Monthly Archives: April 2012

Words by Day, Images at Night

I want to take a moment to note one of the intriguing things I have noticed over the years about working with words and images.  It comes down to this: I do much better writing with words in the morning, and much better in working with images at night. I can remember this split being the case since I started taking journalism courses lo those many decades ago. I always preferred writing in the morning, working in the darkroom or with layout at night (not that I was always given a choice.)

Now, even as I’ve moved from typewriters and film to computers and video, I still find myself working this way. I find that writing comes to me more easily, and that I think I produce better quality work, when I get down to it just as I hit my second cup of coffee. When I try to write in the late afternoon, it’s more of a struggle. By nightfall, forget it. I can’t even compose a decent email by late evening.

When it comes to working with images or video or design, however, I feel much more comfortable with the media and the work as the day moves on. Again, I can work on a video in the morning, but I feel clumsy and the indecisive. By late in the evening, though, I’m charged up and eager to go. And, again, I think I make better choices, produce better multimodal texts later in the day. This is most pronounced with video and images, but works still with design of web sites.

The thing I’ve been puzzling over is why I have this split in how I work with different texts depending on the medium and mode. It could, of course, be that I just got started working this way many years ago and have just convinced myself of something that is really nothing more than an unexamined habit.  But it doesn’t feel like that. I have no idea whether there is any research on cognition that would come anywhere close to explaining this, but I rather doubt it. And I certainly don’t expect that my individual experience is in any way generalizable. Yet I have to remain curious why I feel such a split in when I best write  in print and write with images. I do wonder if, in the morning, the kind of linear, word-based thinking comes more easily because my mind isn’t so cluttered with all the other words I’ll be encountering in the rest of the day, in reading and in conversation (since that is mostly what I do all day). I know that part of my trouble writing later in the day is getting focused on a writing project when my mind is still writing emails and talking with students and reading papers, and so on. So, by late afternoon and evening, the associative work of composing with images and design moves me out of words into new media that feel fresh and unexplored. If this is part of the reason for the split, I might feel differently if I spent the day editing video. Writing print in the evening might be a welcome change.

And it leaves me wondering if others feel this way? And, ever the teacher, is there something here that I can communicate to students that will help them move among composing in different modes and media? For now, that’s some words for this morning.

New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders – It’s out and about!

It’s out and about. New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders is officially published. You can follow the link above or just click on the book cover to the left. It’s been a great experience, from the fine work by the authors to the ease of working with Routledge.  Now to see if anyone else will read it.

As always with a project like this, I get to the end and the people involved have just raised so many thoughtful questions that I find myself wishing to have the time to do another volume, and another, and…. But today, it’s enough just to say this book is out. Thanks to one and all.

Traveling Different Roads at the Same Time

A month goes by in a hurry before I’m back on the blog. A pressing deadline for a book chapter and some teaching to do came first, throw in a conference, some dissertation chapters to read, and the daily life in the Writing Center and suddenly…well, we’ve all been there.

Still, even though it’s been almost a month since 4cs, that’s where my mind is on this rainy Saturday morning. As usual, the conference was a good time and a good time to talk with smart people, plan new projects, and eat good food. Oh yes, and there were sessions to attend. Two in particular stuck with me.

First, I went to hear Doug Hesse, Nancy Sommers, and Kathi Yancey  read the work that came out of a writing project in which they each wrote about a different object each day for thirty days. As they described the project, it was driven by their interest in questions such as, “What may be learned about the evocative power of objects from a sustained attention to them? How do objects reveal or conceal their origins? And what may we learn about the acts of composing from a sustained project over thirty days?” Certainly all of this was contained in the work they did. For me, though, it was a powerful reminder of the power – and the joy – of the essay. Each of the works was a beautiful and insightful exploration of ideas, of possibilities, of connections. As I listened to each author read, I not only was taken inside the consciousness of another person, but I was taken deeper into my own. Doug’s reflections on music and identity, Nancy’s on food and family, and Kathi’s on images and histories, had me simultaneously following their journeys, and thinking about how similar objects and experiences in my own life had led to my questions about identity, family, and history. All  three essays were immediate and powerful reminders of how writing works as way in which we explore our own minds, and then invite others inside. I may be going on too much with the adjectives here – particularly “powerful”  – and yet the power of writing as an individually and collectively transformative experience and medium is what I have been continuing to think about since the session. That session is moving me back to my own essays, though they’re not of the quality of these authors’ work. But it was reminder that writing in print does something special – it opens up the interiors of life to us. And I hope it was a reminder to those at the conference that teaching college writing should be more than about thesis statements and academic discourse. It also should be about the exploration of ideas and the transformation of our ideas. If you want to see a similar project the three writers did at a conference and then turned into published work, track down “Evocative Objects: Reflections on Teaching, Learning, and Living in Between” in the March 2012 issue of College English.

The next day, then, I heard Richard Miller talk about literacy in a digital media world. Richard pointed out that he doesn’t publish in conventional academic venues anymore, whether in print or online.  (You can find his great site/blog/ideas at text 2 cloud.) He then proceeded to remind the audience that everything we know about writing, reading, communication, authorship, and everything connected to it is changing, and changing again, and changing again. He’s not the first to point this out, of course, but he made the compelling case again for how, in a field about composing and interpreting texts, we’re like the folks standing at the end of downhill train, looking backwards down the track and wondering what those things are zipping by so fast. I don’t disagree with him at all. If there’s anything my conversations and observations with students have shown me time and again is that they are engaged with digital media in ways that are often very different in their conceptions of time and text than ours. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy into the “digital natives” idea, that young people are completely different in how they engage with texts and we can’t understand what they do blah blah blah. But I do think if we want to understand how they read and write and communicate, we can’t assume it’s the same way we read and write. And we have to talk with them, work on digital media with them, and play around with it ourselves. That means more than using print, it means we have to learn to compose with video and images and sound (and I’ll  have more to say about that soon too.)

It would be easy to find these two session, both of which I found inspiring and intelligent and insightful, at odds with each other. But that wasn’t the case.  Doug, Nancy, and Kathi used digital media and images with their essays to create multimodal performances, and Richard’s presentation was an essay as well as a digital presentation. And I know that none of these ideas are brand new, they were just done so well that they revived my thinking and got me motivated to get back to my own work. Besides, conflict wasn’t what I felt. Instead I felt the thrill of having so many things open to me as a writer and teacher, and a bit overwhelmed – in an excited way – about everything there is to do. The question is not which road I want to follow, but how to travel multiple roads at once.