Calling all writing instructors in the Northeast!

There are just ten days left to submit a proposal to the Northeast Modern Language Association Conference to be held in Hartford, CT in March 2016.

I’m chairing one panel and one roundtable focused on teaching writing and while there are some great submissions already, I’d love to hear from more of the scholar-practitioners doing the innovating in the classroom. Please consider submitting a proposal to one or both of these sessions. And if neither of these grabs your interest, take a look at the other awesome Rhetoric and Composition sessions being offered this year.

The Student as Writer: Embodiment, Mindfulness, and Disability in the Composition Classroom (Panel)

In this session, we review ways to approach the First Year Composition and other writing classrooms by focusing on the students as embodied writers, taking student-centered pedagogy to a new level. Areas of interest for papers include, but are not limited to, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and disability studies. A combination of theoretical and practical perspectives will be employed to locate the student as embodied writer within the disciplinary tradition.

Evaluating Student Writing (Roundtable)

Have you ever wondered, “How on Earth can I grade this poem? Can creativity even be quantified?” Or, “how should revision fit into the overall course grade?” In this roundtable, writing instructors from a variety of fields (rhetoric and composition; technical writing; creative writing; and more) will discuss their systems for assessing and evaluating student writing in the college classroom. Both conceptual and pragmatic concerns will be addressed for making the evaluation and feedback process an integral part of our writing pedagogy.

End to the Summer of Upheaval

So what have you been doing for the past month?

It’s been nearly five weeks since my last post and I’ve spent that time closing on, painting, and then moving into a townhouse in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. With lots of help from family and friends, nearly every wall has been repainted, new rugs have been installed, and the “must haves” have been put in place (including my massive desk, Star Wars posters, and a print of a painting that includes my elementary school from Aldan, PA in the background).

A little bit of Delco in Massachusetts

A little bit of Delco in Massachusetts

When I accepted my new position with the English Department at Fitchburg State University, I knew that I was in for a lot of upheaval, especially when I decided that I would make the leap and become a homeowner rather than renting a place.

New job, new state, and new home.

It’s been a lot and for someone like me who finds comfort in routine and familiarity, I’m definitely ready to be done with all of it.

But the transition back to that routine hasn’t been anywhere near as simple as I expected. And I realized that’s mostly because of the vastly different types of mindsets involved between the “move” mind and the “writing” brain.

The “move” mind required short-term, immediate decision-making involved in setting up a house, unpacking belongings, and placing furniture. I spent hours one day, for example, dashing between rooms, up and down stairs, answering questions and making decisions as my awesome family members were tackling projects like unpacking my kitchenware, painting the main bathroom, and assembling, then placing, the new cabinets in my amazingly large new home office.

The “writing” brain, on the other hand, is also the mindset I need for syllabus planning and my research (including the paper I’m going to be presenting at LoneStarCon 3 at the end of the month). Before the move preparation, this was my default mindset and that was actually problematic as I tried to be so strategic when I packed that I got in my own way at times.

But once I was (mostly) settled, and my family returned to their own homes, it took me nearly a full week to re-set my brain. I quickly realized that it was going to take a deliberate effort to make the switch and that I had taken for granted the time and attention I typically have for such thinking. I am lucky that I’m able to control a great deal of my time and environment to create and maintain (even nurture) that reflective, writing mindset.

Throughout this process, I have been reminded of Virginia’s Woolf’s classic essay A Room of One’s Own, which I first read many, many years ago in college. Now that I have a great space to call my own, I also have the additional obstacle known as “the joys of home ownership” to get in the way of achieving the mental and physical space I need to write. For example, tasks like waiting hours for a plumber to arrive and changing addresses online do not lend themselves to recapturing the sustained attention required for longer-term projects (even for relatively short pieces like this blog post).

My copy of A Room of One’s Own, complete with the “vintage” GSC (Glassboro State College) used book sticker.

My copy of A Room of One’s Own, complete with the “vintage” GSC (Glassboro State College) used book sticker.

I’m still considering how to incorporate this experience into my teaching and writing but one of the great advantages of my job is the synergies among my teaching, writing, and thinking. As my students in First-Year Writing at Fitchburg State this fall are making a huge transition, I will still be adapting to my own and I definitely plan to be open about my own struggles setting up my writing space, and recapturing my writing mind.

Mementos of Transformation, or Treasures Found While Packing

A lot of changes are in store for me this summer, with the two most extensive being that I’m leaving Central Connecticut State University to join the English Department at Fitchburg State in Massachusetts and that I will become a homeowner for the first time when I buy a condo in Fitchburg in July.

The prospect of another inter-state move five years after I left Pennsylvania to come to Connecticut has me sorting my possessions like crazy, shredding or recycling pieces of paper almost as ruthlessly as George R.R. Martin prunes characters in the Song of Fire and Ice series. And after more than ten years of teaching, and seven years of graduate school, I have a lot of paper.

Yet, not everything is becoming victim to this purge. I found two amazing pieces of paper the other day, both more than ten years old, that unmistakably mark the start of the path that I am currently taking to Fitchburg.

The first is a printout of a May 2000 email (back when we used to print such things as a matter of course) from the director of the brand new Rowan University Master of Arts in Writing program. I had been investigating graduate programs for a little while, trying to figure out the next step in my career and a former professor of mine put me in touch with Diane, who (as you can see in the picture) invited me to join an Issues in Composition class that was starting that evening so I could see what it was all about.

photo_MAW_email

I received that email early in the morning of May 31 and by 6:30 that night, I was introduced to a world I hadn’t even known existed, and which I haven’t left ever since: Composition and Rhetoric. All of my current composition work and the basis for Science Fiction Reboot can be traced to that single impulsive decision and I’m beyond grateful that I have this physical artifact of that profound transition period in my life.

I discovered the second piece of paper a few minutes later in the same folder as the Rowan MAW file. It’s just a simple Word document, single-spaced, with no header, title, or other identifying marks. I’m not even sure why I created that document, let alone decided to print it and save it for more than a decade, but the content leaves no doubt that this memento contains my initial thoughts and reflections from my first World Science Fiction Convention (World Con) in Philadelphia in 2001.

Attending that convention was another spontaneous decision, made with as little awareness of what I was getting myself into as the one to join Issues in Composition the year before. I had never been to a science fiction convention, ever, but saw a link on the SciFi Channel’s website for something called Millennium PhilCon over Labor Day Weekend in my hometown. I thought, why not?

Why not, indeed? It is no exaggeration for me to say that those five days in 2001 changed my life. I have described before the way in which that convention (specifically Greg Bear’s Guest of Honor speech) inspired my first book and that the idea for Writing and the Digital Generation was also sparked at a later World Con (LACon in 2006). But what is particularly remarkable about the reflections I found the other day was this tidbit: “The big question is: will I go to next year’s World Con in San Jose, CA?” I laugh even now reading that because not only did I attend the 2002 World Con, but I have been to eight of them in the past twelve years, and attended two North American Science Fiction Conventions when the World Con was off the continent and I couldn’t make the trip.

As my reflection from twelve years ago also says, that weekend I found “a greater sense of this science fiction and fantasy community I have belonged to for so many years but just didn’t know it.” What I also didn’t know at that time was how that community would come to define, in many ways, my identity as a scholar and as a professor.

The time it took for me to sort through those files was certainly well spent even if these pieces of paper didn’t make it into the recycling after all. They will be coming with me to Fitchburg, and wherever else this journey takes me, to remind me that while it’s a good thing to make plans, I also need to leave myself open to take those opportunities I didn’t even know would be coming.

Call for Papers for Science Fiction and Fantasy Area of Popular Culture Association

I have presented early versions of both Writing and the Digital Generation and The Science Fiction Reboot at the PCA/ACA Convention in the past and really enjoy this conference. No matter your area of fandom, you are likely to find an area to embrace your inner geek and spend the weekend having amazing conversations with like-minded fans from all over the country.

SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY AREA

Conference of the Popular and American Culture Association (PCA/ACA)

April 16 – April 19, 2014 – Chicago, IL

 

One of the largest and most vibrant of the association, the Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF/F) Area invites proposals for its 2014 national conference to be held at the Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile. The goals of our area are (1) to share and support research, scholarship, and publication and (2) to mentor emerging scholars. As a result, we invite proposals from professors, independent scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates (with the guidance of a professor).

PCA/ACA SF/F welcomes any theoretical or (inter)disciplinary approach to any topic related to SF/F:  art; literature; radio; film; television; comics and graphic novels; video, role-playing, and multi-player online games. Though not at all an exhaustive list, potential presenters may wish to consider the following. We would particularly like to encourage submissions for 2014 that celebrate a momentous event in the history of SFF.

General Topics

  • Fans and Fandom/Community Building
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Class and Hierarchies
  • Hybridity and Liminality
  • Utopia/Dystopia
  • Audience Reception
  • Translation Issues
  • Cross-Media Texts
  • Regeneration—Moving Narratives from One Medium to Another
  • Language and Rhetoric
  • Genre—Space Opera, Cyberpunk, Dark Fantasy, etc.
  • Franchising Narratives
  • Intertexuality
  • Marketing and Advertising
  • Textual Analysis
  • Sociological or Psychological Readings
  • Archival Research
  • Technology—Textual and Literal
  • Pedagogy—Teaching Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Online Identity Construction
  • Use of Music and Silence
  • Visual, Spatial, and Design Elements
  • Mythology and Quest Narratives
  • Steampunk


 

 

The SF/F Area is also interested in featuring science fiction and fantasy writers and poets. Creative writers are welcomed.

 

Submission Guidelines:  In Word (.doc/.docx), Rich Text Format (.rtf), or PDF, completed papers or 250-word proposals for individual papers, or creative writing readings should be submitted through the PCA website and only through the PCA website.   If you wish to submit a panel for the conference all presenters must submit individually through the website, and then notify the Area Chair of your intentions to present together. Please do not include panel colleagues on the electronic submission as this confuses the program.  Instructions for submission can be found at www.pcaaca.org/conference/instructions.php and submissions made at http://ncp.pcaaca.org . The document should contain the following information in this order:

 

  • Name of presenter—indicate main contact person if submitting a multi-authored paper
  • Institutional affiliation—if applicable
  • Name and contact information of Supervising professor—undergraduates only
  • Address(es), telephone number(s), and email address(es) of presenter(s)
  • Title of paper
  • Completed paper(s) or 250-word proposal(s)—if submitting a workshop, please specifically indicate what those in attendance will gain

Roundtables and special sessions can only be created by Area Chairs—if you wish to organize one of these sessions, please contact the Area Chairs who will create the event for you in the schedule.

The paper proposal will be acknowledged when received, and the sender will be notified of the submission’s status no later than 15 December 2013.

Please, do not simultaneously submit the same proposal to multiple areas. Doing so is a discourtesy to area chairs. Also please note that, per PCA/ACA guidelines, a person may present only one paper at the annual meeting, regardless of subject area. This includes roundtables, that is, a person cannot present a paper and a roundtable discussion.

 

Submission Deadline:  1 November 2013

Each year after the last conference panel on Saturday evening, the SF/F Area hosts a fundraising event that includes a film, snacks, and a prize raffle of DVDs, novels, academic books, etc.—thousands of dollars in merchandise. Come enjoy the food, friendship, and fun! Location TBA; film The Beginning of the End. Fundraising supports area activities and, beginning with the 2011 conference, awards to the two best papers, graduate student and professional. More details about these awards can be found at the area’s website: www.pcasff.org

Please be aware that the PCA offers several travel bursaries and deadlines for them are the 7 January 2014.  Check the PCA website www.pcaaca.org for more information.

Hope to see you in Chicago!

Dr. Gillian I Leitch, PCA/ACA SF/F Area Chair                              Dr. Sherry Ginn

23 Blvd Mont-Bleu, #1                                                         Rowan-Cabarrus Community College

Gatineau, QC                                                                                    1531 Trinity Church Rd

Canada J8Z 1H9                                                                    Concord, NC 28110   USA

Direct all enquiries to our email address:                                 pcasff@gmail.com

NOTE: While the PCA/ACA welcomes fresh approaches to subjects, we also appreciate serious commitment to scholarship and to presenting at the conference.

Please note that this is a professional conference and once you are accepted your presentation becomes integral to the success of the event.  If you must cancel, please notify the area chair of your withdrawal as soon as you know.  Failure to do so, might impact future opportunities to present at this conference.

Digital Generation Anniversary

Three years ago, give or take a week, a box filled with copies of Writing and the Digital Generation arrived on my doorstep as I headed to campus to teach at the start of the spring 2010 semester. Just as it was with Plagues, I hadn’t received any notice that the books were about to be shipped and so the sight was a very welcome surprise, in no way diminished the second time around.

The worry when it comes to scholarship on digital media, or any technology really, is that our conclusions will become outdated very quickly. In some ways this applies to Digital Generation: many of the fan texts (e.g., Heroes, Firefly, and nearly all soap operas) are no longer being broadcast and some of the sites (such as MySpace) and online games may have been abandoned or replaced by newer, updated versions.

I hope, though, that the driving force behind the collection, and its conclusions regarding writing in the digital era, are flexible and complex enough to morph and mash with the innovations that have become available since the project’s inception, three years before its 2010 publication.

And yet I can’t help reflecting on these innovations, both as a user and a scholar, on this third anniversary. The incursion of mobile technology into our everyday lives was hinted at in a few of the collection’s pieces (especially Jentery Sayers’s profile) but the ubiquity of tablets and even smarter smart phones is perhaps the most visible change in fan interactions via digital media. When I was working on assembling Digital Generation, of course, the original iPad hadn’t even been released yet. Now, however, my own iPad and iPhone are rarely ever out of arm’s reach and the same goes for my family from my seven-year-old nephew to his grandparents (and in a meta-moment, this blog post was drafted in part on my iPad).

Even still, the abysmal hand-eye coordination and general lack of gaming ability I described in my own chapter of Digital Generation remains unchanged, as evidenced by my frustrating inability to learn how to play Angry Birds Star Wars despite my nephew’s patient instruction (which was quite good, especially considering he is only in the second grade). In addition, while I can now access the sorts of fanfic and ficvids analyzed by Susanna Coleman, Kim Middleton, and Juli Parrish, among others, on my iPad rather than just a “real” computer, the underlying rhetorical activity of those fan productions seems fundamentally stable, which I hope means the conclusions of my fellow contributors remain as viable and relevant in 2013 as they did in 2010.

And there are new digital fandom productions to explore, and let’s be honest, become obsessed with, today. Many of these represent exciting evolutions and adaptations in terms of the collaborative nature of fan activity. Two of my current favorites include the fascinating variety among the headcanons being presented for the Harry Potter series at this Tumblr hashtag and this hilarious takes on the Avengers also on Tumblr: Memos from Fury.

I’m excited to see what new digital fandom productions and media technologies we will encounter in the next three years.

Racing and Writing

Between September 16 and November 11 of this year, I completed two half-marathons. Trust me, no one is more stunned than I am that I can write that sentence with any truth. Five years ago, I would have scoffed at the very idea that I’d even consider such a thing, let alone achieve it.

Notice that I didn’t say that I ran in these races. Truth be told, I walk a majority of those 13.1 miles, no doubt slowing down my race partner (my sister, Nicole) considerably. I am slow. There is no other way to put it. But I earned both medals (and finisher tee shirts) by covering each course from start to finish.

I’m sharing these details not because I’m soliciting congratulations with this first post but rather as context for a perspective on writing that my students and I often discuss: writing as practice and/or writing as running.

I’ve used many articles regarding writing in my courses over the years, especially as I’ve fully transitioned to a Writing About Writing approach to composition. I’ve shared an excerpt from Keith Hjortshoj’s The Transition to College Writing several times and focused in particular on his writing as performance art metaphor, with its corollary of drafting as rehearsal. This fall semester, I added Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing as Practice” from Writing Down the Bones primarily for the comparison she makes between writing and running. Many of my students identify with both of these perspectives and now that I have completed these “real” races, I do as well.

Training for a race is a hard habit to develop. In fact, it’s one I’m particularly bad at enforcing on myself. Similarly, writing every day is something I believe in, and have used successfully in the past, but it’s also a habit I all too often let slide.

Then, when I am up against a race or a deadline, I pay the price for that lack of habit and practice. Yet, I also know from experience, with both writing and races, that I have been able to complete “long” projects even without ideal preparation.

During races, the most agonizing miles for me are between 1.5 and about 3. The adrenaline and excitement of the start have worn off, the shin splints have begun, and we have double-digit miles to go before we’re done. And I always wonder during this stretch why I let myself get talked into doing another race. With writing, the moment of doubt is harder to predict but it always comes—accompanied by a sinking feeling that there just aren’t enough hours before the deadline to finish, or that my initial idea just won’t cut it.

At both of these stretches, though, I remind myself that I not only can do it, but I have done it before and will again. My sister reminds me as well, during races and during writing projects. And, so far, we’ve been proven right.

Another aspect of races that I have recently come to relate to my writing is the set of clichés that describe a “sprint to the finish” and warn, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” By the time I cross the mile marker at 12, and especially 13, miles, I have a fleeting thought that I want to “finish strong,” and will even try to pick up the pace—but the energy is rarely there for any burst of speed. In fact, when we download the data from my sister’s race watch, the pace per mile is typically steady, with a slight drop-off as we near the end.

This consistent pacing is essentially the way I handle long writing projects as well. While it is true that deadline pressure does increase my productivity, it’s more a result of setting other tasks to a lower priority than a sudden cognitive burst. In other words, once I dedicate the time to a long project, I write, revise, and edit at a consistent pace, much like I do during a race. For this reason, the National Novel Writing Month is not a competition I would win.

One foot in front of the other and one word after the next. It seems as if the metaphor of writing as running doesn’t only apply to my students any more.

My running partner, Nicole, and I nearing the finish line at the 2012 Jingle Bell Run, a 5K to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation.

My running partner, Nicole, and I nearing the finish line at the 2012 Jingle Bell Run, a 5K to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation.