Monday, April 04, 2005

Things My Bookshelf Might Say

Gentle WCJ Friends and Bloggers,

I greet you with clean hands, thanks to AB6 6 Hour Antibacterial Care Cold & Flu Cozy Mint Waterless Hand Gel. In my days of recovery on the couch (in between glances --- okay, overt and bewildered stares) at Court TV, I took another look at my bookshelf to see what it would reveal about my personality to a complete stranger. Would it suggest anything about my interest in writing, for instance? Surely it would. If so, what?

The first books I pulled off the shelf were these:

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, (The Groundbreaking New York Times Bestseller), by Melody Beattie

The Writing Circle: A Guide for Writers and Peer Readers (2nd edition), by Dick Harrington

Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Poems, edited by Alexander Coleman

Trash: Stories by Dorothy Allison

And (of course), The Writing Center Journal (for this I expect Brownie Points)

So, dear readers, let's look at Chapter 7 of Beattie's slant on the Twelve Step program. Not that any of YOU are codependents, but you might know somebody who is.

"People say codependents are controllers. We nag; lecture; scream; holler; cry; beg; bribe; coerce; hover over; protect; accuse; chase after; run away from; try to talk into; try to talk out of; attempt to induce guilt in; seduce; entrap; check on; demonstrate how much we've been hurt; hurt people in return so they'll know how it feels, threaten to hurt ourselves; whip power plays on; deliver ultimatums to; do things for; refuse to do things for; stomp out on; get even with; whine; vent fury on; act helpless; suffer in loud silence; try to please; lie; do sneaky little things; do sneaky big things; clutch at our hearts and threaten to die; grab our heads and threaten to go crazy; beat on our chests and threaten to kill; enlist the aid of supporters; gauge our words carefully ..." (this list goes on for quite a while). I'm stopping with "gauge our words carefully" because I want to explore what it means to "gauge" our words.

According to Wikipedia (the FREE encyclopedia), there are many different uses of gauge. It might mean, for example, "the size of the conductors used to carry electric current" or "any of a variety of measurement devices in engineering." It is also the stage name of an actress in adult films. I'll leave it up to you to investigate that one. In regard to jewelry, "gauge refers to the thickness of the metal that penetrates the body tissue." In mechanics, "a pressure gauge is a device for indicating liquid or gas pressure." Three more usages relate to railways, shotguns, and ships, respectively --- the first, track or rail gauge, "means the distance between the inside edges of the two rails forming the track;" the second, (shotgun) gauge refers to "the diameter or caliber of the barrel," and the nautical reference is "the position of a vessel in relation to another vessel and the wind." There are more, believe it or not.

Clearly, when we gauge our words, we mean to measure them or test them against some standard. I lay before you the question: Which standard? What are its dimensions? How can we conform to its specifications or limits? Isn't this the very thing we are trying to teach students about academic writing --- how to gauge their words? Also, should we keep a copy of the codependency book in the writing center? A few of us might need an occasional reminder that we are not responsible for the ultimate well-being of every person, including our baby writers.

Tomorrow we'll look at The Writing Circle.

Tamara Miles


At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gauge against standards, indeed, Tamara. Isn't that the troubling position that writing centers have generally resisted? We become the standards enforcers, the Mod Squad without the Mod, the Bureau of Grammar and Usage and Don't Stick Your Finger in Your Nose.

Yet we do want to teach students to control their use of language, to gauge that usage against reader expectations.

Anonymous was admitting defeat to his students a couple of weeks ago and pointing out how crazy this reader/writer relationship business was. It's just so darn hard to know how readers will gauge our words (or engage with them, we hope). Yet we are all readers, too. Darn ironic, isn't it?

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