Monday, September 29, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
hi. i have a writing question, and i wasn't sure where to ask it, but it's kinda political, so i thought this would be a good place. i am opposed to a proposed federal mandate which is in a 30-public-feedback stage. i desperately want to comment on the proposal, but because of the way that the bill is written (very well) i'm having a hard time attacking it on a rhetorical level. what do you do when you want to write a strong argument but there isn't anything glaringly wrong (i just morally oppose the bill)? i mean, how do you shape an attack when you don't have a blatant target??(to clear it up a bit, the bill is trying to protect healthcare providers from being forced to perform any action that they are morally opposed to. it's trying to help them, and this is very clear in the way that it is written. however, i feel that this is negligent of the patient, simplistic in its view of access to care, and potentially dangerous in a downward spiral kind of way....but i feel like the argument isn't that strong. i want to say "it's my duty not to harm the patient. it's my duty to educate them about potential care and see that they receive the best possible care whether or not i provide it. but in the end, it's my utmost duty to respect the patient's right to be in control of their own healthcare." or some snappy version thereof. so wow, this comment is long, but i'm curious how to proceed with argument when you feel your rhetoric is weakly based.)
Ahhh, this reminds me of a "debate" we had in my Writing About Popular Culture class almost ten years ago (egad, where the hell did that time go?). We had to argue whether a student (hypothetically) had the right to hang a Nazi flag outside his dorm room door, and my group was assigned to argue in favor.
Naturally, we all found this morally abhorrent, but I rallied my groupmates and said, "We're not going to address the moral issue; we're going to argue First Amendment down the line. We can say that it's abhorrent, but it's still that person's right." (In hindsight, I'm wondering whether that position would no longer be valid under the hate speech laws.)
Technically, my group won the debate because we had a more sound argument and anticipated that the opposition was gonna play the pathos card (the opposition, and my groupmates, I think, was especially speechless when I brought up the US's internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII-- don't remember what I was specifically responding to, but it worked). But I wrote a follow-up essay as part of the assignment that was more reflective of my own morality albeit still rhetorically effective.
Now, in your case, you're saying the argument to restrict practitioners from exercising treatments/practices to which they are morally opposed (such as administering birth control or the Morning After pill after a rape has been committed because it violates their pro-life stance, I assume) is sound-- or, at least, the written proposal is well-crafted.
Here's my suggestion:
- For one thing, acknowledge the moral dilemma and make the concession that it exists. I'm trying to think of an instance in my own profession that matches this, but the closest I come to is maybe something like school prayer. (I don't find it "dangerous" or "harmful" as much as alienating and prejudicial, however.) You may even share your own propensity for personal morality and its role in your practice, or even spiritual values that may not necessarily be integrated in your practice (such as praying for patients), but is essentially a part of your own life and being. This will disarm your audience who supports this legislation.
- Next, redefine the moral obligation. You said: however, i feel that this is negligent of the patient, simplistic in its view of access to care, and potentially dangerous in a downward spiral kind of way....but i feel like the argument isn't that strong. i want to say "it's my duty not to harm the patient. it's my duty to educate them about potential care and see that they receive the best possible care whether or not i provide it. but in the end, it's my utmost duty to respect the patient's right to be in control of their own healthcare." I disagree w. you; I think that's quite valid and actually *really* strong. Your first statement is a powerful claim -- you now need to provide the evidence to support it. Show me examples/evidence of negligence; show me how/why the view is simplistic; show me the cause-effect of the downward spiral. In other words, it's just as morally reprehensible if we withheld an option such as contraception from a patient as if we withheld an option such as chemotherapy and radiation because we're against violence of all kinds (and I think that's a form of violence), for example. (Maybe that analogy was too extreme and thus faulty in logic, but hopefully you get my drift.)
- Finally, offer potential solutions or even compromises. Is there a way for those who stand in opposition to refer patients to other specialists? Is it acceptable to say, "I'm personally opposed to this, but it's my duty as a practitioner to inform you of all your options (or is that intimidating? based on all the Law & Order I've watched it seems that even counsel will still carry out their clients' wishes under protest). And if there are no good compromises, then stand your ground anyway. Your position is not an unreasonable one. It may be that if the person is *that* morally opposed, then she/he needs to leave the profession, or open a private practice in which she/he explicitly states that she/he will not perform such services, thus allowing the patient to go elsewhere. (I see this creeping up more and more w/ pharmacists, too, who won't fill prescriptions for birth control pills, for example. Kinda scary, if you ask me.)
- What's up w/ the Patient Bill of Rights that John Edwards had a hand in? I might not bring his name into it, but I heard it was an excellent bill (or am I thinking of a West Wing episode? seriously, it's possible!)
Overall, I think that approaching readers as a co-thinker (i.e. not going on the attack) while maintaining your position -- i.e., use of rhetorical appeals: ethos, pathos (carefully), logos -- is your best bet. And knowing you as I do (that is to say, knowing your writing skills), I have the utmost confidence that you'll pull it off and earn the respect of your colleagues, not to mention the trust of your patients.
And with that, I think I hear the bell ringing... Class dismissed!
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I'm lucky to get through ten in a day now. A whole day, with breaks in between. Again, ten is the high point. Sometimes five is the goal.
And yet, I can get through two chapters of a book no problem. Of course, pleasure reading and critical reading are two very different cognitive functions, as I frequently tell my students. But I also tell them that reading is reading. It may be just my low-volume-high-content thing kicking in for me, the volume decreasing as my chronological age increases. It's certainly not disinterest or disdain.
What's fascinating is the disdain for reading they've developed thanks to their educational upbringing, and I don't blame them one bit. What some of them have described (and sure, they might be biased, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt), as indicated by the language they've used ("forced," "drilled," "shoved down our throats," "tortured," etc.), shows that there's a problem not only with the way students are being taught to read and about literature, but also, and more seriously, with the attitude and manner in which students are exposed to reading. I don't get on the bandwagon of blaming the teacher -- I think many of them are yearning to pass on their own passions for reading -- but something is very wrong with the system.
Ditto for writing. And again, I'm not getting on the bandwagon of "students can't even write a complete sentence" (hell, I'm willing to bet my salary that some members of Congress, from both parties, can't do it either). I'm not convinced that the problem.
I'm sorry that Kairos has become so political these last few posts. My work is spilling over onto this blog. So are the times we live in. But I'm convinced that we're in this crisis (and not just economic) not only because of greed and all the other 10-second sound-bite excuses, but because we're producing generations that are not reading and writing enough, partly because they don't know how, but more so because they don't want to. And I'm wondering what I can do to change that, if what little I'm doing now is making a difference.
On that note, I must get off my soapbox and tackle the final eight papers awaiting a grade. I'm hoping to do at least four w/in the next hour. I sure do miss Uncle Jon's vanilla chai.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Maybe it was because my name was drawn at the last open mic, and it was someone else's turn this time. Maybe I got greedy. Or overconfident. Or complacent.
Maybe it was because I'm not to read my novel until it's released to the public, so people can buy it once they hear it. Maybe I'm meant to debut it on its own, w/out the help of an open mic contest.
Maybe it was because my supporters (like Mit) weren't there tonight, and there wasn't a great turnout, and my novel is meant to be heard by the masses. Maybe it wasn't the right crowd.
Maybe it was because I was headachey, hungry, and inexplicably sneezing all day at random. Maybe I wouldn't have put out a good performance despite my rehearsal.
Maybe it wouldn't have won.
Or maybe I'm just not in alignment with the universe this month.
At any rate, I'm disappointed. I wanted to read again. I rehearsed. I wore my sexy boots and my makeup came out flawless. I straightened my hair.
Alas, there will be other opportunities, I'm sure.
But conversing w/ my brother about these things has been stimulating, even enjoyable, because he does not conform to the 10 second sound bites and viral headlines that media outlet after outlet are so quick to take out of context and squeeze into a consumerable package. He does not jump on bandwagon slogans and shock rhetoric. He does his homework. He consults multiple sources and evaluates them for their validity. He not only reads the speeches, but analyzes and interprets them beyond flashy partisan punditry. He listens to others' points of view with an open mind. And when he presents his argument, he provides evidence to support his claims, and works to make them as valid as possible. (And he throws in a bit of humor, too.)
In fact, I wish our own presidential candidates took a page from his conduct.
Kairos Calling is a blog that celebrates writing, and when I started this blog, my intent was to make the conversation about creative fiction and nonfiction. But I'm also a rhetoric girl--that's my bread and butter, my diploma on the wall, and it's the way I approach my fiction and nonfiction. And so, I'm pleased to see him following these basic rhetorical prinicples, and I grow more and more frustrated that the political debate in this country follows the template of a Mac vs. PC commercial rather than substantive, rhetorical, intelligent discourse.
This is where he and I are in staunch agreement.
When I listened to Obama's speeches during the primaries, I was struck by his message of hope. He spoke of change, but change came through ideas, through inclusion, through peace, through hope, and through visionary thinking. He spoke of the promise of restoring faith and pride in our government and in politics. For the first time in a long, long time, he made me feel good. Indeed, I felt hope.
But where has that message gone?
He has gone from ideas to ideology. He has gone from visionary thinking to playing it safe. He has gone from peace to tough-guy persona. He has gone from inclusion to regulation. He has gone from hope to placating. And he has stopped engaging in thoughtful, encouraging, intelligent debate. He has succumbed to the sound bite. He has turned his attention from positive proactiveness ("fired up-ready to go") to defensive reaction ("I have experience-Palin doesn't").
I read Obama's morning radio address in which he says he has a plan to fix the economy, to fix health care; but unless I'm looking in the wrong places, I don't see the actual plan. I want details. I want to see the ideas -- whether I agree w/ them or not. I'm tired of the validation that the situation sucks and I'm even more tired of the endless, childish finger-pointing -- I want to know what you're going to do to keep this from falling into my wallet when I had no say in either the problem or the solution.
For all the comparisons to Reagan that the Republicans use to align themselves, no one really understands what his policies were all about, because no one takes the time to study them anymore. We only remember a charismatic figure and the classic "Tear down that wall!"
For all the talk about experience, no one turns to the Cuban Missile Crisis and how a young JFK responded to it; we only see the photos of him sailing and being serenaded by Marilyn Monroe.
For all the talk of "offensive defense" and "pre-emptive strike" (or my favorite slogan, "peace through strength," or something like that), no one examines the momunmental decision by the IRA, once a terrorist organization w/ the same ferociousness as Al-Queada, to end their methods of violence.
We turn to news footage, bits and clips, footnotes and youtube, cereal box mentality. Why oh why don't we turn to our best resources: our minds and our libraries?
This may be simply a case where I'm using my blog as a forum to get on my soapbox, and I suppose that's my perogative since it is my blog... but there is a message in here, and it's one about rhetoric more than writing. It's also an open call to the candidates: if you want change, start with your rhetoric.
Start by breaking through the consumer culture and engage us through our minds instead of our screens.
Do your homework. Consulte reliable sources. Research. Take the emphasis off the pathos and amp up the logos (it'll do wonders for your ethos).
Stop listening to bullies who call you "elitist" because you turn an elegant phrase. (To steal from Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing: "You think Mao never turned an elegant phrase? How do you think he got 'em all to be communists?") It is high time we start celebrating intelligence not only as a commodity but as patriotic. Jefferson; Madison; Franklin: Elitist?
Talk to the people instead of at the people. You've done a so-so job of listening to the problems, but have you listened to our ideas? Aside from taking my money for more ads and soliciting me for my vote, have you asked anything else of me?
And for the love of Zeus, stop looking at us as demographics. White female liberal. White blue collar worker. Black woman. Gay male. Conservative Republican. Liberal Democrat. War monger. Peacenick. Independent undecided. Obama, four years ago you said we are more than these labels -- and yet, I don't feel any sort of collective comraderie. What happened to "citizen"?
And speaking of, here's a call to citizens: stop playing into the sound clips and out-of-context quotes. Do your homework. Research. Seek to understand. Evaluate your sources. (My advice? Turn off CNN, Fox News, and the whole lot of them.) Engage in open-minded discourse and not shouting matches. Evaluate, analyze, interpret, and then persuade. Be like my brother. He's behaving like a citizen.
Maybe, just maybe, discourse can be the instrument of change. Maybe discourse can restore the hope.
It's worth a try.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I've just finished editing an EBook, the second one, for what I believe and hope will be the beginning of a fortuitous partnership of things to come. The dangerous thing about getting into editing mode is that it starts to wear off when I read student papers. Hopefully I'll be out of the habit by the time I collect their first final drafts tomorrow.
My nonfiction book needs to take center stage at this point in time. Things are progressing nicely in terms of aforementioned partnership. I'll say no more about it because you know me and jinxing (it's not in writing yet), but it looks good! The book, however, is shaky at best. Or, at the very least, I am. I am sure this is my perfectionism at work again, but I need a reader for it. I need someone I trust who knows the genre, who can give me both critical and insightful feedback but also understand my rhetorical situation and the needs of the market. My typical Intended Reader, my writing partner, is not the best source on this because she hates the genre (spiritual self-help) -- italics appropriate. On one hand, she's a good reader in that she's someone I can hope to target in terms of the reader who gives the testimonial "I never thought I'd ever pick up a book like this, but..." On the other hand, she knows me too well...
Speaking of books, my novel is still lost in the mail. This has been going on for over a week now. My carrier has been kind enough to get on the stick and track it down, calling me w/ updates, but I've not heard anything yet today. I REFUSE to pay for another one, so I can only hope that either they're gonna find it or someone's gonna reimburse me for losing it in the first place. What's pissing me off is that this is delaying my debut date. I can't move forward until I proof it, and I can't proof it if I DON'T HAVE THE DAMN BOOK IN MY HANDS. I apologize for shouting, but it's been an unpleasant week.
But I have the next open mic contest at QRB to look forward to. I'm entering again, and this time I'm going to read from the novel, and this time I'm going to win, dammit!
Friday, September 12, 2008
My book is lost in the mail.
I had ordered my own book for proofing before I progress to buy an ISBN and finally getting it ready for sale. And maybe I'm being selfish, but does anyone find something unjust about buying your own book for the purpose of proofing? Wouldn't it be great customer service to allot one or two free copies for that purpose? Surely the POD company could cover that cost somehow, or am I being naive?
Anyhoo, I bought the cheap shipping (USPS, for however many days) when I bought the book, and finally got the email saying the package had been shipped, and figured I'd get it by Monday. I'm doing apt-complex living, of course, so I was looking for the slip notifying me that the package was waiting for me in the office.
Monday: no slip.
Tuesday: no slip.
Wednesday: no slip (did I accidentally throw it out w/ the circulars?).
Thursday: no slip. I was going to go to the office and asked if the package had arrived -- perhaps someone forgot the slip or I accidentally tossed it -- but then thought, "Nah, they're very organized. I bought the cheap shipping. It's late, is all."
So I then decided to check it through the tracking, which notified me that it had been DELIVERED on Sept 8!!!!
Of course, the complex office had closed before I could call and find out what's up. Of course, I couldn't stop in to the office this morning because they weren't open yet. When I finally got a chance, I went to the office, and they looked.
I then drove straight to the post office.
"Do you have your tracking number?"
Geez, how could I be stupid enough to not stop into my apt to get it?I drove back to my apt., changed, checked the tracking again, copied the number and triple-checked it, drove back to the apt. office and asked them to check one more time (nothing), and then drove back to the post office, and they told me to call between 8 and 10 tomorrow morning because "they don't have it."
I even went back to my mailbox: got mail, but no slip.
Some days, when it comes to being an aspiring published author, it's no wonder we collectively feel the deck is stacked against us. I'm sure that once this grey cloud completely passes, I'll be voicing a much sunnier and more hopeful perspective and intention. But for today, I'm simply wanting to see my own @#!! book in my hands.
Is that really too much to ask?
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
As I mentioned in a recent post, I've been frustrated w/ the way my nonfiction narratives have been coming out. But yesterday, I finally relaxed, stopped worrying about the world judging it as good or bad, and thought of Liz Gilbert's wonderful grace, style, and humor in Eat, Pray, Love. And presto! As I read and revised the first narrative (which had already undergone various changes, all to my dissatisfaction), lo and behold, a voice emeged, the rough patches smoothed out, and little bits of humor appeared here and there.
What's this? I actually like how that narrative came out? Let's get to work on the second one, then!
Revision is patience. Deadlines might increase or reduce the stress level, but the mere allowance of time, of the process to work, rhetorical purpose and faith in the project (and good old fashioned love) magically takes time out of the equation, and writing happens.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I love being a writer.
Monday, September 8, 2008
It's hard to convey to a student that "first draft" and "final draft" are not synonymous. It was a mistake that I had made up until my late twenties, I believe, because no one told me otherwise. Sure, I edited (who doesn't?); but revise? I didn't get it. It either flowed out of you or it didn't. It took my becoming a writing teacher to learn about writing, really. Moreso, to learn about drafting and revision. And it took a rookie year as a TA for me to realize that "teacher" and "editor" were also not synonymous.
Anne Lamott calls first drafts "shitty first drafts" and I sometimes use the phrase myself, moreso w/ my own drafts than my students' (if I use the term in class, I use it generically and as a form of permission as opposed to a value). There seems to be, on some faces, a look of genuine relief, while on others, a feeling of betrayal. "If that's the case, then how come nobody told me?" they ask. One student even asked me the purpose of the SAT "timed writing" component, where revision is not in the equation. I'll not make this a post about *that* discussion, but let's just say I was thrilled that they gave it consideration.
When it comes to my own writing, however, what I sometimes struggle w/ is getting beyond that first draft. For one thing, sometimes a first draft is good. Really good, and needs very little revision or editing. Other times, it's a train wreck, and it's the train wrecks that send me spiraling into writer's block. It's happening now w/ my nonfiction book. And, interestingly enough, it's the drafts of the narratives, the memoirs, those pieces of creative nonfiction that I am supposedly so good at and teach so well, that are in the worst condition. And the revisions ain't so hot either. I wonder, is it because I have higher expectations for their quality, or am I trying too hard, my latent perfectionism kicking in? (Oh, wait, I think that's blatent perfectionism...)
Now, here's another rhetorical situation to ponder. My blogposts are predominantly first drafts w/ a bit of hasty editing here and there. And yet, I like blogposts to be a bit more stream of consciousness, a bit less refined. But I can't help wonder what a reader who happened to stumble on my blog would think. Would they judge the lack of refinement? Would they think I need to learn the craft of revision (or just proofread, dammit!), or is it an understanding that most blogs follow this rather informal, unrefined style? And do they really, or are most blogs so well-written that informality is mistaken w/ unrefined (yet another botched synonym)?
Something to think about, I suppose.
Friday, September 5, 2008
I know, you're all sick of me writing about what I'm sure appears to you as my overblown obsession w/ what was no more than a teenybop 80s boy band. (I mean, I'm pushing forty, for chrissake!) I'll not use this forum to argue otherwise, but I'll talk about what the book means to me as a writer and a person.
If I was going to be a snobbish literary critic, then I would say that the writing is not that stellar. It could even be ghost-written, for all I know (although I'm willing to bet he penned it), but that's not the point. I liked the writing just fine given the rhetorical situation. It's the story, obviously, that captures my interest, and the sense of nostalgia that comes w/ it, although that nostalgia is so re-contextualized from this up-close-and-personal POV. For me, as witness, that can only be a good thing, because now it recontextualizes my own recollections. And it humanizes the band all the more for me now. Back when I was fifteen, I needed them to be more divine because I needed them to rescue me. But now, I need them to be more human because I am all grown up and can stand on my own two feet. (Although I like that they still give me a musical lift.)
As a writer, it makes my own memoirs about my life w/ the band that much more vivid and meaningful to me.
And it takes me back to this idea of fame.
I have no idea if a writer ever achieves as much celebrity as an actor or a pop star (aside from Stephen King, maybe), or if they get caught in the same roller-coaster ride as the pop stars, et al. But I do know that I don't want it. And yet, it seems to be a double-edged sword. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I want the critical and monetary recognition for my work. I obviously want my books to sell and for people to tell me that they liked it. But to live such a hedonistic lifestyle? To be so cut off from what I know as a normal existence? To be stripped of one's privacy (don't I have enough to worry about w/ someone stealing my identity or the gov't looking at my library list)? Count me out. I don't want to be Oprah Winfrey, or Stephen King, or Andy Taylor, or any other high profile star. I just want to make a living from the creations I love to make.
And I have to say, while I'm sorry my brothers never got to show the world the magnitude of their musical talent, never got to rub elbows w/ Clapton and/or McCartney, etc., I'm glad they never got sucked into that lifestyle either. Because as much as I was enthralled reading Andy's story, I wouldn't want to be reading one of theirs.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
The writer's ego is a tricky thing, I think. On one hand, a writer is completely self-centered. The first obligation of service is to her/himself. John Lennon is a great example of this. When approached by a fan who was beyond star-struck, Lennon told the kid to stop taking the songs so seriously. "I wrote them for me, not for you." On the other hand, the writer is selfless the moment her/his work is published and is exposed for all to see. And yet, it's an extension of "Look at me." Art for art's sake is one thing, but dammit, I also want to make money. I want you to like what I write. I want you to like me.
A writer has to learn balance, not only in terms of time, but also ego and self-service. At what point does self-promotion become badgering? We need to promote ourselves and manage our careers because no one else will, but we also need to learn how to be part of a community that does more than look out for number one. There is nothing I like more than to be part of a community of writers that look out for each other. It's my pleasure and honor to assist another writer, and I've had several opportunities to do so.
I got a lesson in this last night. And even as I argued my case in favor of self-promotion (I know I'm being vague here and leaving out a few key details that would put this conversation in a much clearer context, but I'm not ready to disclose yet -- projects are in the works), I heard myself saying, "Stop trying to be right, shut up, and get out of your own way." But my ego wouldn't listen. "I can handle this," she said, but in the end felt rather selfish and ashamed of it.
Make no mistake: there is nothing wrong w/ looking out for one's own interest. We need to. But experience has told me time and again that what I give comes back to me multiplied. However, sometimes I get scared. Sometimes I fear I will fall into obscurity. And when my car is in the shop and my credit card balance, the one I worked so hard to reduce, is rapidly rising, I let dollars and cents rule my judgment. That's ego backed into a corner.
But what really does me in is my flawed perfectionism and the fear of being perceived as disingenuous. I have to move beyond the ego and remember who I really am. It's more than a writer, teacher, promoter, sophist, or any other label I bestow upon myself.
Much, much more.