In the Discipline: You can Leave Your Hat On….

evertsonDear Outsiders–this week the blog will focus on the concept of “discipline.” I hope to explore this idea from several angles: discipline in the classroom, self-discipline within your chosen field of studies, the work of building expertise within a discipline and, finally, the idea of integrating disciplines (or being “interdisciplinary”).

Part ONE: “You Can Leave Your Hat on…”

I often “discipline” my writing students when they begin a paper with “Webster’s Defines…” (insert topic or idea here). This is possibly one of the lamest ways to start an essay–but, as the maxim goes: do as I say, not as a I do:

Google Defines “Discipline” like this:

discipline

So what do you think? Many of you reading this blog are educators, plan to be educators, or are currently in classrooms with all sorts of educators attempting to impose “discipline.” What IS our role in regards to discipline the classroom–particularly the ENGLISH classroom, which (I know it is hard to believe) is not always the most enthralling environment for some students. What frustrates you in your learning environment–either as a student or (potential) instructor? Texting okay? Snapchat? A noisy classroom is a sign of “learning in progress” we are often told–is this true, or an excuse for chaos? Those students chatting in the corner–disruptive? Open debate and discussion with no ground rules–should we raise hands? Pass around a conch?

And what about that guy over in the corner with the hat on? (here I would link to the titular Joe Cocker song, but it will bring up a clip from 9 1/2 Weeks, which introduces up all sorts of disciplinary problems for this blog, and perhaps disciplinary action against the blogger).

The reason why I bring up the HAT is that I know some teachers who simply cannot abide such cover in the classroom–and it struck a chord with me this weekend when I listened to an episode of This American Life that was devoted to the idea of classroom discipline. Here is a link to the episode:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/538/is-this-working

In the opening anecdote, a middle school student has been asked to remove his hat. He refuses. Several teachers then share their views on how the situation should be handled–from a sharp look to throwing a shoe, and everything in between. The episode explores many issues related to classroom discipline–from what seems to be a pretty clear connection between race and discipline, to comparing and contrasting “zero tolerance” approaches vs. more discuss/redirect approaches. What is the best way for a teacher to manage a classroom? Listen to the program to find out. (Spoiler alert–there is no right or wrong approach…).

Which brings us back to Webster’s, er, Google–and that dictionary definition. In viewing the concept as a verb, we discipline our students, our classmates–maybe ourselves–by training to obey rules or codes of behavior, usually with some sort of punishment. As a noun, we think of discipline as that  “practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” Whether an action or a thing, neither one of these sounds too pleasant. But what of that second definition: “a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education”? As English Majors and Minors, teachers and students, and general lovers of the written word–can we separate the two? Can we advance in our discipline without discipline? How much of our work within the discipline will involve “obeying” and “rules”? As a teacher or a student–how much do we enforce one to support the other?

“Tune in” for the next blog, which will explore this question further.

Dr. Evertson

Family Values

Here is a story by Maryah Harding written in our fiction writing class. The technique under focus was the use of setting in story. The assignment asked students to put a character in conflict with their surroundings and for that character to respond in an expected way.

Family Values

By Maryah Harding

            Light mist sprinkled across Adelaide’s porcelain skin, making it glisten with the icy drops. Her limp, midnight hair clung to her flushed cheeks.  The air was heavy around her as she walked down the abandoned road, the soft glow of the flame colored streetlights barely breaking through the harsh gray of the night.  Adelaide’s shoes made a gentle thud with each step as she bounded along the street.

“One pill, two pill, red pill, blue pill!” Adelaide sang out loudly, her lyrical voice sifting through the air like a bluebird’s song, the sound of cracking branches acting as a drum beat to her whimsical song.  Adelaide removed the bottle of pills from the pocket of her tattered coat and shook them, the rattle of the medication inside matching her angelic voice.

Adelaide stopped in front of the Clarence house.  The wind howled through the air and caressed her lightly soaked skin, the light mist turning in a drizzle of frozen kisses.  She opened the pill bottle and shook out the multicolored pills, letting them fill her palm.  She held them lovingly, like one would hold a fragile bird, frightened and alone. Throwing them into her mouth she swallowed them down, her tongue reaching for the droplets of water as the tightening in her chest began to fade and sweet ecstasy coursed through her small frame.  The looming house reached for her with open arms, shifting in the darkness.  Adelaide leapt through the dangling fence, the wood slowly rotting away from the abandoned house.

Adelaide’s girlish laughter tinkled through the roaring wind to the rotten front door and broken windows, the glass strewn across the damp floor boards.  The branches of the ancient trees scraped against the panes and drew black shadows across the ruined house, raking down the already scratched lumber.

“Mummy, Daddy, Cattie, I’m home!” Adelaide’s voice rang through the empty house, her creaking footsteps echoing through the house.  She gave a small twirl as she danced through her home, her fingers tracing the walls softly, like a man traces his lover’s delicate mouth with his rough fingers.  Adelaide entered the kitchen, her mother lounging in the antique chair, resting her head against the uneven table.  Adelaide skipped to her mother, wrapping her fragile arms around the older woman.  Adelaide gently kissed her mother’s crying eyes, the tears streams of red liquid on her wrinkled face.  She let go, watching her mother slump back into the position, her dress ripped and dried with dark stains, splashed in intricate designs across her body.

Adelaide left her mother to rest in the kitchen, humming one of the nursery rhymes her mother used to sing to her, “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, and here comes a chopper to chop off your head! Chip, chop, chip, chop the last one is dead!” Adelaide giggled softly as she waltzed into the living room, drops of water hitting the floor, leaking onto the moth ridden couch.

“Hi, daddy.  I’m home.  Guess what I learned today?” Adelaide prattled on as she curled up next to her father on the couch.  She leaned over and picked up her father’s ashen head and planted a kiss on his mouth, like little girls always do.

“I learned how to tie my shoes!  I did a good job! Teacher said so.” Adelaide returned her father’s head to his lap, his skin sagging against his brittle bones.  Her lips a darker shade of wine now as she ran her fingers through her father’s nearly bald head.

Adelaide left her aging father on the couch, making sure his head wouldn’t roll away like it had the tendency to do when she left him for too long.  She scurried up the steps to little Cattie’s room, making sure to skip the missing step.  Adelaide opened the door covered in ripped pictures drawn by careless hands, the absence of light hiding the content of the pictures from her smoky eyes.

“Cattie, are you sleeping?” Adelaide called out softly into the hushed room, the patter of raindrops hitting the window in a ceaseless pattern.  She crept softly into the room, stepping over the decaying stuffed animals, picking up Peter Rabbit Adelaide continued to her sister’s sleeping form.  Pulling the covers back slowly as to not disturb her resting form, Adelaide snuggled in next to her.  Lovingly she ran her fingers through Cattie’s matted hair, Cattie’s blue lips parted slightly as if about to say something.

As sleep enveloped Adelaide’s girlish limbs, she murmured against her sister’s deathly cold skin, “Don’t be sad anymore, Cattie.  Sissy will be able to play with you again tomorrow. And Mummy and Daddy will be there too.  I promise.”

The Curious Canine of Humbaker Street

I truly believe the best way to learn to write is to write and write and write, and then write some more. Gerald Brenan, activist and historian, agrees: “It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer.” So, in each creative writing course I teach, students produce weekly exercises that utilize writing techniques we’re discussing in class. In the story below Holly Atterbury focuses on the technique of imagery. The assignment prompt was to use concrete, significant detail (imagery) to create a reality that is convincing—and yet literally impossible.

The Curious Canine of Humbaker Street

By Holly Atterbury

             In the town of Milforde, Pennsylvania, Bartleby’s Deli and Sandwich Shoppe sits just south of the intersection of 5th and Humbaker Street. The block is composed of brick-red buildings identical but for the furnishings and the color of awning. To the left, under the bright blue awning, is Pearl’s Salon and Spa; “spa” being a loose term for the cucumber-eyed, avocado facial Pearl will give you for the discounted price of ten dollars, if you spend twenty dollars for a haircut first. Nearly a year ago, the competition for avocadoes (of which Milforde already had a limited supply) led to the dissolution of anything that could be considered a friendship between Bartleby and Pearl. The shortage might have been bearable, harmless even, if the start of Pearl’s facials hadn’t coincided with Bartleby’s first and final Avocado Festival. Henry Davis, who used to deliver fresh vegetables to Bartleby’s Deli and Shoppe recalls the fiasco in occasional nightmares and describes it “like two people trapped on a desert island who suddenly realize that there isn’t food enough for the both of them. Or something like that.” To the right of Bartleby’s, underneath the weather-stained red awning with a small hole in it, is Free Expressions, a tattoo parlor, where owner Ralph Luftraedo’s style of tattoos stagger across customers’ skin like the drunken, first attempts of abstract drawings. Ralph and Bartleby have yet to find a reason to irreparably harm their relationship; although, if Ralph’s son keeps looking at Bartleby’s daughter like that (and she keeps looking back), people will begin covering their tattoos upon entering the Sandwich Shoppe, just as everyone knows you don’t grab lunch next door directly after getting a haircut.

As the citizens of Milforde watch the conflict escalate by degrees, mimicking the slow, upward crawl of the thermometer as the days lengthen into the summer months, they wish Nikola was still capable of negotiating a truce.

Nikola was formerly known as the short, jovial Italian man who owned and ran the Italian bakery directly across the street from Bartleby’s. Nickola was a generally agreeable person, who devoted much of his free time to tending the purple regal geraniums he planted in large, rectangular stone planters on the sidewalk in front of his bakery, smiling and waving to passerbys with the hand that was not occupied with his bright yellow watering can. He was the mediating force between Pearl, Bartleby, and Ralph, most famous for settling the Chalkboard Sign Crisis of 2012. Each shop owner had simultaneously, unbeknownst the others, purchased a standing chalkboard sign for the sidewalk in front of their shop. Each sign would, in turn, be vandalized by what each owner believed to be his or her neighbor; from Nikola’s vantage point, however, it was eventually discovered that the culprits were Sierra Hult and Calvin Resden, who found the feud between the three hilarious, saw an opportunity, and took it.

Indeed, it was agreed that if Nikola still possessed his proper form, the current tensions on Humbaker Street would have faded back into that of the normal levels of annoyance commonly experienced by neighbors in close proximity to one another. But Nikola is of little help nowadays. The Bergamasco pads around town, coat swaying with every step, looking like a dirty mop that grew four legs, a slimy pink tongue, wet nose, and a wagging tail.

One might wonder how a human man could transform into an Italian sheep dog known for its naturally matting fur that dangles down from its body like thick strands of yarn and believe such a thing to be impossible, but the citizens of Milforde, Pennsylvania, have no doubts that the canine is Nikola.

“That’s Nikola, alright,” says Jolene Spitz, who can often be seen sitting on the lone bench in Attwood Park reading mystery novels. “Nice guy. Even nicer as a dog, but he seems kinda sad. I miss his baking.”

Several residents were witness to the clear afternoon of August 22nd, 2013, when Nikola made the transition from man to dog. “He was outside, watering those flowers, and he just sort of…stopped,” Philip Gurth says. “He stopped what he was doing, just froze. Like a statue, almost. Or like when you see a big wasp.”

Evelyn Hult (Sierra’s mother) continues, “I thought he was going to throw up. He had that look on his face, you know? He twitched, like he was trying to move forward, and then in a blink he was gone.” She snaps. “Just like that. And in his place was the weirdest-looking dog I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Bewildered witnesses slowly approached the dog, who appeared to be staring forlornly through his thick, dark bangs at the toppled yellow watering can. Humans and canine alike watched the water twinkle across the dull gray of the sidewalk and over the curb, until the stream slowed to a halt, leaving a darkened line on the concrete. According to the reports, Nikola the dog had then given a great sigh, looked at the people gathered around, picked up the watering can between his teeth, and walked back into his bakery. Now he roams around town, patrolling Humbaker Street in particular, trying to keep the peace and tend his geraniums as best he can given his current situation.

“It’s a real shame,” Bartleby says as his cleans the front windows to his Shoppe. “Only decent guy on this street turns into dog. That shouldn’t happen to nice folks. If it’s going to happen to anyone, it should happen to awful people. Like Pearl or that lazy son of Ralph’s.” Pearl comments that, “If Bartleby were to turn into a dog, he’d be the ugliest dog in the world.” Ralph, who doesn’t say much, just shrugs and says, “Yeah, Nikola was a good guy.”

No one knows who, if anyone, turned Nikola into a dog over a year ago, or if he’ll ever turn back.

Required Reading for Young Writers

Below is the speech William Faulkner gave when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. His words remain true for anyone who wants to be a writer. Click on the link to hear him read it.

http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/index.php?id=1397

Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

5 Reasons to Take a Creative Writing Class at CSC

5. Discover Your Other Selves

Before taking a creative writing class most days I looked like this:

But now some days I look like this:

And other days, especially after a haircut, I look like this:

550px-DoraTheExplorer-Color-Step-11

And once, on a particularly inspired day, I even looked like this:

James Joyce Conference in Rome

2. One word: How-on-earth-did-they-do-that?

Here is one of my favorite Wallace Stevens poems:

A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten in the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

I first read this poem what I was 19, and the only thing I knew was that I loved it. I lacked any way to articulate what exactly I found so appealing (Stevens’ use of imagery, metaphor, and voice, his wildly inventive details). To put it simply: I lacked the ability to understand and discuss craft.

By taking a creative writing class at CSC you won’t just read fantastic works of art, you will also learn how to talk and think about how these works are constructed and how–perhaps most important–these approaches can be applied to your own writing.

3. Get Published

All published work begins somewhere, and the creative writing classroom at CSC is just about the best place in all of northwestern Nebraska for your words to begin their journey.

2. You’ll Meet This Man

Rambo TV Series Sylvester Stallone Wont Return

No, not really.

1. Join a Community of Writers

Perhaps the greatest misconception of being a writer is this:

Yes, there are moments you have to sit at a desk and put in the required time and effort. However, by joining a creative writing class at CSC you will discover, much like this song suggests (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj5zqg9sHuY), you do not have to do it alone. A creative writing classroom allows you to join a community of writers, a support network of thinkers, who not only want to see you succeed but will offer assistance for you to realize your deepest and most interesting self.

On Images–Deane Tucker

Underwear

The caption says one word: underwear. The text itself is located across the pants and not placed over the underwear itself. Of course, this is only meant to call attention to the fact that the ad is about underwear and not pants. It is even hard to tell whether the person is taking the pants off or putting them on. The word “Tommy” stands in for the head of the person while “Hilfiger” rests at his feet. The viewer’s gaze is directed from the underwear to the pants, to the feet, and then back to the underwear again. The tranquil river flowing behind suggests the beauty of time’s progression, linking the past to the joy of the moment and to a promising future. The underwear seems to almost bridge the river, implying a sense of timelessness and stability to Tommy Hilfiger’s underwear. This underwear is fashion, not a passing fad. This timeless quality is only possible because of the design of the underwear: it is patterned after (or maybe even from) the stars and stripes of the American flag.

The stars and stripes, the red white and blue, Old Glory; these are words that seem to embody the very destiny of America. The very material of the flag is threaded through American history. Whether carried as a standard into battle, hoisted at half-mast for a dignitary’s death, waiving from a state capital, or standing still behind glass in a museum, the flag signifies America’s presence. More than a sign, it is a symbol, since it neither resembles nor has the form of that for which what it stands. For Americans, it often stands for one thing: patriotism.

We Americans like to wear our patriotism on our sleeves. From kindergarten through high school we pledge allegiance to our flag. We fly it from our porches on veteran’s day, salute it at baseball games, and sing of its indestructible glory in our national anthem. We pin it on our clothes at rallies, attach it to our bumpers, and paint it on our business signs. An American can always tell a person’s patriotic fever by his reverence for the flag. Indeed, to question someone’s respect for the flag is to accuse him of being unpatriotic. The neighbor who doesn’t display the flag on July 4th, the student who silently refuses to say the pledge during homeroom, the baseball player who leaves his cap on during the ball park national anthem all manifest their unpatriotic natures in their contempt for the flag.

Some zealous politicians have called for protecting the flag, especially from burning during political protests. To burn the flag, they say, is to set America itself to flames. The fire consumes the symbol, exchanging America’s timelessness for cinders and ash. Some have even called for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.

But what would it mean to constitutionally protect the flag as a symbol? It must of course mean regulating it throughout its various appearances, but it can’t be a matter of its materiality. It is not offensive to anyone to burn cotton, wool, or any synthetic fiber from which a flag is fashioned. So it is not the material the government would seek to control, but the form.

But a symbol is only an idea, and therefore any attempt to regulate the flag in this way amounts to thought control. The flag might be a material signifier, an object sold as a consumer item more often than not made in China, but what it signifies transcends the notion of ownership. You can own the flag, but not the myriad of ideas it produces; and as Saussure reminds us, the relationship between a signifier and signified is always arbitrary and conventional.

We can only imagine the consequences of such legislation. It would suddenly be illegal to display the flag in a vulgar manner, which would necessarily have a vague definition. Flag bumper stickers, if still allowed, would have to be shown the same ritualistic respect as the flag flying over a military cemetery. Earrings and other jewelry bearing the symbol of the flag would be deemed offensive even on someone under the vain pretense of wearing their patriotism. Even photographs of the flag would have to fall under the same jurisdiction as the flag itself, subject to the same rules of display and proper disposal.

These circumstances would leave our Tommy Hilfiger ad at a complete disadvantage. Advertising, in principle, demands a prior referent system in order to exchange signs for meaning. Advertising symbolizes both production and consumption, each governed by manufactured desires. As production, it envelops us in a world in which objects are taken out of their material, utilitarian context to become signs of desire. As consumption, advertising creates a space in the imagination where these signs can be decoded back into objects to be freely (perhaps illusorily) consumed. The underwear ad demands from the consumer a prior referent system to patriotism that can be worn on your sleeve, or, in this case, under your pants (patriotism as under armor, America as the last defense before your unprotected and vulnerable nakedness in the face of a harsh world). But if it is meant as a direct exchange, a transfer, of the producer’s patriotism for the consumer’s, then the ad would already be governed by the under-handedness of the flag as symbol. This patriotism cannot be worn, because such a display would already be unpatriotic.

Luckily, the incendiary debates amongst politicians about the flag have cooled somewhat over the past few months. Cooler heads know that the flag as symbol cannot be regulated. The flag does not simply signify patriotism; one is free to project his desires of patriotism on the flag, or not. The flag, as an object, signifies at the least individuals, and at most categories of people, each consuming a different meaning. Every person must symbolically recognize his own (changing) self in the flag. Patriotism is not something that is passively consumed, but is instead exchanged by every individual for his or her own freedoms concealed like underwear in their minds and hearts.