PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITY Narrative

In 2008 I proposed and was awarded a sabbatical leave for the academic year 2008-09. I proposed to write new poems, to shape a developing manuscript, and to learn to make video essays. A sabbatical is, by definition, work done independently, in a sabbath from one’s normal responsibilities. It is, by definition, a self-designed project. Sabbaticals require a level of scholarship, imagination, and creative awareness to design a project in the first place, and self-discipline to carry the project out. Finally sabbaticals require follow-through to bring the outcomes of the project to bear upon the work of College and the home department.

All these are attributes that characterize my professional development and activity, not only the work I did during my sabbatical leave, but also what I do as a working scholar and writer. In what follows, I demonstrate the intellectual and imaginative commitments that have shaped my scholarly inquiry and published work, supported the department’s, school’s, and College’s initiatives and priorities, as well as the ways that my professional activity has shaped my teaching life.

Conference Attendance & Presentations

Since 2008, I’ve participated in and presented at at least two dozen professional meetings and conferences, including the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP), the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), the Thomas R. Watson Conference (hosted by the University Louisville), the Two Year College English Association  (TYCA-West) conference, the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) conference, and the Innovations Conference.

Conference attendance has been, for me, formative. It has positively shaped my identity and my foci as a teacher-scholar. As I look back at my attendance at these conferences, I can see evidence that I’ve pursued a fairly cohesive set of ideas for a number of years:

  • I’ve focused on uptake, the idea that a genre is commonly understood by the usual ways in which it is taken up. Anis Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff describe it thus: ‘genres are defined in part by the uptakes they condition and secure.’ They’re speaking to a version of this idea articulated by Anne Freadman, who also argues pointedly: ‘We know that it is the institutional parameters of our classroom practice that has this authorizing power for the work of our students; it regulates, it controls, and it is also the condition of the freedoms they invent’ (‘Uptake,’ 44).This idea has become crucial to my teaching practice: I try to devise each writing assignment so that students may take the assignment up in multiple, and not entirely predictable, ways.
  • I’ve had a continuous engagement in scholarship on genre theory. Over the years, I’ve attended talks by Anne Beaufort, Charles Bazerman, Amy Devitt, Anis Bawarshi, Mary Jo Reiff, and others. Much of the scholarship on genre theory I’ve heard at CCCC. I’ve also paid attention to discussions of genre at AWP. I’ve mentioned Joyelle McSweeney in my teaching narrative, who critiques the genre approach to creative writing. Listening to scholars at both conferences has lent a rich cross-pollination to the varying ways that rhetoric/composition scholars and so-called ‘creative’ writers take up the notion of genre.
  • I’ve focused on practitioners and scholars who work with digital composition and electracy, including Gregory Ulmer, Victor Vitanza, Geoffrey Sirc, and others. As with genre, I’ve paid particular attention to these ideas at both CCCC and AWP, with the varying kinds of projects each broad discipline develops having surprising and consistent connections for my teaching practice. I first heard about digital stories and video essays at AWP, for instance. This became a project for my sabbatical, and then a focus for my Distinguished Faculty Lecture project, as well as an ongoing focus of workshops in the Publication Center.
  • I’ve engaged with ongoing discussions about issues affecting both learning and working conditions, listening over time to people like Richard E. Miller, John Trimbur, Donna Strickland (author of The Managerial Unconscious), Linda Adler-Kassner, and others. These scholars have directly affected my thinking about the obligations of writing programs to plan and design to account for the actual conditions of labor in which writing instruction takes place. These writers have directly affected my commitment to the labor model of the Online Plus redesign.
  • I’ve paid particular attention to the changing and rich discussion about multimodality, reading and listening to people like Jody Shipka, Jason Palmeri, and others. Multimodal and multimedia work seems to me to be a potential two-way bridge between rhetoric and composition and creative writing, as the exciting, creative work coming out of both fields demonstrates.
  • I’ve paid sharp attention to matters of publication and circulation as extensions of the more commonplace canons of rhetoric, particularly those of invention and delivery. Indeed, it was a session at AWP that stimulated an inquiry of the presenter, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, who worked at a Publication Center. Her response to me allowed me to frame a proposal to the English Department that we found a Publication Center of our own. From there, we developed the Publication Studies class, and the full slate of activities in the Publication Center which enrich the intellectual and creative lives of our students. To this end, I make a point of visiting small and micro press representatives at AWP—I always come away with potential ideas that often translate into learning opportunities for our students in the Publication Center.

I offer this detailed précis of the ideas that have fueled my scholarly inquiry, my creative work, and my teaching practice, to make the point that it is not only presenting at conferences that develops faculty members intellectually: purposeful and persistent participation in professional meetings can have transformative and entirely productive effects on individual faculty members and even whole programs.

I’d like to highlight three presentations that I made in the past year: I presented with SLCC colleagues at Watson (with Jennifer Courtney and Benjamin Solomon) and CCCCs (with Jennifer Courtney and Brittany Stephenson), both times about the Online Plus redesign, and I presented at AWP with colleagues from various creative writing programs across the U.S. on the topic of recognizing and cultivating talent in student writers.

For both presentations about the Online Plus redesign, I synthesized our development process, the features of our redesign, and the particulars of our labor model for part-time faculty. My purpose was to call attention to the ways that we as tenure stream faculty might use our influence to make small but significant material differences in the conditions for instruction that are the facts of life for our part time faculty. For each presentation, I developed and adapted materials and furthered my thinking about the model. For example, for the second presentation (CCCC) I looked closely at the proportion of both ENGL 1010 and 2010 that were taught by full-time versus part-time faculty, and in what instructional modalities. This directly impacted the shape of our assessment plan, and shaped my thinking about what might make a sustainable level for this model in our overall composition course offerings. Editors of professional journals–Forum (a publication for and about part-time faculty published within CCC), and TETYC–approached me after these presentations and asked if I would consider revising and submitting them for publication.

In my presentation at AWP, I focused on the situation of the community college writer in creative writing courses, and the relationship of the community college faculty member to that student. Unlike creative writing programs at four-year institutions, in graduate programs, or in low residency MFA programs, community college creative writing programs necessarily focus on a disparate group of students, some of whom are only beginning to identify as writers. Such a contribution to a panel at AWP is important, in part because statistically, very few presenters are from community colleges.

ARTIFACT: ‘With Learning In Mind: Teaching’s Material Conditions’ (Screencast from Watson)

ARTIFACT: ‘Material Redesign: The Scale-Up Challenge’ (updated Prezi for CCCCs)

Sabbatical and Distinguished Faculty Lecture

As I note above, my attendance at both AWP and CCCC over many years galvanized my thinking about a number of ideas. One idea I haven’t previously discussed is the role of narrative, narrative as a form of thought, and narrative strategies for understanding a more deliberative rhetoric. As well, my work in video essay during my sabbatical year was crucial to this turn of thought. The essay, as practiced by Renaissance writers like Montaigne and Bacon, drew from the meaning of ‘attempt’ or ‘try’ as much as from a particular conventional form. The video essay, as practiced by the French nouvelle vague filmmakers–Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, Jean-Luc Godard–relied upon this questing, exploratory conception of the form, bringing sound, image (still and moving), and voice into play. Each of the pieces I composed on my sabbatical was an experiment, and a technical challenge I set myself. I wanted to make certain that my capacity for the grammar of the genre was on the increase at all points of the project.

By the end, I felt confident that I could both compose a video essay that was more than the sum of its parts, and that I could help other people do the same. But in the year after the sabbatical, I discovered The Center for Digital Storytelling (now the Story Center), and its projects at a session at AWP. I proposed a lecture that would involve, first, me experiencing a digital storytelling workshop at the Center located in Denver, so that I could learn their method and pedagogy; and second, a series of workshops in which I would facilitate others making digital stories.

The premise of the Distinguished Faculty Lecture that I proposed and delivered, ‘Narrative/Argument: Transacting Our Stories in Public,’ was that narrative is a crucial mode of thought, and indeed that story and story-thinking might underlie nearly every other kind of thought. I think of Doug Hesse’s characterization of the differences between so-called creative writing practices and deliberative rhetoric (this appears in his essay ‘The Place of Creative Writing in Composition Studies,’ which appeared in the September 2010 issue of CCC):

How to shape persona through syntactic choices, how to adjust ratios of scene to summary and with what effect, how to manage rhythm and cadence for clarity and interest—all these may strike compositionists as precious compared to logical reasoning and forceful, politically astute analysis. The world may seem too far gone, its problems too pressing, to depend on the oblique arts of fiction to change hearts and minds. So, too, might the economic and political interests of students demand something more than craft-iness.

In my lecture, I argued that writers might profitably think about the narratives underlying their arguments, and that we as instructors might want to help students tell critical stories—ones that help to surface arguments. I think it is, in fact, crucial for writers to think about adjusting ratios of explication to context setting, which have their analogs in storytelling strategies. It’s a dramatic enhancement of writing instruction for students to be able to think of themselves as creating and sustaining a persona in a piece of writing, with the writers they cite as a kind of surrounding cast of characters. These two projects–learning to make video essays during my sabbatical, and learning to make, and teach, digital stories in preparation for the lecture, were sustained acts of creative scholarship for me: generative, and, again, transformative. I’m still using these ideas, and they’re present in the courses I teach in all sorts of ways. More, in the Publication Center, I’ve aided many people over the past seven years in working with video to tell their stories and make their arguments. The support I received from my department and the College to carry out both of these projects were invaluable to me personally, and it continues to yield returns.

ARTIFACT: Distinguished Faculty Lecture Prezi + video

ARTIFACT: Resource page for my Distinguished Faculty Lecture, including digital stories

ARTIFACT: Sabbatical Proposal + Sabbatical Report

ARTIFACT: Video Essays (selected, from my sabbatical year): Mind like a river | Practical cosmogony | Letter to Mary | Revision | Psalm

ARTIFACT:Last Days,’ video essay published on Terrain.org

ARTIFACT:Every Stone a Sermon,’ video essay published on Mapping SLC

Publications

In 2009, the journal Teaching English in the Two-Year College (TETYC) published an essay that Ron Christiansen and I co-authored, “‘Who will be the inventors? Why not us?’: Multimodal Compositions in the Two-year College Classroom.” The process of co-writing, submitting, and revising this essay demonstrates one thing I’d like to say about writing for publication: it requires great persistence–and humility. We decided that we wanted to write a piece about multimodal compositions, since each of us had done significant work with multimodality in the English 1010/English 2010 sequence. So we drafted and revised our piece on our own, then submitted it. While the editors of TETYC liked it, they wanted significant revisions and a resubmission. We went through this process twice, each time taking out great swaths of the essay, and removing, in the end, visuals that we had believed were integral to the essay. In the end, they did publish the piece, and it has turned out to have some staying power. Recently, Claire Lutkewitte selected the piece to reprint in Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook, a volume in the Bedford/St. Martins Series in Rhetoric and Composition. This series is significant, because it is widely distributed among faculty in rhetoric and composition, who teach at all levels across the nation. From time to time, we also find that the essay has been cited in others’ scholarly work–an indicator that others working in the field find our piece to be of intellectual use.

My soon-to-be published (January 1, 2016) second book of poems, flicker, was a semifinalist or a finalist a dozen or more times, over a period of many years, before it was named last year as the winner of the 2014 Antivenom Prize from Elixir Press. I send out groups of poems, as my well as my current new manuscript, regularly. Almost as regularly, my work is sent back, as is typical for most working writers. It takes fortitude to keep sending work out, and there are times I falter. But I take getting feedback seriously—I have worked in a writing group for decades now, and I’ve asked numerous others to read and respond to both my manuscripts. I revise on an ongoing basis.

When a poem, or indeed any piece of writing, is accepted, it means a great deal, but I’ve also learned a lot about publishing from the process of submitting my work. Some of getting published is being recognized as a name. Plenty of getting published has to do with editorial taste. Some of it, though, is the actual quality of the work. Right now, for instance, I’m quite certain that there’s something that’s not altogether working in my current manuscript. I’m giving it a lot of thought. I work on it regularly, taking poems out, revising the order, considering the possibility that there may be a poem or poems not yet written. Similarly, I’ve had feedback from editors, writers, readers, and judges who liked my work, but found something worth pointing out to me that they hoped would help. These criticisms, while they may have galled at the time, have stayed with me, advice from friendly readers that has helped me to think about the energy of my poems, the shapes of my arguments, the swiftness with which I begin poems, and so on. Feedback is crucial. Criticism is kindness. It’s often not easy to hear, but a wise writer takes it up and uses it.

I want to add that it matters to my students that I am a writer, one who works on her own writing and sends it out into the world. I am a writer, and that fact is crucial to my identity as a professional and as a teacher both. What I’ve described above is a series of snapshots of my professional writing practice. There’s no feeling like a moment of success—getting published, for instance—but most of being a writer isn’t about those kinds of moments. Most of it is thinking, rewriting, drafting, revising, getting feedback, and thinking some more.

ARTIFACT: “‘Who Will Be the Inventors? Why Not Us?’: Multimodal Compositions in the Two-Year College Classroom” (Lisa Bickmore & Ron Christiansen, TETYC March 2010); reprinted in Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook, ed. Claire Lutkewitte, part of the Bedford/St. Martins Series in Rhetoric and Composition.

ARTIFACTS: Poems

All Saints, in Redheaded Stepchild
All Souls, in Glass: A Journal of Poetry
Ghost Shirt, in Split Rock Review
Hill Country, in Southword (highly commended poem in the Gregory O’Donoghue competition, Thomas McCarthy, judge)
Eidolon, in The Moth Magazine, recipient of the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize 2014 (Michael Symmons Roberts, judge)
Dog Aria, part of the Utah Arts Council sponsored ‘Bite Size Poetry’ project
Heavy Metal, in Menagerie
Other poems appear in print in MudfishTar River PoetryQuarterly WestHunger Mountain Review, Caketrain, and Sugarhouse Review, among other journals.

flicker, winner of the 2014 Antivenom Prize from Elixir Press (George Kalamaras, judge). Listing on Small Press Distribution.

My philosophy of professional activity, which my own work exemplifies: a faculty member should always be learning, and the practice of one’s profession should, at some level, be driven by inquiry, an inquiry that should, wherever possible, be collaborative. Faculty members should be able—and should find encouragement—to risk new ventures and try new things, especially in a field as dynamic as ours. A community college faculty member will have one ear attuned to opportunities to translate these trials, risks, and successes into learning opportunities for students. I also believe that a faculty member should have freedom to experiment and learn for its own sake. A strong faculty member will always be able to turn such experiments and learning to good account.

TEACHING Narrative  |  SERVICE Narrative   |  Additional Documentation