hurt, but some types of pain are actually positive – they remind us that we are changing, growing, and effecting our world in some way. I made a mark on my yard, which is good and I can feel it in my body.

So I have this whooooooole long summer (that I realize, no, is not really that long, in the grand scheme of things, but on this side of things, it feels pretty long, especially when I think NO MORE PAYCHECKS), and the main, biggest things I want to do this summer are (1) train for the 10k in September (longest run I have done is a 5k) and (2) write/work on my story. So those are my two goals, and while I haven’t been out of school long (a week maybe?) I have noticed a tendency to do anything – and I mean ANYTHING – to avoid doing the two things I ostensibly WANT to do most of all, since I made them the point of the summer.  Here are the things I did yesterday to avoid writing:

  1. Organize my music on my phone
  2. Organize two cabinets in my kitchen
  3. Play my video game
  4. Take Straxi out
  5. Mow the back yard
  6. Weed the garden

Apparently the way to start writing is to do every possible chore in the world, twice. After you finish, THEN you can sit in front of the computer screen and put bit-pencil to byte-paper. I understand now why good writers have gone to such extremes to ensure that they have uninterrupted time in which to write:  we are really, really good at not writing, and we sure don’t need help from anybody else (I’m looking at you, Straxi) to distract us from our intended daily page count.

I’m thinking that this blog will be a great way for me to limber up before I start off on my “real” writing, because when I actually did write day before yesterday, I found that as I was finishing up, I was really starting to find my cadence.

So far what I’ve written on My Story is really pretty horrible, but it could just be that the material I am working with is really hard for me to work through. I think it’s important for me to do it, though, because it’s MINE, and I want to own it and understand it, inside and out, and also because I don’t want to forget it. It was horrible, but it’s MY horrible, and actually, not all of it was horrible.

So I hope to use this blog as an opportunity to stretch, sort of, before I start training on my story. After, when I have said my piece for the day, I will move to training my body and working on that 10k race. I can use it as a treat, sort of, for me and for Straxi.

My view as I try to work...
My view as I try to work…
I Resolve…

I Resolve…

In the process of filling out this reflection of the past year and planning for the coming year, I discovered a list of resolutions I made after my birthday this past year. I’m sort of surprised at how well I did in keeping up with them, although (as is fairly normal) I failed on a few. But this year part of my work is going to involve treating myself more nicely, and not allowing the demands/desires (perceived or stated) of others to beat out what I want.

Of course, this requires that I actually **know** what it is that I want. This is a challenge for me, as I have spent the entirety of my life pretty much existing to please other people.

As Roger Murtaugh famously said, “I’m too old for this shit.” And yeah, I’m thinking I’ve reached the age where if I don’t stop caring what other people think about my choices, I’m going to have a bad time.

So that’s one of my resolutions, essentially. I want to know what I want, and then I want to do it (if I can – yeah, I want to be Wonder Woman, but that’s NOT in the cards, obviously, and wings would be epic, but we have to stick with the laws of physics here).

As an aside about the pictures I’ve used in this post  – I am constantly amazed that my pop culture touchstones involve women who look so different from those of today. Wonder Woman, the bug woman, none of them seem to have the super-desirable thigh gap of today. But yet I still managed to develop such an unhealthy relationship with my body and with food. What gives?

So as a result of this thinking and planning, I’m going to take my running and training more seriously. I want to accomplish more this year, both physically and with my work, and neither of those things is going to happen if I’m playing Fallout 4.

In Which I Consider Truth and Deception as Pedagogy

In Which I Consider Truth and Deception as Pedagogy

 

So amidst the avalanche of end-of-semester emails I received this go-‘round (“my grandma’s cousin’s brother’s goldfish died tragically, and I couldn’t write my paper and I know that the semester is over, but I need an extension” – do these kids think that the bills never come due? Things can just be put off and put off without question?), I also received a link to a list of Magna Publishing’s top 15 teaching and learning articles.

There are so many great articles there (ahem, yes, fifteen, indeed, yes, I see that in the link), and I’m reflecting on two in particular right now – the first being the one about students lying (“Research Highlights How Easily and Readily Students Fabricate Excuses”) and the second being the one about mindfulness in the classroom (“Moving from Multitasking to Mindfulness”).

The general take away from the first one is that students lie – a lot – about their (in)ability to complete various tasks they are set for class, regardless of the weight those tasks carry. I have been considering this a bit recently, as I continue to develop my teacherly husk: that thick skin that allows teachers to look into the tear filled eyes of a (usually mediocre to poor) student pleading for more time, some flexibility, just a day or two more for that assignment because my mom/dad/grandma/grandpa/myself has become ill/died/suffered a mysterious ailment/unlucky or lucky event at which said student must be present to give support/weep/provide medication/give away the bride. I know this isn’t new – all teachers have stories of students who have sidesplittingly hysterical excuses, threadbare in detail or as intricately plotted as Sheldon’s Maggie McGarry alibi for Leonard (which failed, I might point out, due to Leonard’s own inability to continue the lie).

I have had students request extensions due to serving jail time (at which point they got bronchitis due to the a/c being too high), deaths of various and sundry grandparents (I myself dread the day my own grandson goes to college, because I am sure that will signal my impending demise as soon as he has an inconvenient due date), and of course the old standby of computer problems (regardless of the fact that all campuses are filthy with computers for student use).

Passing judgment on a student’s honesty is a real problem for me, because I recognize my own weakness in this area. I am very much an empath, and really do understand what’s going on with my students — both the honest issue – that they didn’t do the assignment and now want to avoid the consequences — as well as the student who legitimately has troubles that cannot be avoided merely by planning better. I get it – life happens, and this is just a writing class, just college, just something that they have paid to take part in. So I tend to be very forgiving with my students, and I always go into the semester with the intent to regularly wear my “bitch lips” even to the point of wearing uncomfortable shoes and tight panty hose to help me remember to be “mean.” This rarely works, partly because I try to treat others as I would want them to treat me (honestly, and as helpfully as possible) and also because I fear I’m somewhat of a pushover.

However, with this article’s rather depressing takeaway – that students lie regularly, frequently, and without compunction, I think I have develped a bit more of that teacherly carapace. The research done by the authors of the paper reveal that “fraudulent claim making was utilized by as many as 70% of American college students” and that this places the problem squarely on par with that of plagiarism (“Research Highlights”). I would be (a) lying myself and (b) crazy if I said that I didn’t know students were lying to me when they offered excuses. I recognized before reading this paper that the number of legit excuses I was offered was probably pretty small; however, I didn’t think it was this high.

I’m not questioning the research itself – I’m questioning whether or not I should tighten up my own approach, being less flexible, and engaging in more “no, because that’s the rule” type of dealings with students. That has always seemed to me the epitome of poor form – telling anyone (other than a toddler) that your response is predicated simply on an arbitrary rule seems…I don’t know, petty, I guess.

My own understanding and appreciation for pettiness changes, though, when I am looking at a list of page after page of papers to read that other students managed to create, revise (hopefully) and submit in a timely manner (yes, some so timely that they squeaked in with seconds to spare, but timely is timely). I am troubled by this as it pertains to me and my classes, and my own approach to pedagogy, and I am mindful even more of the learning opportunity this provides to my students – that is, learning that they can pull the wool over my eyes.

This is especially true when we consider the closing paragraph of the article in which the authors specifically address the students’ assurance that their lies will be accepted by the teacher: “the study described here found that individuals do engage in reporting claims in an attempt to deceive their instructor even when motivated by academic tasks with low academic consequences and, possibly more alarmingly, that many students possess great confidence in their abilities to “get away with” reporting fraudulent claims” (“Research Highlights”). If my students believe that they successfully floated a lie down my river with nary a cocked eyebrow from me, will this alter their approach towards their schoolwork in other classes? Will it make them bolder about their lies, and encourage them to move on to other, more damaging forms of dishonesty? Is the excuse that grandma fell and can’t get up just a gateway drug to the intoxication of plagiarism?

I have a Power Point I use at the start of the semester to review the high points of the syllabus and what’s expected, and the final slide says that I will trust and believe in them unless and until they give me reason not to. I think this slide may have to get the axe in this semester’s revision, and that makes me sad. To deal with my students from a framework of distrust seems like the wrong way to enter into the student/teacher dynamic.

This brings me to yet another portion of the article that seems to be underplayed, but that might be the most important part of the article: students say that they don’t believe that their own truth spoken to a teacher will have the result they want – an extension of time to complete a task (or, to put it more simply – an avoidance of the consequences of their actions). On the one hand, that troubles me greatly, that students don’t trust their teachers to work with them rather than to be hardasses about the arbitrary rules.

On the other hand, I return to the ultimate issue here – students wish to avoid unpleasant results of their own actions, and with each lie they tell and pass off, they learn that there are even less repercussions. That’s not what we want school to teach students at all. I vascilate, but I ultimately return to that – I have a responsibility to help students become better people, not just better writers, and that means holding them to what they agreed to do by signing up for class and not immediately dropping it when they read the syllabus.

And in keeping with the theme of my blog, I want to acknowledge the rhetorical choice I have made in choosing to write about this problem using terms eschewed by the original authors of the paper – for me, people (regardless of whether they are students) don’t “fabricate,” engage in “dishonesty,” or make “fraudulent claims.” There is the truth, and there’s a lie – perhaps I am being entirely too strict in my world view, but I don’t see the help in calling this anything other than what it is: a student lying to a teacher. Speaking words that didn’t happen, or that shade the situation to lead someone to believe something contrary to what they would if given all the facts – these are all pretty ways to say that a lie is being told. So yeah, that slide is coming out of my Power Point.

Paddling

Paddling

So I opted for Hal Higdon’s 10k novice training plan. I’m on Day 3, which is cross training, and which follows Day 1 (stretch and strength) and Day 2 (run 2.5 miles). Yep, Day 3 is definitely after those two days. Certainly.

When I got up the day after I had done the stretching and strength training, I could definitely tell that there was some stiffness and soreness. I haven’t really been doing any strength work, which I realize is a no-no when it comes to trying to extend your miles (which is my goal) and your stamina (also a goal). But I was definitely looking forward to today, and getting into the pool, for some cross training. I love to swim. I was, in various past lives, the following things: a life guard, a mermaid, a swim coach, and a fish.

Ok, maybe not the second one. Or the third. Okay, none of them. But I still love to swim. Love it. I swam on swim teams when I was younger, and had a blue ribbon, a red ribbon, a green ribbon, and a trophy, all of which I was painfully proud. I have no idea what happened to them, but I sort of suspect that they were victims of the divorce and wound up getting chucked when my dad and grandma packed up the house. My books wound up donated to the library, which in retrospect should have infuriated me, but when you are a kid, whatcha gonna do when one of your parental figures packs your books all up into the back of the station wagon and drives off with them?

Honestly, I don’t think I really understood what was happening, and told myself it was ok, since they were all “baby” books – books I had read, loved, and spent time with. I don’t remember being upset, but I still remember it happening – all those filled to the brim bookshelves, and then POW! Nothing. I don’t suppose it’s shocking that I have a house full of books now, and that if someone tried to run off with a book of mine they would be tackled and my dog would be sicced upon them (“Straxi! Trinus libri raptor!” that’s latin for “Straxi! Trip the book thief!” I would never encourage my puppy to be unnecessarily violent, although in this instance, it would be considered, certainly.)

Ok, I’ve gotten rather far afield from my intended topic: the 10k cross training. I swam today, and I didn’t just swim a bit, I swam a mile in 30 minutes. This was staggering to me, even with my memories of the time I spent in the water at the YMCA all those years ago, the pools in the apartments where I have lived, both as a kid and as an adult, and the laps I swam as I was working on my ultimately doomed Ph.D. exams.

As a kid, I swam laps until my mother said she was dizzy. I loved the feeling of effortless movement in the water – I could sort of sink into the pattern of stroke, stroke, breathe, kickkickkickkick as I did the crawl (my fave stroke, btw). I could do a flip off the wall and swim the next length without any trouble, and the next, and the next – I swam laps until I was forced to leave the pool by my mom because it was dark. Of course, I thought this ridiculous: that’s what the underwater lights were for. I never considered that Mom might have had other things to do, or she might have been bored, or that she might have been being eaten alive by mosquitos, or that she may have been tired after working all day. Nope, never crossed my mind. All I thought of was swimming another lap.

I guess I was like Chris’ dog, Rose, when it comes to tennis balls/footballs/any type of ball: put that activity on the table, and you have my attention (that’s Rose in the above picture, btw).

So I got away from swimming, obviously, and the draw of so many other things in life pulled me in: school, work, kids of my own, then various unhealthy habits. So returning to swimming, with a goal in mind, a purpose, but also with a love for the movement, the history it holds for me, and all it represents, is just an enormous opportunity for reflection and (hopefully) a little growth.

I Invoke the M Word and Training is Considered

I Invoke the M Word and Training is Considered

Straxi and I went on a lovely run Friday. Not a long run, but it was nice time spent together anyway. We walked downtown and deposited some money in the atm, and honestly, Straxi seemed very confused by all this sort of thing – all the people, cars, other dogs – she just seemed very unsettled. We usually run on the greenway, and so I can understand her difficulties, certainly. I sometimes wonder how much she trusts me to be able to navigate us home, and get us where we need to be. I think she thinks she needs to run everything, even from the opposite end of the leash.

I want to start focusing on another race – I’ve registered for the local turkey trot on Thanksgiving, which will make Thanksgiving quite fun, I think. I haven’t done a turkey trot before, and I am seriously contemplating buying one of those turkey hats to run in. Costumes are indeed allowed, and encouraged, but I’m not sure if I want to go that route yet. The turkey hat could, of course, become a regular thing for me. Who knows.

But I do want to start figuring out how to move from the distance I can go comfortably right now into longer distances – I know at a gut level what I have to do, and it’s right there in that word that starts with “c” and ends with “ably.” I’m somewhat relieved, though, to realize that the issue is less with how far I can go and more with how long the training takes every day/few days. I guess if I’m going to commit to a longer run (and duh, that’s sort of why I do this, other than, you know, that whole OMG family issues, better run thing) I need to look into some training plans.

I’ve read up on marathon training, and people always, without fail, say it’s the miles you put in leading up to it rather than the miles you run on the day of. They also say that they almost died doing it, sometimes, so there’s that, too. I would love to run a marathon, but at the moment, I can’t imagine running a 10k, or a half. But that’s my goal: ultimately a marathon, with all the steps in between. So let’s look at some of the training options for my next new experience – a 10k (I figure a 10k is a good one to train for next: it’s double what I’ve done in the past, and it’s mathematically neat and will make sense in the structuring and addition of the things on my running necklace, the magnets on the back of my car…you know, the important things).

So who’s this Hal Higdon dude?

His 10k training plan looks easy (easy in the sense that I’ve sort of upped my miles without a whole lot of fan fare to about 3 miles per run, but the runs (because of time/scheduling issues) are not regular.

Obviously this is going to have to change. Although in further digging, I find this: “In describing the amount of time it takes to run different distances in this program, I assume everybody trains at an average of 10:00 per mile.”

Please hold while I appropriately respond to this seemingly offhand comment.

image

I’m a little embarrassed to say how much time I would have to cut off my running pace in order to meet that offhand time frame. Let’s just say it’s…a metric shit ton, relatively speaking.

So Higdon is clearly A Dude of Some Importance in the field of running. He’s written a many books (not as prolific as Stephen King, but seeing as how King’s oeuvre covers all manner of things that may or not exist, and Higdon is limited to…well, essentially a form of movement, we will let that one slide). He’s also obviously run a shit ton of miles, and in scads of marathons. I’m thinking that if he put those magnets on his car, it wouldn’t run due to the magnetic interference with the fuses and other mechanical stuff in the engine.

So just from a really simple google search I’ve already got a workable training schedule. The problem seems to manifest when I start to think about the time frame in which I would actually execute said training.

So the next one in my google search (after quite a few mentions of Sai Higdon – oh dear, I’m getting my author references muddled) is Runners World. That one costs money – TWO DOLLARS AND NINETY NINE CENTS to be exact, EVERY MONTH, so it’s getting kicked to the curb immediately.

Funny that, huh? I’ll entertain the thought of $140 shoes (well, honestly, more than entertain), I will pay $25 to enter a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, but suggest a training plan that asks me to pony up only a bit more than the Turkey Trot entry fee over the course of a year and my immediate response is to click away so fast you’d think midget porn had appeared on my screen. Moving on.

Next on my list to think about: the cool folks at Cool Running who gave us the Couch to 5K concept. If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I would be running today, to be honest, because I never thought I could run any substantial distance, and lo and behold after struggling through all those 60 second bits of running interspersed with walking, suddenly it’s 3 miles and I’m surprised I’m done. So what sayeth the Cool Runners?

Hmmm. First off, I’m seeing language I don’t quite know what to do with. 800m runs? Fartleks? Various paces? 4M? 5M? The education curve is too high. I’m still trying to figure out how to manage fitting all this running into a schedule that’s admittedly pretty open, when compared with that of the standard 9-5 job (which is no longer standard, is no longer 9-5, and for many is no longer the only job they have – FEEL THE BERN).

Hal’s looking a lot better just from the standpoint of ease in understanding. I’m not a novice when it comes to running, or training plans (I do know what a fartlek is, for one thing) but I figure that if it’s going to be hard going to do the actual training itself, I don’t need to struggle to translate the training plan. So Hal it is.

Another question: how do I go about upping Straxi’s miles? I guess the same way? She can hardly cross train, really, at least not with me. Although she will be doing a lot that I’m not (like a lot of jumping, sprinting, wrestling, etc.) so I guess her cross training is just of a different nature than mine, but it’s still there.

Well. So now THAT’S sorted. Oh wait…when the hell am I actually going to do this thing? Let’s think about that.

So Monday is fine: I have access to the gym, I’m off work, not a deal. Tuesdays are ok too, in that I’m home by 4ish. Wednesday is a bit of a bother, since I go in around lunch and don’t get home until 10. So ostensibly I could train before I left for the day. That makes for a very long day. Thursday is the same as Tuesday, and Friday is one class only, so…why am I wrestling with this again?

In Which I Consider Rhetoric, Rejuvenation, and Recharging

In Which I Consider Rhetoric, Rejuvenation, and Recharging

I know I am so incredibly lucky – I have so many things in my life that bring me joy: my puppies, my running, my work, my family (“joy” might be too strong a word there – let’s shoot more for “it’s complicated”). All those things, all kidding aside, do truly make me happy and recharge my batteries when they are low (but then again, some of them also drain my batteries sometimes, too, so…hmmm. Perhaps I should limit the asides I’m making here – I won’t ever get to the point).

Work is one of those things that brings both exhaustion and rejuvenation into my life. Working as an adjunct is one of those states of being that you can’t really understand until you actually do it, and for longer than a semester. First of all, it’s never certain. The length of a semester is all the job security I have, and 16 weeks isn’t a long time (it’s even shorter when it’s over the summer and magically turns into 8 weeks, but we are expected to convey in 8 weeks what normally takes 16). The little things become all the more trying as the semesters pile up: packing and unpacking my “office,” multiple times throughout the day, for instance. At first I thought of it as working from my car, but it’s not even that. I work from my rolly bag, and while it really is bigger on the inside, it’s only moderately so. The problem comes from the constant state of impermanence. It’s exhausting.

I was talking with some of the students at the community college where I work, and as I believe we won’t ever start to chip away at the more insidious aspects of our class system until we start talking about our incomes openly and without fear, I told them how much I made per semester. They were sufficiently horrified, and one student blurted out, “Good god, why do you do it?” Her tone and her face revealed not a small amount of her belief that I – and many other adjuncts – were certifiable, if not beyond hope.

I explained why I do it – and it really is as easy as “I love what I do,” even as much of a cop out as it sounds. Teaching scratches my advocacy and activism itch very nicely, it offers me (some) freedom of scheduling, and if I am smart and spend my money wisely (ahem, perhaps “save” is the better term here than “spend”), I can actually plan to take a whole summer off, even if it means no pay check. I hope that happens, actually, whether it’s this summer or a future summer, because I would love to see what I got written with that amount of time on my hands. I have a manuscript sitting patiently in my brain, but it’s hard to work on, and having a large amount of time that I would dedicate to it might be just the thing I needed. I could give to my manuscript, and recharge through my running (with Straxi and without).

But a big part of why I do love what I do is the interaction with students. My grandma taught elementary school, and she said that the children kept her young. I understand that better now, and find that my time in the classroom (usually) lights up the burned out bulbs that develop in my internal string of Christmas lights.

I have a class at Green University that is made up of nearly all engineering students. It’s the advanced section of the university writing class, considered Honors, and you don’t get in this section without having a little more going for you upstairs than the average student. These guys and girls are young, all very traditional uni students in the sense of age, privilege, and diversity (I have a couple of students who are Hindu, some girls, a couple of mixed race students, but most of them are white males). There is a row of conservative, truck driving, boot wearing, country music loving, conservative Young Republicans who don’t usually have much to say in our loud, almost-diverse-but-not-quite class, but they know they are outnumbered, and as such, they don’t say much. This is fine with me, because I’ve taught my share of conservative, white, wealthy students – including the one who very memorably told me that Obama was not American, but Kenyan, and he was serious, straight up, this was a fact to him, without doubt, and he didn’t question that belief for a second. I am happy to have a group who is young, energetic, and who don’t make me question the future of our culture quite so much.

I can forgive myself for catering to the more open minded of my students in this situation, I think. They are just so rare, to be honest, and when I run into them, they are usually loners. This is a pack, and it’s a sight to see: a feral pack of independent-minded, open minded, questioning students who toe the line only insomuch as they dance on it.

So this group of students give me as much – if not more – than I give them. I haven’t taught a bad class with them (yet), and that’s largely because they are so present, and so willing to work and think and speak their minds – my energies aren’t dedicated to trying to keelhaul words out from between their tightly clenched lips.

Today we discussed genre, and we read Kerry Dirk’s “Navigating Genres,” discussed it for a while, and then launched into one of the more fun exercises I have found for helping students think about why genre matters, how it functions, and all the various vagaries that exist around it. I have the students write a letter to an inanimate object – but not just any type of letter – it’s a love letter. We have to guess the object, and they can’t tell us what it is in the letter.

I wrote my letter to my running shoes. I always try to do the work with them that they are doing, when I can, and in this instance, I felt like it was important. These ARE engineering students, after all, and I couldn’t be certain any of them would know for sure exactly what a good love letter sounded like, much less be able to replicate one adequately that could also be read out loud in the classroom. They might not have blushed, but I was afraid I would.

I noticed one of the conservatives waving his right hand around as he talked to his buddies. “Inanimate objects, only,” I stressed again.

One of the really great students in the class, and one of the more socially awkward ones, volunteered to read his love letter. He stammered and struggled, but soldiered on. Another student, whose hair has never been free from oil all semester, guessed what inanimate object it was addressed to (Metal Gear Solid, I think, or another one of the first person shooters that has just come out), and the two high fived.

Letters to cars, trucks, and laptops were read, and no one was teased. No one was forced to read their letter, nor did I have to “make” anyone read theirs. They were all volunteers, even happy volunteers, and the work felt less like work and more like just plain fun. They charged my batteries for me again.

I Do Some Reclaiming

I Do Some Reclaiming

So I told my sister I was writing again, and gave her the address of the blog. She texted back and said, “What’s that?” Seeing as how my sister is definitely smart enough to know about the second part of the title, I figured she must be asking about the first: Rhetorica.

So I decided to dedicate a little bit of time – finally – to writing about this scary, sad, ultimately wonderful elephant in my room: rhetoric. I love writing, and I love reading, and I love thinking about how each of those activities are done, and what they bring to our lives, and…well, everything about them. So it was no real surprise when I went off to college (later in life, yes) and wound up (sort of by accident) in a program centered around rhetoric. I had never heard of rhetoric, other than when we talk about the rhetoric of politicians, and their lofty cries for us to “cut through the rhetoric and talk about the issues!” Well, rhetoric IS an issue, and it IS a legitimate field of study, not just a bunch of pontificating wind bags yelling about whatever social cause best raises votes for them.

When I say rhetoric, I’m thinking somewhat of those things and actions, but more I am thinking about why we write the way we do, and how we teach students to write the way we do, and what writing does for us as humans. I’m thinking about the reasons we put this word in front of that one, and what actions that brings about. It’s a study of the philosophy of communication, essentially (put very simply) and it’s an area that I came to late in life. Nonetheless, I love it.
In college, I wound up studying rhetoric sort of by accident. I attended school in an area where there were multiple colleges around, and since the school I was not attending offered an English program, the college I was attending did not. It did, however, offer a program in Rhetoric. Since I had already tried out the college WITH a lit program, I most certainly had no plans to return – that college and I had come to blows. I found, instead, a college that (oddly enough, given how much I hated the state I was living in) was home. It fed me intellectually, and I even made some friends. Suddenly realizing you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing just what you should be doing is a really strange sensation when the rest of your life has been mired in questionable choices and even more questionable consequences.

But that’s where I met rhetoric – if I was going to study language and writing, it would have to be from the standpoint of rhetoric – the philosophy of writing, essentially – and not what I thought I wanted: literature. I wanted to learn how to parse a poem, how to pull apart the threads of Crime and Punishment and The Yellow Wallpaper. Instead, I stumbled into my real love: Women’s Studies. That’s where I wound up, and returned for my terminal degree in rhetoric later.
Rhetoric and women’s studies are a synergistic fit, if you will pardon my dip into business buzzwords. Women have typically been understood not to have had any place in speaking or in creating texts, and have systematically been placed in situations and given “choices” that keep them from speaking from a place of authority, or even speaking at all. So I began by studying those things – societal things – that prevent women from being taken seriously as speakers, creators and conveyors of knowledge, and instead focus on the thoughts and communications of men.

Of course, just like with so many other things we try to prevent people from doing, we can try to prevent all we want, but human nature being what it is, if someone wants something badly enough, it’s going to happen. Women, even while being constrained to the home, the parlor, the menial serving job (usually women of color), went on and created and spoke, even as they were limited in so many other ways. Those speaking women who ultimately were successful, though, gained that success by working within the bounds around them, and stretching them just enough to wiggle a bit but not enough to raise (many) alarms. Next thing you know, Nellie Bly is doing the Journalist’s Sidestep and then women are wearing pants and dogs and cats are living together.

So I developed somewhat of a love affair with not just rhetoric, but with Rhetorica. Rhetorica is the female embodiment of rhetoric, and it was Andrea Lunsford’s book I saw, constantly, in my head, as I tossed around names for the blog. Of course I knew I would pull out Reclaiming Rhetorica from my shelf and revisit it as I was working on various pieces for this blog. But as I thought about names, I couldn’t get the concept of Rhetorica out of my head. Rhetorica represents, in female form, the purposes and canon of rhetoric.

When Andrea Lunsford published her compilation of essays about women in rhetoric, Reclaiming Rhetorica, she pulled together writings by some of the big names in our field: Jacqueline Jones Royster, Jan Swearingen, Cheryl Glenn, all women writing about other women writers – important writers, not just to the study of rhetoric, but to the study of the country and our history. Ida B. Wells, Margery Kemp, Aspasia, Sojourner Truth are all included in the thinking and writing done for Reclaiming Rhetorica. Women writing about ignored and forgotten other women, doing something that classical rhetorical studies says doesn’t and didn’t happen.

We teach our students that women didn’t write, communicate, create, due to their standing in the world as the softer gender, but that’s a fallacy. We wrote, and we wrote a lot. We communicated, conveyed our thoughts and our fears, we taught and educated ourselves and each other. We didn’t limit ourselves to the standard, classical, masculine idea of communication and rhetoric, but instead we blurred the lines and definitions surrounding rhetoric, and we began to slip some spies behind the lines. But they weren’t bringing information back to us – they were digging in in the trenches, and taking information inside, sort of like Jeff Goldblum smuggling the virus into the aliens’ space ship in Independence Day.

I couldn’t shake the image of Rhetorica, holding her enormous sword, bound in her robes and barefoot, with horn blowing cherubs on each side of her, and I knew I would have to revisit this text. I sort of dreaded it and looked forward to it, honestly. I dreaded it because it was on my exam list when I studied for my terminal degree (a very apt name, I think, for this state and stage of education). But I also looked forward to it because I wanted to see if I could understand it better than I did the first few times I read it.

Because it was important to my Master’s thesis I wrote, I did spend a lot of time with it. But it was also important to the Ph.D. exams I sat, not once but twice, and failed both times.

Yeah, that was fun. Fun times for sure. Nobody was more shocked than I was when I bombed the exams the first time, but there had always been this knowledge in me that I wouldn’t finish school as I intended: with a Dr. before my name, on a train called Tenure, running along its own set of tracks. Nope, I knew that wouldn’t happen. Everyone around me acted like it was a given, I would move through all the requirements of school without problem, but I knew I was going to go to school until they told me I had to stop. I knew that it wouldn’t be “Please stop now, you’ve crossed the graduation stage, you can stop dissertating,” but instead it would be a “Please stop now, you’re out of mental quarters for the machine.” I knew when I went off to school that I wouldn’t be able to finish, but I was surprised that I managed as much as I did. But at the same time, when I sat the exams the first time, I didn’t expect to fail. How’s that for some cognitive dissonance? I didn’t expect to finish my Ph.D., but I was shocked when I didn’t pass my exams – that makes no sense. But there it is.

And don’t for one second think that I sabotaged myself – I tried as hard as I could, and worked as much and as hard as I could, with the tools and abilities that I had, but I was just in over my head.

I don’t really cry about it anymore, but I did for a while. When I got the call from my mentor asking me to come in to see her after I sat my exams the second time, I knew it was bad. I had, after all, failed once before, but that time I got an email from her, explaining what was to be done. So I waited all that long weekend – my mentor and the others on my committee had waited to let me know if I passed or failed until the very last day they had, which was a Friday. So we made arrangements to meet that Monday, and I lived through that long, long weekend, when I imagined all sorts of horror shows. Did I accidentally plagiarise? Was some of my work actually something I took from somehwere else and lazily didn’t mark it as such? I was horrified at this possibility, and it grew in size as I worried and fretted all that long, long weekend. I don’t think they did this on purpose – I never will be convinced to assign any malice to the women who sat on my committee. The fault lay in me and my own shortcomings, my own inabilities to want hard enough this thing that was ephemeral and that demonstrated itself through some letters after my name.

Ultimately these ladies were kind enough to let me revise my life plan to be a second Master’s degree in rhetoric and composition, and I wrote another thesis based on the one single set of exams I had passed: radical pedagogy. Again my love of activism and striving to right massive wrongs bailed me out, just as it had when I was so unhappy at Big Uni #1 and moved on to Small Uni #2 and transferred to study women’s studies. So I revised my exam (drastically) and turned it into a pretty spiffy thesis, and suddenly was graduating, a happy turn of events that grew from a sad failure.

I sat in front of Dr. Mentor’s desk, with Dr. SecondMentor beside her, both across from me, and was probably the least surprised person in the room when Dr. Mentor said, “Because you didn’t pass the exams, you’ll have to leave the program.” I actually was surprised, honestly, but not at what they said, but at how unsurprised I was. I knew this had been coming, but it never occurred to me that there was an official song and dance that had to be performed. Sort of like turn in a circle three times, say “I divorce thee” each time, then spit, and your marriage is dissolved. At one point, Dr. Mentor2 commended me for taking things so well – I don’t think either of them had ever recognized how fully I expected someone to pop out from behind a potted plant in the library and yell, “IMPOSTER!” I know that this sounds like I was suffering from a good dose of Imposter’s Syndrome, but I wasn’t. This wasn’t “I’m afraid I can’t do this,” but a knowledge. And it came and went in terms of strength – I knew after I had been in school a while that my Master’s (the first one) wouldn’t be a problem, so much, and when my graduation was put off because I hadn’t quite finished dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on my thesis, I really DID have a crying jag and fit, one more suited probably to the later polite dis-invitation to study at Really Great Purple U, sitting at the desk of Dr. Mentor.

So it really stands to reason, I guess, that I chose a picture that’s on the cover of Reclaiming Rhetorica, to go with my love of running and of rhetoric, to be the central image of my blog. We’ve been through so much together, after all.

The Psychotic Potato and I Run from Zombies…

The Psychotic Potato and I Run from Zombies…

I had a wonderful run with Straxi today. She is the only running partner I really want, to be honest, even if she does chase squirrels and have to poop at awkward times during the run. I can’t say that I don’t have those tendencies at times myself. We ran on the greenway, for 3.5 miles, and I could say it was a short run, but…ahem…it wasn’t. I am still working on beefing up my mileage, and I am trying very hard to get those runs in on a regular, consistent basis. I know that consistency is key to developing stamina, and I can’t really work on speed until I get the stamina in place. I have come such a long way since I returned to running – Couch to 5K was a blessing to me and allowed me to build my stamina up from 30 seconds to actually a substantial amount of time (I now can run an hour or so without stopping, although as I said before, with Straxi, there are usually at least one or two stops along the way, but not lengthy ones. She is fairly prompt with her business – another reason she is a stellar running partner).

I use the Zombies, Run! app and I used their C25k app when I started – again – to try to get some stamina going. I was one of the backers when the game first came out, and I got the early version that is no longer supported (but have switched now, obviously, to the current version). I love this app, and when I restarted, I was able to restart the story but keep all the goodies I had picked up for Abel Township along the way when I previously ran the story line, so my Abel Township is pretty rockin’, given how early in the story I am.

When I ran through the storyline the first time, it was early on, and they only had the one season out. (They are up to four now, I think.) I have largely forgotten how the story goes, but I remembered that there was one mission where you have to listen to a squalling kid for a large amount of it (I sure hope they don’t do a repeat of THAT trope, let me tell you – while I have had my own kids and brought them up just fine, I am no longer a fan of the small children. I think I qualify as a grouchy old lady at this point, or at least grouchy pre-old lady).

So that part of the story (rescue the squalling baby from hordes of zombies) I was not too keen on, and I worked to sort of ignore the chatter on Abel Radio, tbh, as I ran, but this part of the story line involving Dr. Meyers listening to what is essentially a last will & testament of her lover/SO was disturbingly moving for me. Dr. Meyers’ sobbing as her girlfriend, Paula, talks about how the outbreak occurred, and who Patient Zero was (she thinks) is some stellar voice acting, as is that of Paula when she tells Dr. Meyers that she really thinks she will never speak to her again. I don’t remember running to this before, honestly, but I remember the story line – it was sad, and probably spoke to the part of me that missed my own recently missing SO, but a lot of that part of my life is sort of MIA, actually.

When I ran today and listened to it, I thought about how it probably affected me the first time I heard it – I knew what was coming soon after I heard the initial covering fire, and the siren meaning that the gate was opening for me (yes, I am Runner Five, indeed I am, and don’t you think that anyone else is, not for one second). I love that Dr. Meyers is a gay woman, and that they make exactly zero reference to that fact (I was highly, highly annoyed at how often Stephen Moffat referenced the fact that Jenny and Madame Vastra were MARRIED, they are A COUPLE omg more is made over the fact that they are a couple than is that one is a lizard person while the other is a Victorian era maid – it became somewhat similar to watching the show with a twelve year old boy, tbh).

So I have a soap opera, of sorts, to listen to as I run, and I love it. I can’t wait to get into more of the story that I’m not familiar with, but it’s been so long that I need a refresher, so I can’t skip ahead. I love listening to the state of the world after the zombie apocolypse, and given that it’s nearly time for The Walking Dead to start back up, as well as it’s almost Halloween, this is a great tool to keep me running.

Difficult Runs

Difficult Runs

Anybody who has run, has tried to run, or has thought about running has some experience with Those Runs. You know the ones…you start and suddenly your feet weigh 20 pounds more than normal. Or nothing seems to move right. Or that internal voice just won’t shut up:  “Why are you putting yourself through this? You could just walk and do as well, since you are so slow.” Those runs are the ones that, when we are done, we are proudest of, even if they felt horrible and nothing seemed to work right.tumblr_nqez9lYN431t5l2xjo1_500

I think writing is the same sort of thing, honestly. I teach writing for a living, to young people who need to immediately be disabused of the notion that all good writing is effortless, flows from the pen like sparkling water, and needs no revision once the writing pen hath moved across the page. This is the biggest myth that they struggle with, and I can understand where it comes from:  we teach students that there is a formula for writing well (the five paragraph essay), and so it stands to reason that if there is a set group of steps associated with a task, we would expect that if we move through them correctly, we will have a successful outcome.

We think similarly about running:  how hard can it be? You put one foot in front of the other, rapidly. Done. You have run.

Not all writing turns out to be great writing, and not all runs turn out to be great runs. But the runs and the writing that we do, when we don’t want to, are the ones that make the following ones better and better.

First Steps

First Steps

“So I started running when I was young.” How silly does that sound as an opening? Of course I started running when I was young. We all did. Running didn’t become a joy again for me for a long time, though, as it was when I was young. With youth, running was thoughtless, weightless, effortless. Even painless.

As a (light) child, running was just a way to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. As a typical (white/privileged) preteen girl, I went from running-for-efficiency to running-as-identity…and that identity was “horse.” After a (blessedly short and fairly unserious) time period of horse imitation and emulation (begun by a classmate, I must state in my own defense), I came to see running as a sport and as more than a means to an end.

My father was a runner, and as the constant “must do whatever it takes to gain approval” kid, I embraced running as a sport, too. I accompanied Dad on his runs, frequently on my bicycle, as he ran a lot farther and faster than I could manage at that point, and we went up and down the new greenways sprouting up around our home.

I stayed up all night (or at least very late into the night, that is) reading James Fixx’s The Complete Book of Running wondering even then as I started how in the world someone could write a whole book about running. Wasn’t it simple? Put one foot in front of the other, quickly, and pretty much figure it out as you go. The book was apparently pretty gripping, because I was engrossed from the start.

I remember being encouraged by my father to run, and to stretch, and even when I went out for an early morning, pre-dawn run, he met me after my return to ask, “how was it?” My shoes were the same brand as his, and my entries into races (nearly always in the “fun run” category, rather than the longer 5k or 10k as my dad did) were the ones he entered. Treadmills weren’t on my radar at the time, although they surely existed then.

I daydreamed about running – on long car trips, I would look out the window and imagine myself running through the woods alongside the car, and now when I sit on the front porch, or browse Pinterest, or Runnit, or any of the other running blogs I love, I still daydream, and see myself running.

So my beginning as a runner was pretty tame, pretty normal, pretty much boring and standard. How did I return to running, now that I’m nearly retirement age?