Intolerance and Learning

The two writings we read this week were very different in content and theme.  “Tolerating Intolerance” focused on the concept of “passive aggressive intolerance” and enabling bigotry.  “Supporting Youth After School” focused on providing out-of-school opportunities for children to further literacy.  It’s hard for me to link two separate topics like this, so I’ll respond to each individually.

“Tolerating Intolerance” made a lot of points that are very indicative of causes my generation seems to be wanting to further.  I was a resident assistant on campus for two years, and had countless hours of training on how to make people from all identities and backgrounds feel comfortable and welcome.  However, sometimes coworkers and I would get cynical.  How much of what we are doing and learning actually helping people?  Is there a difference between tolerance and acceptance?  We will hopefully learn to stop making excuses for bigoted attitudes, but until then, how do we best serve those affected by this bigotry?

“Supporting Youth After School” detailed a lot of programs that would have been helpful in my hometown growing up.  I was very fortunate to come from a well enough off family who could afford after school activities for me.  In fact, my parents insisted on them, and there was hardly a night where I didn’t have church groups, dance classes, tennis lessons, or art workshops to attend before doing my homework and going to bed.  These social opportunities were very valuable to me, and comprise much of what has made me who I am today.  However, many friends and classmates didn’t have these opportunities.  This was usually closely linked with what I perceived was their family situation.  When I look back at these friends and classmates through social media or “through the grapevine,” too many of them are in unfortunate situations, and I wonder how things would have changed had they had someone to support them outside of the classroom and to expand their knowledge of what “literacy” could be.

Update on Research

As this is the first real research project I have been a part of, it is hard to evaluate its status.  My cowriters and I have all met every Friday morning to compile more writing.  We have gathered secondary sources.  We know there will be no shortage of information for us to use, and so the main worry has become how we can sift through it.  Throughout this process, I’ve learned that there is so much that everyone involved in our project has to offer to the world. All of our writers have something meaningful to say, something that will benefit the overall conversation about women and addiction.  Our duty as writers is to prioritize those stories and memories and to assemble them into a cohesive piece.  Hopefully, we will be up to the task!

New Year, Old Memories

It’s inevitable in writing workshops that the writers delve into their past.  Writing is meant to be a creative interpretation of yourself, and regardless of whether you like it or not, your past is a part of that whole self.  For all writers, however, the past is not always a happy place.

Many popular writing exercises, such as “Unsent Letters” or “Emotive Extremes” inevitably draw out some negative past experiences along with the positive ones.  For writers who have experienced trauma, they may relive those memories through these writing explorations.  As a moderator of the workshops, one of our responsibilities is to balance self exploration with self destruction.

Many writers, such as Kay Adams, use reflective writing as a therapeutic tool.  Having my own personal experiences with this tactic, I believe it is an effective one.  It must, however, be done delicately.  Adams describes the confusion and frustration her writers felt when being thrown into an empty page.  Writers may feel that they are expected to go right to the heart of their issues and flesh them out; to get rid of them before they can do any more damage.  But trauma must be coaxed out.  The brain has wrapped those memories in many layers to protect the self, and it’s best to delicately pull back those curtains, even though you may be afraid of what lies beyond them.

At least, that was how my therapist explained it to me when I began therapeutic writing.  And she was right.  It was a very successful tactic for me that I would suggest to many others.  I would love to give this gift of understanding and catharsis to my workshop members, but I can’t.  I’m not trained in this area.

It’s hard for a facilitator in the role that we are in to keep us from thinking of ourselves as therapists.  We hear about the most intimate moments in these people’s lives.  We are there to help them, aren’t we?  Isn’t that why we volunteer?  And as much as we know that we need that help, we assume that the people in our workshops need it more.

I’m constantly wary of this issue as I write up lesson plans for the week.  What if this exercise triggers someone?  What if they think I’m trying to get something out of them?  There was one moment last semester where I was warned away from prompts about childhood because “some people may not have had the childhood I did.”  During another session, a woman asked if the prompt we provided was meant to make them write about their crimes.  It’s a delicate position to be put in.

As I move from the women’s group to the men’s this semester, I will have to reorient my brain around this subject.  How will this group best respond to the writing exercises?  What will provide the most benefit?  I want my focus in workshops to be on developing literary skill, but I believe some healing is bound to happen in between.  I hope that during this session I will be able to balance these aspects of writing in a healthy and productive way.

Collaborative Literacies

Since I’ve started facilitating workshops at the jail, the women have been incredibly enthusiastic about participating.  There’s never a shortage of people who want to share after exercises and they put a lot of effort into understanding the prompts.  This is, perhaps, a nice way of saying that they talk.  A lot.  Some of the women and other facilitators have said that their conversations might be a little too enthusiastic, but I don’t feel that they are.  A writer can write anywhere she or he wants to.  However, a writer cannot talk about writing everywhere they want to.  My favorite part about workshops is just this.  I get an excuse for an hour or more to simply talk about writing, writers, and the process of words.  Sharing that opportunity with the ladies in my group is one of the highlights of my week.

Some of the readings we’ve done lately have reflected on first hand accounts of other literacy groups.  One by the author Mark Salzman described his experiences with working with “violent” youth, and how his preconceptions were changed during that experience.  I’m sure I entered my first lesson at the jail with some preconceived notions, but I can’t remember what any of them might be.   The neighborhood I grew up in may not have been what people would call “the best.”  I have quite a few friends from high school who are currently serving jail sentences, and I never would have expected them to be there.  I figured the women I encountered would be similar to them: someone who made a mistake, perhaps, but normal people nonetheless.  I’m very lucky to have been placed in the group of women I am with now.  While they each bring unique experiences and flavors to the class, it is the same with every writing class I have been to, and I can laugh, cry, and feel with them just the same.

The more writers I work with the more I feel connected to the heart of humanity.  Isn’t that what forces us into a workshop in the first place?  We write to connect to ourselves, we share our writing to connect to others.  I don’t believe that a writer can grow without other writers to build off of, and I’m excited to be creating a collaboration with these other artists.

Literacy: Is it a Myth?

While most would consider literacy an incredibly important aspect of society, few would consider it the most vital.  Jim Gee in “Literacy and the Literacy Myth” argues against the importance of literacy within society, saying that we put too much emphasis on interpreting works within a societal context, so that the individual growth in literacy is measured less than the individual’s growth in societal standards.  While Gee makes a valid point about our school systems and how literature is taught,  I disagree with the assessment that societal interpretations should not be taught.  While we have all had our misgivings with the English teacher in high school who told us, no, Robert Frost was actually implying death with the color black, and that the fact that the night was black wasn’t just a description of how the night looked, societal constructs are an important tool to help understand literature, and, in turn, we understand society better by seeing it through the eyes of the writings we read.

Gee’s rather sarcastic remark that “If language is what makes us human, literacy, it seems, makes us civilized,” rings true for me in several ways.  One is that civilized society, as we know it, has the capability to produce works of literature that inform the future of literacy.  What is produced is impressed upon those developing their own literacy.  Another is that civilization is created through this literacy.  The records of fashions, customs, idioms, and folkways of the times are spread through the study of literature and interpreting texts.  Finally, when we are instructed to deconstruct many forms of literature when we are in the process of improving our literacy, and the key items we are instructed to observe represent the values of the current society.  “Civilized” can be defined in many ways, but my view of the definition has always been the state in which society has defined its customs, norms, and values in such a way that a large population of that society is fluent in them.  This cannot be achieved without citizens’ interpretations of their world through art and, in turn, literature.

To end this post, I’d like to quote Socrates, as Gee did within his essay.  “I think writing has this strange feature, which makes it like a painting.  The offspring of paintings stand there as if alive, but if you ask them something, they preserve a quite solemn silence.  Similarly with written words: you might think that they spoke as if they had some thought in their heads, but if you ever ask them about any of the things they say out of a desire to learn, they point to just one thing, the same thing each time.”  Literature, as much as we like to extrapolate from it, is only words, and literacy is only the basic interpretation of those words.  Whether we choose societal interpretations or not is up to the reader and the teacher, and I hope that as I am facilitating that I will be able to learn which path is the most beneficial.

Sponsorship

As I begin my journey into the SpeakOut! Program, I am given a prompt to reflect on: “What might it mean to be the sponsor of the literacy of a writer at your site?  What does this implicate?”  A sponsor?  I don’t even know what a sponsor does.  Most of my notions of sponsorship come from novels, like Esther’s sponsor in Plath’s The Bell Jar,  a famous author whom she never has any contact with, except through taking monetary donations, or Bronte’s Mr. Rochester, sponsoring his “ward,” a child who may or may not be his but he refuses to claim.  I’d never thought of myself as someone who would fit this kind of role and I started to reflect on what I could possibly offer, since I am neither famous or rich.

As a sponsor at my site, I anticipate being able to provide my writers with less monetary materials and more intangible items: support, imagination, and, perhaps most importantly, the permission and encouragement to write, something I’ve noticed that few people have experienced.  Providing these assets is something I look forward to doing, however, I realize the inherent risks there are with the amount of power I will be holding as this pillar of support.  Deborah Brandt, in her novel Literacy in American Lives, warns readers about the power that sponsors can hold.   “[Sponsors] help to organize and administer…systems of opportunity and access,” opportunities that can be closed.  If I am fortunate enough, my sponsorship could have a profound impact on my writers, but how much support can I really give?

If I define my sponsorship as support and encouragement to grow, I expect my writers to be just as much a sponsor to me as I am to them.  I hope that through my interactions with them, my own writing and perspective will grow, and I can leave the experience a better person than when I entered.  What I want to promote within my sessions is a sense of freedom through the written word, and to stress the importance of a writing community.  That is the kind of sponsor I can be.

Introductions and Beginnings

Welcome to “Don’t Fight It, Write It!” My name is Kate and I am incredibly excited to be a part of this year’s Community Literacy Center at Colorado State University.  I am a double major in business administration working towards a concentration in management and a certification in international business and english working towards a concentration in creative writing with a double focus in fiction and creative nonfiction.  My studies tell a lot about me: I love travel and writing!  My passion for writing is what first interested me in the Community Literacy Center.  In the most cliched way, I would not be the person I am today without my ability to lose myself in imagination and words, and I think that type of escapism was extremely helpful for me during every stage of my development.  I am hoping to be able to spread the kind of healing that writing offered me and learn from the other incredible writers and people within the community.

According to the essay “Community Literacy: A Rhetorical Model for Personal and Public Inquiry,” community literacy is defined in many ways: “the politics of change,” “discourse analysis,” “cultural critique,” and a way for barriers within the community to be broken down, for a greater sense of empathy to reign.  Community literacy means not reading for literacy’s sake, but to read and write for understanding’s sake.  In a community context, there is no way to promote “literacy” as a study, but only as a movement, as a provocative and scandalous form of expression that can either be repressed or nurtured.  Within my interactions within the literary community, I see my largest challenge as getting my fellow writers to accept this form of expression, to embrace it and let the dialogue grow.  If I see this being accomplished with even one individual, I know I will have left the program better off than when I entered.

A final welcome, readers, to the blog that will document the experiences of myself and the community members I surround myself with during this coming year.  I hope that this forum will serve as both informative and entertaining, and I look forward to this new adventure!