Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bakhtin and Eagles

I found this in the drafts of my personal blog from 2008.  It's speaking to me today about writers.  

Last night I was lying in bed with the Braddock Essays freshly read on the heels of Bakhtin and Vygotsky at the end of a semester of reading in Rhetorical Theory. As I closed my eyes, I knew that today was the day to park myself in my chair and write/ wrestle with it all. And as I filtered through the ideas and theories streaming through my semi-conscious mind and gently probing for ways into the writing, for connections, for new ideas, I had the sudden image of myself hovering somewhat precariously on the edges of balance and strength in eagle pose.

The eagle is a tough pose for me. I consider myself a pretty strong person with a new found balance that I’ve cultivated over the past two years. Eagle has reminded me that one does not attack a yoga pose the way one attacks a hill sprint. You can’t gut out balance. The eagle must be approached with calm, peace, and respect. The scattered, racing mind will bring distain from the wise and regal posture. One must study the intention of the pose in her mind, think about arms, legs, core and what those muscles should be engaging without actually thinking of one muscle over the other. And then, she must totally relax, focus on a tiny dot of consciousness and hold her mind there, calm, assertive and at peace. The raw determination, pounding music, and thoughts of conquest and brute strength that propel a girl up a monster hill at top speed, beating the scattered mind into a state of exhausted submission are useless here. This is a new realm requiring new habits of mind and body, much like wrestling with theory.
My first real success with writing, and the piece that I am still most proud of, began with a metaphor of running and writing. At the time I was writing the piece (and running 4-7 miles a day) I felt that I had reached my pinnacle/ potential as writer, a teacher of writing. And then, a couple of years later, I found something new. I discovered that the writing that is most appealing to me and to my students is a hybrid of forms and genres. But as I began to attempt to write about it, the words, thoughts, ideas simply wouldn’t gel. “There is nothing NEW here.” I kept saying. “Multi-genre is not what I’m writing about.I didn’t even know that term when I started experimenting with this stuff. It’s the lyric essays and how they get kids to think that’s interesting.”

But Why? How? What?

And so began the process over the past year that had me hovering carefully and precariously in that calm assertive pose in my mind last night. But it is precarious because it is a calm that could shatter at any second if I listen to the voices in my head. The voices incidently, that so many of my students hear each time they sit down to compose school writing. And the voices that I hope to help them engage and transform.

What I’ve found and what I want to explore here is what happens when we respect the language practices and ways of knowing that our students bring to us as legitimate language practices that are useful and important to learning. The NEW ideas about language and literacy that can come from the bumping together of the institution along with all of the diverse things our students bring – from “playing” in the Vygotskian sense of the word with in the figured world of school and the improvisation that comes from that when “school” writing/ language meets “home” writing/ language.

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