Mindful Writing Challenge 3

that unnameable hum

the light
blue in white
along the road

glows steady
in bars
naming bars
restaurants and pubs

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Twelve In ’12

Postgraduation. #twitter via ekswitaj


  1. I finished my PhD.
  2. The Journal of Modern Literature accepted a piece of mine.
  3. Like This Press accepted my chapbook manuscript.
  4. The Kenyon Review Online accepted and published a short story of mine
  5. I co-organized a highly successful postgraduate conference in Joyce studies.

Couple in the Vatican Museum

Other Things I Did

  1. I joined the staff of the newly relaunched Poets’ Quarterly.
  2. I visited Rome for the first time (for a conference).
  3. I participated in the first MOOC MOOC.
  4. I helped write a novel in 24 hours.

Other Things to Celebrate

  1. The birth of my niece!
  2. Publication of Joyce Studies in Italy 12: Polymorphic Joyceincluding my essay “Joyce, Berlitz, and the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language.”
  3. Publication of The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga: Critical Essaysincluding my essay “Lady Gaga’s Bodies: Buying and Selling the Fame Monster.”

And a Thirteenth for ’13

The Question Remaining

  1. Where to next?

Prompts, Pedagogy, and Composition

Tanya Sasser has written a fascinating and important piece on the question of what truly constitutes student autonomy in first-year composition courses. While her piece is primarily about theory rather than practice, I want to discuss to one particular element of practice she does address: the writing prompt. She asks:

And how many writers start with a writing prompt (generated by someone else)?

The Censor Offers The Writer a PenI answer

More than you might think.

Witness the success of such projects as 52|250: A Year of FlashFiction-writer Meg Pokrass has gone so far as to say

When people say to me, “I don’t believe in prompts,” I look at them and think, “Okay, so you have your own secret prompts,” but what I say is, “Right, they don’t work for everybody.”

Using prompts consciously is truly not the right thing for everyone, and those of us who use word prompts and other exercises in writing (regularly), and admit to doing so, often face condescending smiles from other writers.

Optional Prompts . . .

Even so staunch an advocate of prompts as Pokrass acknowledges that responding deliberately to prompts created by someone else is not ideal for everyone, so one way to use prompts in the classroom without depriving students of real autonomy is to make the prompts possibilities rather than requirements. Certainly, this has been the approach taken in a number of creative-writing workshops and online communities in which I have participated. In EFL classrooms, I have introduced prompts as “things to write about if you get stuck” during in-class free writes.

The limit of this approach is that it reduces the potential for prompts themselves to serve as disruptions. Prompts can jar writers out of their habitual subjects and methods. Some of what I consider to be my best work has been written to prompts. Antlers and Venison, for example, were written in response to the theme of “meat” which is something I never would have considered writing about on my own.

The Rules by By Caro's Lines

By Caro’s Lines

. . . or Options with Prompts

There are other ways to use bring prompts into a classroom while respecting learner autonomy. One is to allow the class to generate them. This can be done online: image prompts can be pinned to a board on Pinterest, links to articles to serve as prompts can be added to a wiki page, and Tumblr can be used to collect all kinds of digital materials. Gathering prompts in one of these ways has the added benefit of allowing less tech-savvy students to practice using whichever online tool is used for a low-stakes activity. Once the prompts have been collected, students can choose which prompts to use from those gathered, or small groups or individuals can take turns selecting a prompt for the whole class to use.

Another approach is to teach students different ways to use (and subvert) prompts. Talk to them about using obscure or obsolete definitions of words (whether these words form part of a description of content or part of a description of structure) or playing with puns. Suggest that one way to talk about a subject is by addressing its opposite. Ask them to generate their own ideas for playing with prompts instead of being controlled by them. This approach will also help provide them with tools to let them be more creative in courses that are structurally less welcoming of disruption.

Of course, one can always use a combination of these techniques. Do you use prompts when teaching writing? How do you use them?

Related articles


It’s Not Anonymity; It’s Misogyny

Jaron Lanier, who helped to shaped the web as we know it, does not like where internet culture has gone; he has not liked it since at least the year 2000, but The Smithsonian Magazine has recently published an article about the reasons why. While he has some valid points, he exaggerates the dangers of anonymity, and the specific example he gives is a near-perfect example of the reasons he makes this error:

So it turns out Violentacrez is this guy with a disabled wife who’s middle-aged and he’s kind of a Walter Mitty—someone who wants to be significant, wants some bit of Nietzschean spark to his life . . . And he’s not that different from any of us. The difference is that he’s scared and possibly hurt a lot of people.

Violantacrez is the pseudonym of Michael Brutsch. Under this pseudonym, Brutsch helped to develop a some of the most despicable parts of Reddit, including so-called subreddits dedicated to posting sexualized images of women and underage girls without consent. The difference between him and us is that he is a violent misogynist who believes that it is acceptable to use women (specifically their pictures) without any consideration for what these women want. Lanier mentions his being married to a disabled woman as if this is somehow a sign that Brutsch was somehow not that bad, as if misogynist men never had relationships with women and is if being involved with someone with a disability were a particular sign of being, at least, a decent person.

Pengu McHugh checks out NPR's Big Board via ek...

Pengu McHugh uses a pseudonym to discuss swimming techniques. He is a penguin, not a troll.

But Violentacrez is not an Everyman corrupted by anonymity. In an anonymous forum, men who do not believe that women exist primarily for their gratification will not act like Violentacrez or the people who participated in the parts of Reddit he helped build. Anonymity enabled Brutsch because it allowed him to act without penalty until his identity was revealed, but it did not cause the problem. Without online anonymity, he might very well have been passing similar pictures around among trusted friends.

Misogynists act like misogynists online and offline. If online anonymity allows misogynists and others with reprehensible standpoints to speak to a broader audience without penalty, it also allows their actions to be seen and named as what they are—at least if we refuse to pretend that anonymity by itself corrupts.

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