November 4th, 2012 § § permalink
Recently, I was invited to the 2012 Survive & Thrive Conference and Festival in St Cloud, MN. It was an event dedicated to the medical humanities, with its theme this year being centered on the heart. It was a fabulous event, and it provided attendees ample opportunities to explore various medical humanities topics. A diverse crowd attended the conference: from medical doctors, to college professors, to writers, to business people, and so on.
I was originally going to read an excerpt from an essay I’ve been working on about suicide and teaching titled, “Red Ink.” However, I was asked to run a workshop, and I jumped at the opportunity to give attendees a safe space to write about healing.
Those who’ve worked with me know that I’m easy going and often accommodating with collaborators. I’m that way not because I like to acquiesce; I’m that way because I find collaboration to be a dance, an odd polka; sometimes you have to give, and other times you have to take.
But, I digress.
Anyways, I put together a workshop focused on writing and healing. It was well attended, and I was told later during the conference that my workshop created quite a positive buzz. I’m always happy to hear that people enjoyed their time with me as co-learners.
Writing is an inherently expressive act. We can’t escape it because at the root of every text is a human, and humans are expressive creatures. It seems current writing pedagogy and theory spurns expressivist thinking. It’s mostly a reaction to the great expressivist movement in the 70s and 80s; from that, we got cognitive writing theory, then we got a combo, and now we’re coming back around to current traditional style writing theory, where grammar is the only thing of importance.
Drawing on the spirit of scholars, like Peter Elbow and Donald Murray, I focused the workshop on the theory and praxis behind writing and healing, identifying experiences on which to journal and why, and continuing practice with the aid of prompts. Importantly, we did lots of writing.
I provided two handouts to the workshop participants. First, I gave them a short bibliography of relevant sources for them to explore about the workshop topic; and, second, I gave them writing prompts clustered around certain themes related to the workshop topic.
Co-learning with these workshop participants reminded me of how powerful writing is in many contexts. Whether it is for healing, for business, or for the public, writing has power, and it can do great things. We should never forget the power of writing because it is an act that can free us all.
For those interested, here are the slides from the workshop:
Image by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass // Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY
September 27th, 2012 § § permalink
Last Saturday, I spoke at the 3rd Annual Minnesota Blogger Conference (MBC12). It was a wonderful experience, and one I will treasure. I spoke on building credibility through writing. I had an engaged and fun audience, I had a wonderful space in which to present, I received awesome questions about rhetoric, writing, and online discourse, and I had tweeps actively tweeting about my talk via #MNBlogCon.
I’ve been fortunate to present at both academic and non-academic conferences. MBC12 definitely falls into the latter category, though there were a few academics present. The conference is truly one to which academics should pay attention.
There is a divide between academic and professional discourses. Many who know me know I value practicality equally with theory. However, this isn’t always the case with those employed in academic fields. Many of the issues with which my audience was concerned focused on how and why to do something. Understanding writing equals action seemed of paramount importance to my audience, and I was thankful for it.
Bloggers, or at least the ones in my audience, use their blogs to do something. They want actionable discourse and are satisfied with the writing process when it leads to an action. This action can be minute to grand. For example: just returning to one’s blog (minute) or planting a tree to help the environment (grand). Either way, action occurs.
Every academic should learn how to speak to audiences of varying cultural, societal, and economic contexts. This was, perhaps, the most rewarding aspect of my engagement with my audience: I got to talk with people of various interests about how to do things with writing. As a rhetorician and writing teacher, this is my joy.
I am grateful for such an engrossed, inquisitive, and comfortable audience. We soon found ourselves laughing and speaking candidly about writing in online environments and how to do things with blogging discourse. A relaxed atmosphere soon settled in, and like most of my talks, I danced around the front of the room with the giddy excitement of a child with his first lollipop. Speaking with such a wonderful audience about writing is a sweet tonic for me.
Even more so, I felt immense value as those in my audience focused intently on one aspect or another of my talk. My room filled up to the point where members of my audience were sitting cross-legged on the ground steadying their laptops on their knees as they took notes or tweeted.
I want to be clear: I am not suggesting my audience wasn’t academic or being a non-academic audience is something lower than an academic one. In many ways, my MBC12 audience was academic in the loveliest sense of the word: They were concerned with knowledge of writing and implementation of writing in concrete contexts. I firmly believe higher education should be concerned with the marriage of the academic and the practical. Academics without practicality lacks action, and practicality without academics lacks a knowledgeable base on which to build action.
My experience with MBC12 has reinforced my conviction to continue working on bridging the academic and professional worlds. Both worlds can benefit from mutual consultation and collaboration. I look forward to next year’s conference, and I can only hope for the privilege to present again.
For those interested, here are the slides from my talk:
Image by Flickr user cambodia4kidsorg (adapted by author) // Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY