#AWP17 Conference Report — Kim MacQueen on “Digital Pedagogy for Beginners”

Posting my friend Kim’s recap of #AWP17 panel on Digital Pedagogy, in part because it is so well done, and in part, because I want to remember the lessons of this blog post.

Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies

awp#AWP17 Panel:F124. Digital Pedagogy for Beginners

Description: From podcasts to Twitter essays to .gif novels, digital storytelling is on the rise. This panel is aimed at instructors interested in experimenting with this fascinating and challenging material, but unsure of how to begin. Panelists work to demystify the world of digital pedagogy by offering their experiences integrating new media into writing classes. Panelists also suggest examples, assignments and discussion topics appropriate for literature, creative writing and composition courses.

Panelists: Aubrey Hirsch, Faith Adiele, Brian Oliu, Adriana Ramirez, Erin Anderson

Conference Report

Five faculty members currently teaching digital storytelling in various forms at different institutions shared stories of both success and failure during this lighthearted, completely engaging Friday morning panel. If any one tagline can be said to encapsulate the discussion — which seemed designed to simultaneously pique instructors’ interest and calm their fears about the daunting amount of software they…

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#AWP17 Conference Report — Heidi Fettig Parton on “The Craft of Empathy”

So grateful for the opportunity to guest blog over at Assay Journal about an excellent panel discussion that I attended at #AWP17 on The Craft of Empathy.

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I’ve been spending lots of time over at the web page of Ana Maria Spagna, panel moderator, reading her essays; she’s is my new writer hero!

Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies

awp#AWP17 Panel Report: F151 The Craft of Empathy

Description: Writing with empathy in mind, especially in nonfiction, can create texture in our work and be transformative for both writer and reader. On this panel we explore various angles of perspective: scenes where narrators show empathy toward other characters—especially ones who are unlikeable—and vice versa, reflections that suggest empathy of a memoirist for a younger self, as well as techniques for showing empathy, as a writer, for the reader, and from both reader and writer for the nonhuman world.

Panelists: (moderator), , ,

Conference Report

“Empathy is the deeper understanding that we’re all working towards as readers and writers,” Ana Maria Spagna told the audience of the #AWP17 Friday morning panel she moderated. Spagna referenced a 2013 study, which revealed that those who read fiction are more empathetic than those who don’t…

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Timeline Math: How Endings Begin

I like “timeline” math. It’s really the only kind of math I enjoy. Here’s an example of how it works: I zero in on a number, like my youngest son’s age. He’s lived seven and a half years, as of today. I then figure out how old he’ll be in that same amount of time, looking forward; counting from today, he’ll be 15 years old. I might then figure out how old I’ll be when he reaches that age. I’ll be 53 (not sounding so old anymore). I usually then move on to figure out something like how old I was when my oldest—my daughter—was fifteen. I was 37 years old (now seems incredibly young). I have no idea where timeline math gets me, in the end. It’s just something I do, perhaps because I’m a planner.

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Photo of me on my 30th birthday (which is 37 – 7); H was 7 and E was 5. J would still be in the unborn ethers for 9 more years. (video below is E at 15)

Today marks the beginning of week three of my final semester of my MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Bay Path’s semesters last 16 weeks. Because we get one week off for spring break, there are really only twelve weeks of my MFA program remaining. I was 44 years old when I began the program; I’ll be nearly 47 when I graduate. Hopefully, this leaves me time (before I die) to pursue the many writing projects my brain is entertaining.

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading about Ann Patchett’s writer’s path. She was 21 when she began Iowa Writers’ Workshop; presumably she was then 23 when she graduated. She was 27 when she published her first book. As hard as I run at this new career path, I’ll never catch up. There’s some relief in admitting I entered this writing game late. There’s also some relief in acknowledging I’ll never be Ann Patchett (particularly since I haven’t the slightest clue how one write’s fiction). Finally, as much as I’ve loved the Bay Path program, it’s fairly indisputable that it is not (yet) in the same league as Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Interestingly, Patchett does not speak glowingly of her MFA experience, or even of the inherent value of an MFA. I, in turn, will speak highly of my MFA experience, particularly of the accessible, one-on-one relationships that I’ve shared with writers like Kate Whouley, Lisa Romeo, and Mel Allen. I’ll also sing praises to the wonder of Suzanne Strempek Shea, who I encountered during Bay Path’s Ireland Field Study Program, which—thanks to Suzanne—is the crown jewel of the Bay Path MFA program. I will actually be sad (even depressed) to release my student status in mere weeks. This course of study was always less about the degree, or end result, than it was about the process along the way. For me, the journey was worth the sacrifice of time and money, even if I don’t end up with a $45,000 publishing agreement for my first book, as Patchett did, within a few years of graduating.

Immersion in Publishing is the only class on my roster this semester. It involves some class assignments but mostly time spent immersed in a publishing internship. I chose to do my internship locally, with Agate magazine—a journal that has a regional focus on the greater Great Lakes area. I might have, instead, procured an “East Coast” journal gig, as most of these internships can be completed online. Bay Path itself is fairly East Coast orientated. Although nonresidential, there are times I’ve felt a certain lack of connectedness with the program because I can’t simply “drive” to Bay Path to participate in some of its writing events.

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H at age 16, with her host grandmother during her year living in Nagasaki, Japan as an exchange student (can’t believe it has been 7 years since that year). She was 15 when she applied to Rotary–with singleminded determination–for this opportunity.

Lately, I’ve wondered if I limited myself by procuring an internship in “Middle America.” That said, I’m likely to stay in the Midwest (I’m 46—as we covered above—and I haven’t left yet) and to prevent the anticipated void of writing mentors at the end of this program, I hope to have developed some potential Minnesota-based mentors. Although I’m doing acquisition work and social media marketing during the course of this internship, which I’ve only just dipped my toes into, Agate co-founders and editors, Laurie and Stephanie, have kindly offered to mentor me. I’ll be following retired MPR reporter, Stephanie, on some of her interviews and Laurie, a naturalist and poet, will work with me during the month of April, National Poetry Month, on developing a nature-based poem—one that might be published in Agate.

One and one equals two new writing mentors (perhaps more) and the promise of new beginnings.

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Me and my childhood bestie, Serah, at age 15.

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Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

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Visit your breath for more.

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First Amendment First

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

U.S. Constitution, Amendment I

These are difficult days, no doubt. I can see the strain in those around me. My husband, who never gets sick, is suffering from a terrible cold. I wake up at 3 am, give or take, each night worrying about the status of this country. Before this election (and pre-election angst), I only had this type of insomnia when I was under the deepest times of stress.

As a no-longer practicing lawyer, my greatest concerns under this new administration rest with the threats to our Constitution. My favorite class in law school was, in fact, Constitutional Law. That text was my thickest book (of all my life, in fact) and took two semesters of daily classes to work through with my fabulous Constitutional Law professor, the late Marcia O’Kelly. I’ve no doubt that Professor O’Kelly is rolling over in her grave right now to see all that is happening in this country.

With so much daily destruction (or deconstruction) happening, it is difficult to know where one might focus enough to provide any sort of concrete support to the Resistance. I’ve been spinning around and around in circles, watching the leaks spring up in the boat of our country. I think I need to choose just one hole to focus on plugging. I believe I’ll champion First Amendment rights; this only makes sense, as a writer. Democracy depends on the free flow of information. We, the people, need journalists and writers (the Fourth Estate) to investigate, discover, and report back to us the truth. Engaged and empowered citizens require the opportunity to discern truth from propaganda. We need to know what our leaders are really up to ensure the continuation of our very fine (not perfect, but enormously successful to this point) democratic system.

“Secrecy in government is fundamentally anti-democratic, perpetuating bureaucratic errors. Open debate and discussion of public issues are vital to our national health.” New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

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Evidence of the Light Getting Through

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Image courtesy of my daughter, Hannah. Wishing I could have been at the show with her. Glad she was there. She’s my A-team.

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More Writer Angst: Writing the Foxtail Farm Winter CSA Profile

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Prior to my interview with Paul and Chris Burkhouse, owners of Foxtail Farm Winter CSA, I volunteered on their farm for a day, packing boxes. To pack these boxes, we formed a conveyer line of people, adding vegetables in a precise order. I was at the head of the line; my job was to insert one squash and one pumpkin–the heaviest offerings of the day. It was like lifting weights, only with 35o repetitions instead of three. I found myself wondering if it was an initiation of sorts–give the new girl the heaviest load.

Finally, when I could no longer reach the squash on the highest shelves, due to my five foot two stature, I swapped a Foxtail intern for potato duty, a decidedly more appealing job. The potatoes still wore dirt of the fields just outside the barn door. They smelled of earth, they whispered of rootedness. At the end of the day, my back was aching and beneath my fingernails, soil was wedged so tightly, it would take three or fourth baths to dislodge it. I was actually more than okay with this; I could smell the St. Croix River Valley on my fingers for a week. It reminded me of how I’d felt renewed by my day at the farm. I realized, I’d been living too long disconnected from the soil.

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Now I know: water is life and soil is alive. Connection both will keep a soul grounded.

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A week and one day later, I sat down with Paul and Chris for our interview, in preparation for the profile I’d be writing on them as a part of my St. Croix Master Watershed Steward program. The three of us engaged in a lively discussion. I relished spending time with the philosophical and intelligent Paul and Chris (and their two dogs). I loved walking the fields of kale, covered in snow and eating spinach picked fresh from the ground of a hoop house. At the end of the interview, all seemed as idyllic as the farm upon which we stood. But then, Paul asked to review the piece before it published. I reluctantly agreed.

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Ten days later, when I had the piece written and polished, I sent it off to Paul and Chris–more than a little nervous about having them review it. A day went by, then two, then three and then a week. At the eight day point, I left both a voicemail and email, asking them to confirm receipt of the piece. I didn’t hear from them that day. By that evening, I was beside myself with fear, depression, and self-loathing. This was worse then any emotion I’d experienced after having one of my essays or poems rejected by a publication. I’d written about two people’s lives and, I assumed, they hated it. They disliked it so much that they weren’t even going to respond to me. I emailed my fantastically patient editor, Greg Seitz, over at St. Croix 360. I told him I was going to have to regroup, write a different story. I also told him I was going to learn to write fiction so that I no longer had to deal with real people.

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I woke up that night at 1 am. I was a hot mess of thoughts, thoughts that moved as swiftly as thunderheads on the loose. I am terrible writer, not even my profile subjects like my writing. In fact, they hated it. I can’t write about real people. Even my daughter cried when she read the first few paragraphs of the piece I’d written about her for Angels Flight Literary West. And Greg. He must think I am completely unhinged. I shouldn’t have disclosed all my angst to him. I am a fraud, a failure. I need to find a job that has nothing to do with writing. They hate me. Everyone hates me. Why did I think I could do this watershed thing, anyway? And on and on it went.

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At 6 am, when I opened up my email, I had a note from Chris Burkhouse apologizing to me. She said they’d never received the preview draft a week earlier and they’d both been really sick with horrible colds, but could I please send it to them now and they’d review it as quickly as possible. What? Maybe they don’t hate me after all. Something akin to relief washed through me. Yet, this meant they still hadn’t reviewed it. They might still come to hate me.

I emailed Greg again to tell him of the latest development. I told him I’d felt like a girl thinking she’d been jilted by her prom date, only to discover he’d just had a flat tire. I hit send. Fantastic Heidi; again too much information to the editor. Now he knows you are coming unhinged.

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A day later, I received the draft back from Chris with some perfectly reasonable edits that helped clarify farming terms and practices that I wasn’t well voiced in. It took me all of five minutes to make the changes. I sent it off to Greg and it published even sooner than I’d expected. And I actually like the piece. I really like it. You can read the full piece here; I also took all of the photos for this piece and will publish some of the extras here–so you can see just how beautiful the Wisconsin countryside can be in the fading December light.

Perhaps I won’t give up nonfiction writing after all; at least not yet. And, perhaps, I might take up photography. Sometimes you just have to wait. Not every answer or every solution comes when you think it should. Oh, to be still and know that all will be well, in time.

Posted in Clean Water, Community Supported Agriculture, Creative Nonfiction, Humor, Local Food, MFA in Writing, publishing, Writing, Writing Angst | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment