Archive for the ‘voice’ Category

Second draft from Red River Valley Writing Project

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I’ll try to remember to post the first draft soon, which is just a paragraph so I may just leave it as a comment. But here is the updated second draft I composed this afternoon after the first draft from this morning. Note this has some fictional elements.

In my small town, us kids used to hang out near the abandoned railroad tracks and smoke cigarettes and talk about parties we had only heard about from the high school kids. We hung out near the railroad tracks mostly out of convenience as they were near where we lived and we knew the older kids partied not far from there late at night. By hanging out where the high schoolers did, we felt as if we were a part of that circle, that crew, that crowd. We thought we were cool or we desperately wanted to be cool.

Our town was small—less than 300 people–and so we had nothing to do but get into trouble or pretend we were getting into trouble. If you want a picture of our town, it looked something like this: two churches, one small grocery store, a post office, a bank, an elementary school, one bar situated on the only hill in town, and an old folks’ home right across from the town park. The town had one main drag that pretty much touched all these landmarks. On one end of the town was the elementary school and on the other end was the old folks home and so in some ways the town was laid out in a progression of life, though the cemetary was the thing caught in the middle. And, of course, being so small, even as a child you knew everyone in the town and even remembered some of the dead caught in between the progression from school to nursing home.

But even with the park, which we as children ran to sometimes, the main area of interest was those railroad tracks where we would meet up. I remember exchanging mixed tapes with my friends out at those old railroad tracks. I remember talking about the music we liked, what was on MTV, and gossiping about the other kids at school. I remember sometimes we would call the numbers on the soda bottles just to have someone new to talk to or getting the passing semi’s to honk by punching our fists high into the air. We thought we were going to be trouble when we walked right into the bar one day and used quarters to buy cheap sex toys from the bathroom vending machine.

We weren’t as much trouble as we pretended to be, though, so when one of our friends actually robbed the small town grocery, there fell a new, strange silence over the rest of that summer. I remember spending less time down by the railroad tracks. I remember how none of us knew what to say to the boy who had robbed the store, though he liked to pretend nothing had ever happened. There was only one time he brought it up and he told me how other people had helped him, but they never got into trouble because they were not seen as trouble. Those other boys were from better, more well-to-do families where both parents had good jobs and they always attended church on sundays and they came to school in nice clothes and always looked clean. So when he tried to explain he wasn’t alone, and who else was with, he was either not believed or ignored and of course those boys from the families who fit together more like a puzzle denied any involvement.

The boy who robbed the store moved away in August of that summer. I had a crush on him, so I remember feeling sad and trying to think up ways to go visit him. I knew where he was going. It was a town not far away, about a 40 minute drive, and near what we called lakes country and so I knew most of my friends would be headed out that way anyway. It would be easy to get a ride. What I didn’t know was that in a year my family would be in a similar transition and I would be moving not 40 minutes away, but three hours away, and into another state and into another school and another group of friends.

As an adult, I don’t often think about my experiences in that town. Those days seem so lost to time, like a horizon you just cannot ever reach, as much as you try to see into that distance. Yet, I know those summer days, people, and experiences left a profound resonance with me that I sometimes remember when I see young, troubled students in my own classes or when I go back to where I grew up in those summers and see the young children out there, no longer playing by the now overgrown and abandoned railroad, but in a nice, updated town park. I see them laugh with each other and lean against the trees like they are cool and waiting for someone to step into their life like this is a movie and they have suddenly entered the next scene.
I remember our friend who robbed the store had to return all the goods or pay back for what he had stolen so there would be no charges and his family moved away later that summer.


I do not care what you say. I am a millennial.

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

And that subject line, you may be thinking, is obviously quite millennial.

My year of birth is 1982. I am right on that cusp of being classified as a millennial, by some standards, as some list the year where the millennial generation starts as 1982 and I have even seen 1984. In my mind, we can just probably call 1980 the start year, since we are thinking generationally. And really, I think I fit with the millennial generation, even though some of my friends tell me I think very much like  Gen Xer and even act that way most of the time. Still, I feel like I think and act like a millennial, more often than not, though I do have my Xer stereotypes. And frankly, these “generational codes” are nothing but stereotypes, though let’s ignore that for the purposes of this blog post.

When I first learned of these different generations, it was probably the early 90s and I desperately wanted to be an Xer. These kids were so cool, I thought, with their hip contemporary authors like Douglas Coupland whose books I devoured and cool music like Nirvana and Alice and Chains and their real, paying-the-rent day jobs. I was in junior high. I didn’t like school and honestly didn’t like much of anything unless it was literature or music. I idolized the lives of the generation ahead of me and wanted to be like them, so I often mimicked their attitudes, their dress, and desires.

But I am a millennial, though perhaps not the classic, garden variety, and I have been thinking about this far too much lately. For instance, I ride the bus and rely on public transit like any good, true hipster in Portland, Oregon would, even though I am not living in Portland. And when on the bus, I wonder why there isn’t a place for my coffee cup so that I can send a text without spilling my coffee all over my favorite skirt, which is a thrift store purchase. I see this type of thing as not only inconveniences, but problems that need to be solved.

While the above isn’t the strongest example, it certainly gives a good indication of how we think as millennials. Technology is not only important, but almost everything, to us. Yes, we love our families, our pets, but we also have a space in our stiff little hearts for our hybrid cars, macbook pros, smartphones, ipods and bicycles. So do notice I went from families and animals and then moved back to technology without so much as needing a transition.

When I was reading Carol Bly‘s book on Beyond the Writer’s Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction for my comp exams coming up, I noticed the generational differences and the generation-speak between us. For example, she deeply dislikes our current (book published in 2001) “junk culture” and bemoans that there is nothing interesting within it. That it is deadening. In some respects, she has a point. Think of the Kardashians and the question of, “so, why are they famous again?” But this was also written before “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and really how could you? Still, I think there is a lot of value in our highly visual, highly technological culture. I think our culture is making us not less creative, but more creative and not dumber, but smarter. Yes, we no longer need to remember phone numbers since they are saved in our smartphones. Still, technology makes us learn how to do things better, more efficiently, and effectively. Also, we can get a lot more done in one day than we could before because of technological improvements. A story somewhat related to this, but mostly demonstrates how far we have come in terms of technology, is about how one of my former professors typed up his dissertation on a typewriter. Every time he tells this story of the hours he worked, of how he typed and retyped the whole thing plucking away with only two pointer fingers. I always stare back at him, with my cup of coffee from my Kerig or the local starbucks and ask, how?

So yeah, I am a little spoiled, but aren’t you as well who may or may not be a millennial? You are reading this on a computer, right? Is it a macbook pro? Or are you reading this on an iPad or some other tablet? You got it pretty convenient, too.

One of the differences, though, between myself and the stereotypical, garden-variety millennial is our upbringing. I was not raised in some weirdly comfortable middle class family. I never had any feelings of entitlement, as people claim millennials have. The only thing I really feel entitled to is technology because, really, how else can I function and do what needs to get done? I do not know any difference since I have been online since 1995, and really that is a late start considering some of my peers. I don’t feel the world owes me anything. But I also think these are really negative aspects of being a millennial that are not true for everyone and, perhaps, may be a little overblown, despite our fancy coffee makers and technological gadgets that our parents do not completely understand (even though my mom and dad are pros at their respective iPads).

Millennials, I feel, are good problem solvers. We are efficient. We want change. We want diversity. We don’t accept answers from authority figures just because they are authority figures (think of all the times Mom said “because I said so.”). We want to make our community’s better. We may not be the original hipsters, but we are nonetheless hipsters. I think we are also highly creative individuals because we have to be. We must be creative in order to succeed at all. And this is why I value creativity so highly in my classroom. I think students will need to be able to think creatively, to think outside the box in order to succeed. Today, for example, I instructed them on cover letters. Then I had them imagine they were writing a cover letter to be on an episode of a TV show. I used two TV show examples, Glee (which I admittedly know very little about) and Mad Men (freaking love it), and they could write a cover letter geared toward the specific criteria I listed. One group even wrote a cover letter to be on an episode of the Walking Dead as a zombie, which was cool. While each cover letter had its strong points and flaws, when considering the genre, each cover letter was imaginative and creative. Students seemed to enjoy writing these, even though at first they really struggled to find those brief stories the cover letter needs. But as each group shared their cover letters, students laughed at the humor or found the cover letters engaging and interesting and creative on some level.

Earlier, I also had a couple students present on the topic of how to deal with difficult clients or customers. This is something any professional should know how to handle since you will deal with difficult people from time to time in the professional setting. I deal with difficult students from time to time, for example. And so these students presented on this topic and instead of just relaying to the audience of how someone can work with these situations, they acted out a skit between an airline worker and a unhappy flyer. During the skit, each student stated the viewpoint that individual was coming from and how the other individual should handle it. Overall, I found this not only instructive, but creative. It engaged the class. It had some humor. It wasn’t just a boring old powerpoint. Again, while this isn’t the greatest example ever, it shows creativity and thought.

While the millennial generation has its share of criticisms, such as we are money-obsessed and lazy and entitled it is important to realize the Gen Xers did, too, as did the generation before them. Everyone criticizes the present generation, but the present generation is also there to make the world better, and so I do believe millennials will, despite their stereotypical flaws.

Reflection for poetry challenge

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Poetry Reflection—Grand Challenge

When I first decided to take the challenge to write poems in a public space where I thought people were creative, I felt a little hesitant. For one, I had never written creative writing in public before. The few times I had actually written a poem in public was when I either felt I had a good line for a poem in mind or when I was killing time as I waited for someone, so the idea of actually going to a public place to write a poem felt a little uncomfortable. I had fears that I wouldn’t be able to write anything. I felt I might look pretentious sitting there alone writing a poem in the black Moleskine notebook I carry around (and honestly, I probably do look pretentious doing that). I felt I simply wouldn’t be able to write anything I liked because when I write a poem, I tend to pace around a lot and I imagined that would look awkward in public and probably even cause some concern.

While I didn’t pace around the HoDo, I still managed to do some writing there. I was also surprised at the wide array of topics I found, images I thought about, and events I witnessed. While writing, I witnessed a lot of things happening, like a birthday party, a business meeting, a woman trying to balance work and motherhood as she talked on the phone to a business client while putting a coat on her daughter, and a transmitter blowing causing the building to run at half-power. It is obvious that I would find a lot to write about, as not a whole lot changes around my apartment, but I had just never consistently written about my experiences in a particular setting before while I was there.

While I composed two poems for my mini challenge, I composed three for my grand challenge. (I wanted to do four, but it was getting expensive.) Each of these poems comments on something that happened while I was at the HoDo, though I do make some information up, which I suppose is the poetic license portion of this exercise. While I do take instances from what I see around me, I do still make up a few things as I compose the poem. Sometimes I do this just to keep the poem going, like the time I saw the lady put on her daughter’s coat while talking on the phone and then leaving. While that is what I saw, that moment changed in the poem, Songs. It didn’t fit the way the poem started and so I changed it to the speaker of the poem seeing a woman’s leg move out from the booth and put on her coat to leave. I never mentioned the daughter because it did not fit the poem. And when I write a poem, I confess changes like this occur a fair amount, though the poem usually “takes off” from something real and something I witnessed.

From this exercise, I learned to take my poetry and other creative writing out in public more often. While I had never done much serious creative writing in public, I realized I need to do more of that because of the instances of life I see move around me and how that influences my writing. Plus, I like the connection it builds with and to the poem. What I mean when I say that last sentence is that there is this new intimacy that seems to happen when I compose a poem in public about a particular space I inhabit. I become a part of that space and that space echoes in the poem I am writing and I think that is a powerful thing.

I also cannot help but recall a past conversation I had with a friend. We were discussing how poetry has become abstract–and that abstraction has caused poets to lose their audience. Perhaps by using space (and place) in the composition of a poem will strengthen our poetry by making it less abstract and more accessible. For example, teachers still teach the poems of Robert Frost not only because he was a master at the metaphor, but also because he is one of our most accessible American poets. I think this is something to consider, especially since so much of what we write can be easily made available online to many readers. It is time we think more about making our words and our metaphors accessible, but this does not mean we make poetry more “simplistic.” In fact, it is quite different from that. Instead, this should challenge us to make our language more identifiable by our audience and to consider images and metaphors that resonate on a wider plane.

As a side note, there is a book I can read about the poetics of space titled, obviously enough, _The Poetics of Space_ by Gaston Bauchelard.

Romance (with paper draft–8/23)

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

(Image: Paper draft of the poem. I thought it might be cool to include that visual.)

Romance (draft)

Our heads bend like swans

while the deep dark between us

maps the sudden wake of emotion

a finger traces a path

over the body

memorizing scars and curves.

It is these six years that I work

to find words for, words

that never carry enough.

I can only reach

for your hand, silent and final,

to stay there all night.

Confessions of an Introvert

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

The other night my friend John called me and I almost didn’t answer the phone. Each time I see “incoming call” on my phone I always hesitate. When my phone rings I always have the urge to run away from it or make excuses as to why I should not answer it.

I only answered because it was John and I had not spoken with him in a few weeks and, in the end, I was glad I did because we made plans to hang out at another time.

But the reason that I react this way to a simple phone call is because I’m an introvert. No, I am not antisocial because that behavior is antagonistic toward social situations, and to be truthful, I do my best to avoid conflict. I just prefer to be in solitude.

Introverts are not any of the following:

  • antisocial (aggressive/antagonistic)
  • maladroit  (we do like people, actually.)
  • shy (because shyness is anxiety about social situations and we are not necessarily anxious, we just get exhausted being around people)
  • Awkward (Introverts are not socially awkward. When you look up “introvert” it does not come with the words “socially awkward”. I think social awkwardness is just a matter of immature or maladjusted social awareness, and introverts are not maladjusted or immature by definition.)

Simply put, introverts are people who get tired of being around people. We do not gain our energy from being around others, like extroverts do. While both introverts and extroverts need “alone time”, introverts thrive on alone time.

But the truth of the matter is that much of the world is, or at least appears to be, extroverted. Also, society loves extroverts and much of the functions and activities of society is geared toward extroverted personalities. How wonderful.

Recently, I lamented with my friend Anthony about how though there has been talk of introverts in the news lately because of Susan Cain’s book Quiet. Even with this positive publicity, introverts are still misunderstood, ignored, and occasionally maligned by others. I think I even said introverts are “hopelessly maligned”, which sounds severe, I admit, but I think it is at least mostly true because it seems as if the “battle” between introvert and extrovert is a battle you just can’t win. In fact, Doc Mara once told me this and I nodded and understood, though I really had no idea as to the truth in his comment. Now, I think I am beginning to understand.

One of the reasons I am interested in voice comes out from being an introvert. I am the kind of person who thinks about if what she is about to say has value at all. If I am in a seminar class, I worry that I don’t talk enough and if I talk more than usual I can’t help but wonder if I have spoken up too often. But my main concern is always the relevance of my comments because I hate talking just to talk. When I speak to my students in the classroom, I am always careful about how I word things, so I realize I probably talk slower than many of their other professors who are extroverts and so easily go from one thing to another in a fluid manner.

That is the greatest thing I admire about extroverts—their almost spontaneous fluidity along with the fact that they are amazingly quick thinkers. It takes me a long time to make a decision, for example, but an extrovert will come to a decision almost immediately. Extroverts, I admire your quick responses. Seriously. Bravo.

And so when I showed a video in class today, which was Michael Strand’s discussion titled “Between Spaces: Art, Craft and Humanity” I noticed the first thing he identified with was being an extrovert. He talked about how he is the annoying type of person who wants to talk to you and get to know you, even if it is only for two minutes. He said, “I love people.”

Yes, we introverts also love people, but don’t think poorly of us if we don’t talk to you. We love people for the potential that people have to be creative, thoughtful, wonderful individuals, but just because we think these things doesn’t mean we want to hang out or even form a friendship with someone. Introverts, or at least I am, are notoriously picky about the friendships they choose to invest time in. (Note: if we choose not to be your friend or hang out with you, it does not mean you are a bad or inferior person.) Don’t think we are being maladroit or antisocial if we don’t come to your party because we probably have been at work or school all day and we are tired of people, or perhaps we have seen you all week and want the weekend to ourselves. If you walk past us in a crowded room (or even in a room that is not crowded), don’t be upset if we don’t notice you in enough time to say hello. We were thinking about something and perhaps trying to make an important decision or trying to further understand a newly learned concept. The point is that we were not trying to ignore you because we don’t like you or whatever, we just didn’t notice you because we were busy thinking.

I do appreciate Susan Cain’s book, even if it cannot change the world. I doubt it can, honestly, but perhaps giving a little more awareness to a personality type that isn’t the socialized ideal will be beneficial.

And no, I probably don’t want to join your committee or work collaboratively, but realize that it isn’t because I don’t see the value in those things. I do. I think any type of collaborative work has a place and time, however, and most of the time I prefer to work alone and be alone because when working alone I am at my most productive.


(working draft) Why denying writer’s voice is problematic

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

In my reading on voice in writing, I cannot help but feel denying the existence of a writer’s voice is problematic for a number of reasons. Though I am still working on finalizing this list as well as fleshing out my points (time, man, it is all about time right now), here are a few observations I’ve made thus far.

  • Denying voice devalues literature

I recently asked a friend of mine why some colleagues will refer to “literature as rhetoric.” I understand how literature, just as all pieces of writing, makes rhetorical moves, but I did not understand the concept of perferring to view literature as simply rhetoric because I felt it devalued literature since literature is so much more than the words on the page and the motives behind those words. Literature is about the aesthetic experience and the esthetic space just as much as it is about humanity and connections. He told me that he felt the “literature as rhetoric” movement came out of poststructuralism/structuralism when literature became referred to as a “text” and since everything can be a “text” then we can surely analyze literature through a rhetorical lens.

For me, voice is what adds the personality and (though I hate using the word, but can think of no other right now) the soul to a written work. For instance, I respond much differently to reading a work of literature by an author I enjoy reading (Wharton, James, Kafka, Chopin, Lahiri, etc) than I respond to an essay that I am reading purely for the information I will gain (such as a piece of theory or a scientific article). The two things are not the same. If one views literature as merely rhetoric, I think we devalue that work of literature and we thereby ignore voice as I understand voice (the personality and “soul” of the writing and the writer).


  • Voice is important to women writers because of the anxiety of authorship, as well as it is important to all writers who are not typically seen as “authors”
Voice grants a sense of agency to a writer and this agency is particularly important to non-white, non-male authors and writers. This concept goes back to the “anxiety of authorship” as voiced (no pun intended) by Gilbert and Gubar in Madwoman in the Attic where they appealed for a women’s authorial canon.
  • Voice is important to the humanities in general.
The humanities thrive on human creativity and art. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be important. How else can we be heard? When I think of the humanities, I think of art and creativity and sharing these values with others in varying formats.
  • Voice is present in rhetorical studies through the “chora”

The chora in rhetoric is where creativity takes place and since voice is the creativity an author exercises in the process of writing, I cannot see where voice wouldn’t be cooperative with the rhetorical term of chora.

I learned about the chora in rhetorical studies during Critical Theory when Dr. Brooks visited. Our class was trying to wrap our heads around Kristeva’s “semiotic chora” at the time and Dr. Brooks chimed in with what chora refers to in rhetoric. It was interesting, so thank you Dr. Brooks.


  • Writing is an art and I believe the writing process can be viewed as “erotics” (like the erotics of authorship or the erotics of reading) and “voice” plays a role in this

As a creative AND academic writer, the writing process is one of my favorite parts of writing. In fact, I enjoy the writing process for any type of writing, really. When I turn in a paper, I always think about what more I could have done with it, though I realize that eventually I have to stop revising. Still, I love the act of writing and I can’t help but feel that part of this has something to do with the inner voice that becomes the outer voice through the act of writing.

[more to come]

When I first started this project, I truly believed in a singular voice. After doing some further reading, however, especially reading from writers who are non-white and from multicultural backgrounds (I’m thinking of the new term I have recently learned—third culture kids—and the readings I have done about feminism from non white backgrounds, among other things) I am questioning this. But at the same, a writer’s voice, or an author’s voice, is unique. If I pick up a book by an author I am familiar with, I can recognize the style, or the voice, pretty easily. Sometimes it is really easy, like distinguishing Gertrude Stein from Nathaniel Hawthorne (who is also someone from a different time in comparison to Stein). So I do feel the “single voice” idea has its place and we certainly have a practice that identifies with it. And it makes me wonder, in our culture of technology and diversity, does that need to be changed?