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Nearly all my writings are memoirs. I write about a variety of topics: nature, culture, food, community, emotions, professional options, art, creativity, entrepreneurship, recovering addictions, making life changes, family, loss, and growth, all from my perspective. I don’t try to be an expert and provide definitive information. I try to convey a point of view.

I began to wonder if there was something wrong with this kind of writing. After all, who wants to read about me? I’m not really that narcissistic, am I? But then I realized that I am a vehicle for the words I write. In reality, very little is about me. I’d like to think it is about humanity, as I am learning to understand it. It is just as much about you. If not now, then perhaps at some other point in time.

My chosen genre of the written word is creative non-fiction. Perhaps it always has been, but it was hidden for sometime.

In high-school we are taught not to write what we think. We report. We regurgitate. If we are lucky, we create. The use of the first person is discouraged. Undoubtedly, this carries over into college. I remember taking my English class at a community college. It was taught by this wonderfully inspiring and creative young hippie-chick. One of our assignments was to write a narrative.

I came back with a fictional story with characters inspired by the archaeological lab work I had been doing near Cahokia Mounds. It wasn’t exactly what she was looking for. She wanted a narrative of our life. I was baffled. I didn’t want to write about my life! Writing was my escape from my life! Luckily she allowed for revisions and helped me develop the narrative to be about the work I did cleaning artifacts and how certain details of ancient life could be interpreted from these pieces of the past.

Image from cahokiamounds.org

I cherish what she taught me. It opened up a whole new world of writing. Sadly, accepting writing from my own experience did not transfer over to the university. I shared before about the trauma of my first writing assignment at the university level. I may forever blame that professor, with his full beard, thick glasses, flannel shirt, and overly critical ways for the blow to my self-confidence. From then on, I stuck to the acceptable way of writing. No use of “I”. Write about the subject as an expert would. Be authoritative. Be clear and concise. Use proper paragraph structure with at least five sentences to support the topic.

It worked, through courses in anthropology, ecology, wildlife biology, geography, and American Indian Studies. Even into graduate school, I stuck to the strict method. Even in my field of study (American Studies) which was, as an Anthropology professor described, “Heavily reliant on narrative rather than analysis.”

I remember the day when that all changed. I was half-way through my third semester of graduate school. We had just made our way through an intense unit on cultural theory. We had an open-ended assignment to write a response paper on the theory unit which was full of works that questioned authority and power. I had an idea that had nothing to do with my prospective thesis topic, but everything to do with my life at that moment. I was five months pregnant and, for the first time in my life, facing physical limitations.  So I ran it by the professor, who interestingly enough also had a beard, glasses, and might sport a flannel shirt from time to time. But let me tell you. This professor was a thousand times cooler than the other professor.

He listened to my thoughts on the assignment, but was stunned when I asked the question, “I can write this in first person, right? The use of “I” as the subject is okay?” I think his response went something along the way of, “I don’t see how it would be possible not to.”

The whole world opened up. I wrote a paper entitled “Redefining Pregnancy through Expressions of Agency”. The opening quote read,

Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility.              -Donna Haraway, A Manifesto for Cyborgs

I do believe from that moment on I continued to enlist the possibility that rested in the use of “I” in my writing… even my thesis became part memoir, part cultural-environmental history. What a powerful thing to be able to do when thesis writing coincided with bed rest!

Writing my thesis “The Coyote in Kawuneeche: Story, Relation, and Experience in a Rocky Mountain Landscape”

What a delightful thing for me to revisit now, as many of my emerging perspectives are influenced by multiple-versions of physical well-being. Something I was just beginning to explore in that assignment. And what a wonderful way to reflect and appreciate that the greatest things we learn are about our own abilities, even in graduate school!

The Cooper House, home to students of the American Studies program at the University of Wyoming

The Cooper House, home to students of the American Studies program at the University of Wyoming

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On Art and Writing (part 1)

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On Art and Writing (part 1)

I am finding that I am now comfortable in referring to myself as a writer. “Yes. I am an independent artist and writer.” Imagine that!

In declaring myself so, opportunities have come along to fortify this identity. In the past months, I’ve worked on several projects that involved writing some kind of narrative. It helps me see writing as more of a profession and less of a hobby. It is a skill, so to speak– a marketable skill. It could even be talent. When I don’t know what else to do, I write. When I was putting the pieces together to start a blog, I was overwhelmed with the power of words. So, I wrote about writing.

The excitement and challenge in writing occurs together with the process of transporting ideas from a non-verbal world of connection and possibility to a verbal world of structured capacity.  Along the way, prospective words travel along the subconscious, sometimes rerouted by doubt, frustration, and distraction. Bitten nails and forgotten laundry are a little price to pay for the erratic sequencing of words that land on the paper with some representation of the meanings intended. The most exhilaration arises in the process of writing as magnificent ideas come forth, bellowing in delight at their chance of existence, so loudly that their true meaning is barely audible.

I haven’t always been the writer I am now. I loved to put words and ideas down on paper, but for quite sometime the process evaded me. In my early years of academia, the pieces of work that I put the most passion into were often the ones that came back with red marks scattered about. Defeat.

One particularly painful experience came my first semester at a university. I had been taking courses at a community college for three years prior, and had felt as if I could be… possibly… good at writing.

Midterms came. I submitted a paper on the political organization of chiefdom society. I focused on my experiences working in the archaeological labs near Cahokia Mounds. I proof-read and edited like mad. I worked hard. I was elated. I felt like I had threaded together experience, reference, and course content into a three to five page term paper. It felt good.

The following Monday, I was stunned by a D-. One sentence was underlined toward the end of the paper. A note followed, “This is the only relevant sentence in the entire paper.” It hurt. I cried. I got angry. I said mean things about the instructor. But eventually, I recovered from those pains and even the subsequent comments that suggested that I lacked the logic to write as an archaeologist.

In time, that was just fine with me. I found an academic niche that suited me within cultural and environmental studies. I gained the capacity to write a 88 page thesis that prompted my advisor to say, “Within these pages, you have found your voice.

I have, yes indeed. I have.

I now write a blog, in journals, and to friends. I write grants, project plans, budgets, grocery lists, letters, emails, resumes, and much more to come. Writing has become a habit. It has become part of my life. A part of me. It is my voice. My voice, that I share.Peek of Visual Framework