Wednesday, April 20, 2005

One Best Thing: Variety

In my pre-centered life, I was a library cataloger. With apologies to library folk who find such work fascinating, I have just one word - painfully tedious. (Okay, I needed two words.) Writing center work, in contrast, just quacks my duck. Sure, there’s a common thread that runs through our work - teaching, but each day’s tasks to that end remain richly varied.

Take Monday, for example. In the morning, I spend my first thirty minutes reflecting on the weekend’s PNWCA conference for the WCJ blog. Then I turn my attention to the Aardvarks. Hunh? Well, we are facilitating write-to-learn online learning communities for a large, lecture GER course, Asian Art History. My learning community, called the Aardvarks, had posted over the weekend about the way the Indian philosophy of darśan affects worship and art. Fascinating stuff!

Approaching my noon nosh, I am surprised with a visit from a student I had worked with extensively three years back. With just one quarter left to graduate, he dropped off the face of the earth. He’s back, he’s dealt with his Issues, and he’s ready to finish. However, despite his incredible talent with words, he is totally blocked. In the three years he’s been gone, he’s written just one email, period. We catch up. Then we devise a plan to get him unstuck.

In the GPB meeting with our three student coordinators (Grand Pooh Bahs), we discuss our recruiting process and debrief about their conference presentations. Next, I take a phone call from an alumna writing a 75-page paper. She’s in a panic. While I talk her down, I hold a few side conversations, mostly gestured, with writing assistants posing the odd question. Just as Outlook reminds me to work on my proposal for a larger budget, the phone rings again. This time it’s a parent wondering what accommodations Western has for her high school senior with dyslexia and ADHD.

By now it’s time for me to join my cross-town colleague, Sherri Winans, for some eats and an invigorating conversation about our lives and work. We’re writing both a session proposal a pre-conference workshop proposal for next year’s Cs. We have so many interests that we pursue three or four rabbit trails before settling on the one that intrigues us most.

Sadly, I remember feeling annoyed a lot of Monday because so many of the day’s events were unplanned. I never did get to work on that proposal (due today). But today my annoyance embarrasses me. If I wanted predictable, I could have stuck with cataloging. Instead, I inhabit a world bursting with surprise and serendipity - today’s One Best Thing.

Roberta Kjesrud


At 10:28 PM, Blogger shady said...

Yes! Yes! YES!

Today is surprise and serendipity day!

The mangled American Heritage Dictionary (3rd Edition, 1994) that sits next to my desk defines "serendipity" as "the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident."

Yes, I was "that" faculty today. I brought my first ENG 101 class outside (yes, quite daring) b/c it was a warm, gorgeous morning (post-grueling winter) and the school was hosting its annual "chalk-the-walk" day where students (anyone) can get two blocks of sidewalk in the campus quad to "chalk," or draw on.

I brought the class and didn't know entirely what to expect, but I encouraged them to get some free chalk from the chalk-station and start drawing.

(I secretly saw this as an oppotunity to have some fantastic conversations about literacy, audience awareness, and the rhetoric of "art-as-writing" as they worked on.... No. I'm sorry. That's not why we went out there. We went out to workshop our papers in the sun and draw on the sidewalk--mainly to draw on the sidewalk.

And it was fantastic. Some of the "artists" got chalk and started drawing while others "smeared" chalk into the fabric of the sidewalk, while others watched and talked with them... while, yes, still others pulled out some of their writings and workshopped them! (And, yep, I even got my hands dirty helping out.)

I felt as if everything I had learned in kindergarten REALLY WAS all I needed to learn.

I couldn't believe how well they were all communicating with each other, enjoying each other's time, and participating in various activities as a class. I thought that WE ALL need more of this (unless, of course, you are full-time 40-hour/week professional chalk artist; then, you get a week in Switzerland). We need the (more than) occasional fun, community-building times to kick-back and enjoy life and get to know who we are working with.

Yes, I could validate this whole class by saying "my students were experimenting with language and visual rhetoric this morning."

And, yes, I could say, "my students were engaged in activities of communications via alternate media, thereby developing necessary life skills."

But, I'd like to just look at it as a community of writers, of students, of friends, who went outside and had FUN together for a while, all while they did various productive work, from drawing to conversating (their word, and a great one, too!) to reading each other's work.

I was even more surprised when my second ENG 101 class asked if they could stay inside because they prefered a day of in-class workshopping rather than going outdoors. No one wanted to chalk. No one even wanted to sit on a lawn. So, we stayed in and worked.

Another pleasant surprise by accident.


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