Saturday, November 05, 2005


Whenever we went on car trips, my mother gave each of the children in my family a little book full of picture games. I always did the crossword puzzles and word searches first. The only "art" in the book that ever captured my attention were the pages that told me to connect-the-dots. The first time I came across one of these activities, I looked dubiously at the page. My five-year-old brain could not make a picture out of those dots when I stared at them. Taken at face value, the dots made absolutely no sense. Then I put my pencil to paper and -- what magic! -- if I continuously followed the sequence of numbers, a picture emerged.

Most of the papers I read have dots scattered throughout in what often seems like an illogical pattern to me. The literal part of my brain -- the part that wants to take everything at face value -- thinks, "All I can see is a bunch of dots." The more artistic, less prosaic part of my brain -- the part the connect-the-dot activities appealed to all of those years ago -- surveys the dots and thinks, "If I put my pencil down on the paper and continuously draw lines from point A to point B to point C, will I see begin to the picture of a light bulb they have outlined?"

I know there are problems with order when, try as I might, I cannot connect the dots to find the larger picture.

It's not that I have an inability to stretch my thinking. If you read some of the early essays I wrote, you would know I can stretch with the best. And it's not that the dots aren't there. I can clearly see the individual dots, which makes my inability to see the larger picture that much more frustrating. And it's not that the student is stupid, either. Most of the students know what they are saying.

When I struggle with a paper that is disordered, I ask the student to verbally connect the dots for me. I ask the student to set aside the paper and then request the same thing of them that the King of Hearts requested of the White Rabbit: "Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop." The beginning may not always be where their paper began and the end is rarely where they ended. But I find if a student can narrate the ideas behind a paper, together we can shift emphasis and the two of us can begin to figure out how to logically number the dots. Before long, a bigger picture gradually emerges and the paper flows because readers can continuously read from point A to point B to point C without feeling as though they encountered a train wreck and several multi-car accidents on the way.

Friday, November 04, 2005

order? Or odor?

It was an interesting discussion we had in class today! It's funny, but Katie and Kassie and I agree that these classes make us think for a long time after they're over, and they make our brains hurt! Thinking, oh my! I hate classes that make me think.

I'm going to go off on a tangent here. I just watched a documentary on PBS about Einstein and his developing theory of relativity, and one of the reasons why he was such a genius was he based his ideas on simple, every day life occurances. He would see two trains passing each other, a clock tower striking the hour, a boat gliding through the water, and he would display these objects as part of his thinking of the speed of light. "If I hold up a mirror to my face, and I was travelling the same speed as the speed of light, would I be able to see my face?" These small matters of existence puzzled him greatly, and it caused Einstein's theories to spiral outward into---dimensions and space and other puzzling things.

This is how I feel when I am thinking about order. Does order spiral outward into more order? Is our modern system of writing a system of order? When we see two sentences linked together to create more sentences in a paragraph, how do we know that there is an order and a logical link between them? We know that the standard topic sentences and body and transitional sentences are the academic's way of explaining order in writing, but what about the common, simple way to think of writing? I believe that Einstein had something great when he observed everyday life. If we thought of two sentences, three, four, reaching toward one purpose and goal, then the writing gains new significance, and we are able to see meaning in one direction. This could create order for us if every word and transitional phrase and punctuation had a specific meaning to the reader. Maybe this is the "flow" that makes papers what is considered good.

Sometimes I wish writing could solve the mysteries of the universe! :)
And I also want to add that I should moon people more often to see if people point out the error of my ways! Thanks Brett!

Thursday, November 03, 2005


As promised, from Michel Foucault's The Order of Things:

This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered as I read the passsage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a 'certain Chinese encyclopaedia' in which it is written that 'animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies'. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.

We discussed this idea a bit today, but I'm interested in what, for you, registers as an "ordered" essay. How do you know it when you see it? What, in the end, do you mean by "flow"? More specifically, and considering the discussion we had today about how sometimes there is an order that is simply not apparent, how do you deal with students who seem to have problems with order in their writing?

i just killed a man

This morning as I was walking to class I passed a guy outside the SS building. He seemed like a normal, decent guy. He was just sitting on a bench, having a smoke before class (or after…I didn’t ask). If it weren’t for one little thing about him I wouldn’t have even looked twice at him as I walked down the sidewalk from the statue of old Mr. Monech to the door of the building; but instead, because of one little quirk in his appearance, I kept looking at him. As he sat there, facing the building, with his back to the passing crowds of hundreds of students, he was completely oblivious that his butt was hanging out of his pants. I don’t mean that it was just peeping out, either; his junk was clearing his waistline by a strong eight inches, at least. Other people were kind of laughing as they walked by, and I tried not to look any more…but you know how it is. Kind of like a train wreck. You have to look. It’s like the law or something.

I thought about telling him, and then didn’t because I thought it would have been really weird. How do you tell someone that? So I walked past him. Then I felt bad, because I could have helped this guy out, but didn’t. He probably found out too late, when some girl he liked saw him and laughed, then told him that she wasn’t going to talk to him ever again. He probably killed himself. Good one, Brett.

This made me think about writing!

A lot of the time I get students who come in and ask me to look at some little part of their paper. They might be concerned with the sentence structure, or “grammar,” or “flow,” so I look at these things with them, but in fixing up these little errors I often notice other, more glaring problems in their papers. Then, instead of looking at their semicolon use, I want to tell them, “Oh, by the way, your argument is based on total lies,” but then time runs out and they leave. Then they go and read these wretched papers (that, incidentally, have great semicolons) in front of their classes and maybe get humiliated and probably kill themselves. They came into the writing center and wanted me to help them fix their hair, or maybe tuck their shirt in or tie their shoes, but because I was hesitant to be completely candid I forgot to tell them, “Hey, your butt’s hangin’ out. A lot.”

This morning Dr. Rogers asked us, “Is it ethical to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?” Nobody really answered. I think that it is unethical to not help someone who needs help, and who can be better off through your actions, even if they don’t ask for it. This applies to volunteer work. This applies to friendships. This applies to the writing center.
Maybe instead of forcing our suggestions on students until they get it, we can just make tactful observations that might push them in the direction of realizing that their butts are hanging out. I think we might have a real responsibility here.
It’s up to you, though.

The blood is on your hands.

Can you follow my thinking?

Organization--- Flow-- Order of things... a "discovery draft"--- I can't help but wonder if all of these terms are connected some how. Do you think the students that are having difficulty with their organization are also having difficulty saying what it is they are trying to say?

On Buffy (I wouldn't refer to another Buffy episode, but you guys liked it so much last time.... so here you go...)--- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season seven ( I think the episode is called "touched") Spike is trying to tell Buffy that he loves her for who she is but he doesn't know how to say it and if he really should tell her at this time, it being the end of the world--- again--- and all:

Spike: You're insufferable.
Buffy: ... thank you. How is this supposed to cheer me up?
Spike: I'm not trying to cheer you up.
Buffy: Then what are you saying?
Spike: I don't know!--- I'll know after I'm done saying it...

Like Spike, I think that some writers don't know what they are saying until they've gotten half-way through their draft or to the conclusion. I think that when helping with organizational problems, we need to keep this in mind. I think some writers write their thoughts out almost word for word. Ideas, thoughts and experiences link easily when thinking. Writing them out can be difficult. How do you help a reader follow your thoughts? I think that is what organization is supposed to do. Some writers cannot figure out the best way to tackle the task of helping a reader follow thier ideas. A solution? Writing it out, and talking it out.

Often times when I come across an awkward sentence or a paper that has, what appears to be, little organization, I try talking with the student. I ask questions and try to decifer what the paper is saying, keeping in mind what the writer has told me about his or her ideas. Most the time, if not every time, what the student says is better than what is written. Why is that? Has the student finally figured out what it is that he or she wants to say?

When I write a draft, I usually have an idea of how I want to present my ideas. But sometimes, I have to admit, I just sit down and write. I don't mean to find out what I what I am saying until the conclusion of my paper, but sometimes it ends up that way. Sometimes I just don't know what I'm saying until I've said it. Do you think we might have students come into the Writing Center who do this too? I have met a couple. They say they are worried about "flow" and if "anyone else will understand" what they are saying. What should tutors say to these writers? How do we tell them that their draft doesn't make sense until the ending or midway through the paper? How should we help students with their organization--- help students to help readers follow their ideas??--- I say we talk to them. Talking things out really can help. And then, once they say what they want to say, then we can help them write it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Half Noise

One student I had wrote a paper about an event that had a major impact on his life. The event was when he first became a father. No argument from me that this undoubtedly had a huge impact on him. His creative edge was the use of explicit details. Details of his wife going into labor and giving birth to their baby.

It's interesting to me how when I come to work, I put my personal life aside, yet I may read things about people that is extremely personal and private. A bit of a testament to how sensitive our positions can be at times. Anyway, I'm fairly squeamish and cynical about the whole concept of reproduction (albeit, I was once born too) so this paper was difficult for me to read.

It talked so much about hyperventilating, epidurals, tearing, blood, and incisions, I was nearly chewing my fist I was so uncomfortable. We were taking turns reading out loud and it got to the point that when it was my turn I just started reading really fast cause I was getting nauseous.
After reading through the whole thing, I was like, "Wow, the intensity is really there, isn't it? Nice work!" But I couldn't tell if he had written an effective paper, or if I was just being bias due to my panic attack. I managed to finish the session intact, and the whole experience taught me to be more prepared for whatever content I may be exposed to.

Cast Away

It's late. I just returned home from visiting my family in Morgan and the apartment is a mess. There's work and schoolwork to do. I'm worried about health insurance and how I can't seem to retain that sensation of mastery or security -- more like that first breath taken with the water just below my neck: I never really learned how to swim in deep water.

But that reminds me -- I remember my swimming instructor. She noticed my reluctance amid the others and pulled me aside. She stayed with me until I learned to breath properly and ignore the depth beneath me. Sentimental? You bet it is. I'm infused with it. I once termed it "romanticism" but that too was frightened reluctance. I'm idealistic too. And I wonder why we shy from that term.

And I write this to all of you because I tutored someone today who really listened and marked her page in purple and green. It's all I can think about. I loved the way it felt to teach someone. And I know we strive to emphasize our lack of authority and soften our vocabulary concerning our role as tutors, but I'm not talking about superiority -- she taught me more than I would like to consider.

I suppose I "misunderstand a little less completely" why the instructor still swam at my side. We're all tired and coming home to a messy apartment. The water really never recedes. That's why we take swimming lessons.

Idealistic? Of course it is.

“My worst experience with gossip happened in junior high school”

A few weeks ago, I had a day where I tutored 4 hours straight of student after student with the same paper about gossip. At first, I thought it was kind of a fun paper because there was no research and a lot of the students were including dialogue. It seemed like a nice break from the more “serious” papers. But after tutoring 4 students, all of whom wrote about an experience from junior high school, I realized I was in for something repetitive and annoying, but also a bit helpful. Every time the student and I got to the part of the paper that went something like “My worst experience with gossip happened in junior high school,” I wanted to roll my eyes and tell them to write about something else! But then I realized that most of these students were 18 years old, so probably the most significant instance of gossip for them happened in grade school because they haven’t been out of that type of situation for very long and haven’t experienced gossip in any other context.

After a while of seeing the same thing over and over, with only a few papers that didn’t have many problems, I was able to better help the students because I was really familiar with the assignment. When I came to grips with the annoying aspect of the repetitiveness, I began to notice that many of the students were having the same difficulties in writing the paper. I wasn’t sure if it was because of something their professor failed to do or if it was because the students all had similar writing abilities. But I could see overall what everyone was doing with the paper, so I was able to give quicker and more effective suggestions with how to improve than I would have if it were my first time seeing the assignment. I was also able to assess how each student had written the paper in terms of structure and storytelling, so I came up with suggestions that would help make each paper at least a little unique. I don’t think I told the students that everyone’s paper was almost exactly the same, but I made sure not to give the same types of suggestions to everyone. Having to hide my boredom and irritation with the subject was sometimes difficult, but by the end of the 4-hour block, I felt like tutoring the same paper millions of times in a row might actually be a good thing because I might be able to become really effective in tutoring that specific assignment. Buy it’s also probably a good way to get really bored and irritated. Either way, I’m just glad every day isn’t like that one.

IT's all about the he said, she said B***S*** (LB sucks tho!)

Just pick a dang pronoun. If you want the person whose failing to be a girl, go for it. If you want the hottie to be male, go for it! Just be consistant. I call my girlfriends Dudes, and it is a sin to say dudette. So whatever, man. IT's all the same these days.

It offended me when I was taking Spanish, but now I don't care. These days boys want to be girls and girls want to be boys, and nobody wants anybody to think they can't be a Pat. Sometimes it does get annoying when a guy keeps calling you man, or dude though. Come on! Either say something else, or just stop saying it. Arr!

And to totally change the subject, I've decided to make this an actual blog-whatever that is. Classes are going great; I'm a little tired. I always want to start writing this thing as if it were a real blog. BUt anyways, I hope everyone's weekend was as fantabulous as mine and nobody got hurt or partied too hard, or whatever it is y'all do. Oh! speaking of bands (from my title) I met this guy Carl over the weekend and he was totally dressed as Kurt Cobain-so hot!

But Yeah, I've come to the conclusion (and I'm sure this invloves must, if not all of y'all) that anyone outside of Ogden, still within the region of Utah are jerks. This Jarryd guy is convinced that schools are to only consist of 97% white, 2% Mexican, and 1% black. I wanted to shout out to him, "not at my school" We were talking about high school, not Universities. God, What a moron! And not to mention that my friend and his date for the evening was hispanic. She may be predujiced against the wonderful little beaners (yeah, yeah, I said it. Cry me a river!) but she could at elast stand up for the truth. Granted our high school had more whites than anything else, we still had a crap load of others races too. Guys like this I label Kelly's, after this jerk (much more polite than the other word) from... would't ya know it?...high school. I'm just glad that as soon as we got to the Roy I didn't have to see him for a couple of hours. I was actually surprised that we didn't leave to go somewhere else. Halloween rocks, whether you celebrate it for it's original intent or not, as long as you have fun and be safe.

As you can see, my weekend was awesome even though I neglected ALL of my homework, and *gasp* I didn't finish Emma. Poor Carl. But yeah, I know how it ends. It's too obvious, except if Mrs. Elton gets hers, and how exactly Emma falls on her face. I'm sure they both happen.

Tutoring sessions are going nicely, I guess. Sometimes I dread doing them and sometimes I don't. It's just one of those weirds days when you don't want to see anybody and the person you tutor brightens your day.

I haven't been going to my History classes, but I'm pretty caught up on the reading. The reading responses for this class aren't too much trouble, except that I got too comfortable doing them, that I did the past two pretty crappy.

How does one use a leek? Onions are so cool and anything related to it.

Pinko Commie

I wonder if writing will ever get easy. I think it's a thing that can always be improved on so it will never get easy for me. Writing is a monster that must be dealt with on occasion but is usually under the bed waiting for a professor to let it out. Still there are ways to get around feeling like I am fighting a beast and to learn how to tame it instead.

I am an artist and I tend to compare everything to what I know. I took a watercolor class for two semesters. We painted on 18 by 24 inch paper and during our critiques, we would cover some parts of our paintings to reveal only the best part. Sometimes that was quite a small part, but we were taught to look at the big picture, to find what we liked, and to see where we could improve.

We can influence our writers in ways that cause them to think and to create a bigger picture for themselves before they "crop" it into a more concise idea that becomes pleasing and cohesive to its readers. Cropping takes an eye for a good product, but to understand what a good eye is takes practice.

Often we don't know how we write, we just do it and it seems to sound good, we get our point accross, and that's all that matters. Of course there are those of us who know what we mean so we think our readers do too. Because of these people, a plan was made to present the writing experience as a formula. This formula guarantees success. Anyone can write anything as long as we follow the formula. There are some flaws to this plan, however. We, as writers, sometimes like to make really strong statements that readers find offensive and/or closed-minded. All it takes is a little work to tame our monsters by using ideas and avenues that help us analyze what's in our writing formula.

We can help each other to conquer our monsters and make a beautiful composition that readers are glad they didn't miss.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Long Papers

Most of the papers I have worked with so far have been short ones—three to five pages. In twenty to forty minutes the student and I can easily read the paper aloud together and discuss major issues like thesis, organization, conclusion, and anything else that comes up. Usually, we even have enough time to talk about a grammar rule or two.

In the sessions with short papers, I fall back on reading the paper together with the student, otherwise, I wouldn’t know where to start. Today, I tutored a lady with a medical research paper. The paper was probably ten to fifteen pages--much too long to read together in one session. I wasn’t really sure how to start and what to do. If I had my way, I would ask the student to walk around the building for fifteen minutes while I read over her paper and found mistakes and other issues to talk about. When she came back I would be ready to go and we could discuss the paper together without any problem. Instead, I asked a few questions at the start of the session to get a sense of the purpose of her paper, then I skimmed through a few paragraphs and discussed them with her to keep her engaged and involved. This went on for thirty-five minutes before I had to end the session to go to class. We didn’t go through the whole paper, but we found some patterns for her to look for in the remaining pages of the report. Overall, the session was helpful, but it felt incomplete and unfinished when it ended—the ending was as abrupt and awkward as the beginning was.

My biggest concern is not how to handle content that I am unfamiliar with, but how to help a student improve a long paper that I don’t even have time to read completely. When I don’t know anything about the content I can always ask questions and help the writer decide if he has included enough information in the paper. But how do I help a student improve a paragraph that we didn’t have time to read? What is the best way to cover the information in a lengthy research paper in twenty minutes? What is the best way to handle through a session without simply reading the paper? I feel like reading the paper together with the student is a crutch that I’m having trouble leaving behind because I don’t know what else to do. So, what are some other ways to get through a session with a long paper?