Renaissance of Meaning: A Poem

She spoke her story into the wind: I’m tired of waiting for something to happen, she said.

And then the hot breath of rumbling took her, atoms colliding, creating sparks where stillness had been.

The earthquake has arrived, she said.

And the questions burned insider her, tectonic plates shifting

With friction, and heat, and desire.

Something is going to happen, she said.

And then the wind took her story across the cracked open earth–the fault lining up to expose the underbelly of itself.

Something has happened, she said.

And then the story became the quaking, burning fissure that let in the light.


The Great Rustling

On the OHT

There is a great rustling happening in my household. Maybe it is happening in yours. There is time now. Time to hear it and move toward it. The things we try to bury are unearthing themselves. Moving and bubbling and surfacing. Things we choose not to see are demanding to be seen. Things we choose not to feel are presenting themselves with force. This rustling is a signal of a new birth. The way a woman’s abdomen begins to contract before a new life enters the world. It is a labor. A labor of love and suffering that combines to powerfully usher something new and something beautiful into the world.

We cannot avoid the suffering in this labor. In the midst of the chaos caused by this virus, there is also a great stillness. This stillness allows the rustling to become louder, more visible, more powerful. And just like the birth of a new baby, it is unpredictable, uncontrollable. The forces of nature will not be silenced anymore.

My mantra today is: it’s ok to feel. It’s ok to feel the heartbreak of lost experiences. It’s ok to feel the joy of renewed connection with people you love. It’s ok to feel the worry about the future. It’s ok. Because this rustling is outside of us and inside of us. It is part of the great movement of humanity stretching and growing and evolving. It is part of the great movement of nature healing itself. These movements are in harmony. The rustling brings together these voices and these powers for change. Change, adaptation, and evolution of society and spirit.

My instinct is to resist, like so many people I want to shut it down and RETURN TO NORMAL. But normal doesn’t light the world on fire, normal does not illuminate or lead to new life.

In the calm stillness of the world the beauty of the rustling has the opportunity to emerge. I am ready to embrace it.


I keep seeing posts calling this a strange, weird time. This feeling of unfamiliarity seems to be creating an eerie atmosphere as our communities now look very different than they did before. Such massive change and upheaval to our daily lives, at least for me, has created a cycle of emotional movement that I find difficult to process.

This noun, estrangement, describes for me the condition we find ourselves in. Estranged from our communities, in some cases from our families and even ourselves, compounds the effects of the real political and economic consequences we are facing. How do we deal with the fact that we are no longer able to participate in the anchoring spaces that we have built for ourselves? It could be church, colleagues, neighbors, and other organizations that fuel our need for social connection. Being estranged from these groups even as we are creatively trying to build new ways of continuing them makes for emotional challenges that we don’t really have a good language for yet. Articulating these feelings is a good way to process them but describing feelings that as a collective we have never felt before (at least in America) poses a unique challenge.

I don’t really have a way to do this either but I do think it’s worthwhile to continue talking through it. Writing, discourse, language offer us vehicles for discovering this way of talking about what is unfamiliar.

Perhaps what is most strange is this gift of time. Suddenly Americans are easing back, taking stock, breathing deeper, slowing, slowing. This feeling of not having to GO anywhere feels like a vacation. But it is accompanied with feelings of fear and anxiety. These two feelings, at odds with each other, have to coexist with us as we are in our homes and disconnected from the places we frequent most. I am working at settling into this new sense of time. To enjoy sitting quietly on my back patio and watching the sun rise. To find a rhythm of daily life that beats around love and family and self-care.

Of course, there’s that and then there’s the swirling jumble of other things rising to the surface. The thoughts and feelings that we numb with screens or with food or with doing all the things. In the space of just a week, for our family at least, the noise of the world has quieted and we are facing the voices that have been drowned out all this time. I learned today that a young woman, a substitute teacher at one of our high schools, took her life. For some, this part, this listening to our own heartbeats, is such a new and strange way of being that for some it is too much. It is overwhelming and painful. For me, it is overwhelming and painful. But I am also able to see the immense possibilities in this new sound of my heartbeat. To feel with grace the uncurling of my voice. The uncurling of my expectations, the uncurling of my love–for myself and the people around me. What happens when we are still is that we discover an internal divinity that has always been there. When we listen to it, it can teach us how to love ourselves so that we can love others. The saddest part about this woman’s suicide is that she never found that love and now cannot. The command to love your neighbor as yourself just doesn’t work unless we can be in tune with that self that is wholly our own and that is wholly loved. That is what estrangement can do. It can make us pause. Make us look around without expectation because there are none. No one has a program to follow or a rule book on how to do this. We have a unique opportunity to sit in this strangeness and discover ourselves. That is how I am living with COVID-19.

The Postpandemic Landscape

“I feel it in my bones. Enough to make my systems groan. Welcome to the new age, to the new age.”

“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons

COVID-19 has upended all of our lives and we move through these uncertain times carrying fear and anxiety. As an invisible agent, this virus wields enormous power. It calls on media to report, neighborhoods to gossip, and agencies to act. If there has ever been a time to think apocalyptically, it is now.

The stories that we tell about the futures we can imagine matter as we move through the uncharted territory of such a landscape. And the story of higher education is no exception. A recent article in USA today (Coronavirus upends college: Students in online classes, no graduation) details the difficulties faced by colleges and universities around the country. What this article describes is an already doomed system falling into obscurity. But isn’t it possible that the major shifts required by the pandemic offer opportunities from flourishing as well?

Post-apocalyptic narratives have a great deal to teach us about imagined futures. We can look to any number of novels for the potential regeneration that we can envision following the collapse of social and cultural institutions. The law of entropy states that systems will distribute and thus dissipate energy until an influx of energy enters the system to renew it. As the world moves toward entropy during this great slow down, we have an opportunity to evaluate where that new energy will come from. I am not an expert on these matters but I do work in the realm of imagination and discourse and I chose, in this moment, to use those powers to rethink and reimagine the map of higher education postpandemic.

First, we face a real opportunity to revalue higher education. In a world where many systems are paralyzed by the pandemic, many who are self- isolated are turning to art, music, and other pursuits–what we call the humanities. The value of these modes of creativity and knowledge production cannot be understated. Apocalyptic futures provide fertile soil for our most innate creative pursuits to blossom. As the Traveling symphony in the novel Station Eleven champions: Survival is insufficient. We need the humanities now more than ever.

Part of what the humanities can do is complement STEM fields by exploring what it means to be human, to create relationships, and to imagine. Many great critics have already written on this powerful mode of thinking but it bears repeating. I cannot even begin to cite these champions of the humanities but a quick search will yield thousands of results on the defense of the humanities. In our current emergency situation, nurses and doctors who are dealing with the sick, government and school officials who are weighing the commitment to education with physical health, small businesses who are working around the clock to stay open and evaluate the services they provide, all must draw deep into their reserves of human consideration and the entanglements we have with the material world. Don’t we want those individuals to have an education in empathy, communication, and institutional structures? Don’t we want those doing the real physical work of keeping the world running to have the ability to be creative, adapt to change, and envision solutions? I speak, of course, an an educator on these matters. I have something at stake in arguing for this focus. However, I have also seen the changes it makes in students’ lives to drink deeply from the wealth of literature and expression that makes the development of these traits more viable.

Second, a renewed emphasis on essential programs, necessary tools, and the power of social contact offer a new vision of what higher education could be. Rather than bloated administrations and wasteful construction projects, isn’t it possible to imagine a landscape where the humans who engage with ideas and creativity matter most? While that sounds awfully utopian, I do believe that there is real potential to renegotiate the budget constraints imposed by nonessential programs and bloat. What would the map of higher ed look like if teachers and students took their place at the top level of the university institution? What would it mean to privilege relationships, smaller class sizes, and fair wages for those on the front lines? If this pandemic has taught us anything so far, it is that universities cannot survive without running courses. Those courses need well educated, flexible instructors who have support from stars like IT and instructional designers. Is it possible that in the face of this shutdown we are also being confronted with top tier hubris? Perhaps stripping the system will reveal the incredible work that has gone unnoticed for decades.

Finally, I want say that there are thousands of diligent and hard working individuals who are navigating these uncharted waters with grace and compassion that give me hope in the possibilities as we move forward. I have seen colleagues and administrators step up to the plate to find creative solutions, resources, and psychological connection. My own university has handled this situation with as much thoughtfulness and compassion as I believe is possible right now. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of a team that is supporting one another and engaging in practices that serve the students.

Students are a particularly vulnerable population. They lack stability and anchors in their lives that those outside of academia enjoy. These students are also idealistic, creative, and hopeful. They posses an optimism in the apocalyptic future, one that makes space for them to re-envision what our world can be. They deserve our attention for their ability to look forward and to be hopeful about our futures.

In Station Eleven, the survivors of the plague (and their descendents) make conscious choices about rebuilding society. They believe in the power of joy, and art, and music, and stories. Surviving is insufficient. We must also work to survive well and with our relationships intact. The landscape of postpandemic higher education has the potential to change the way that universities and colleges do things. We can redraw the map, examine the relationship between modes of understanding, and rethink the value of each territory in this landscape. Surviving the pandemic is not enough. We must also imagine a better future and prepare for it.

Navigating Imposter Syndrome in the Classroom

Valerie Young speaks at TED Talent Search 2017 – Ideas Search, January 26, 2017, New York, NY. Photo: Anyssa Samari / TED

I attended a workshop on the imposter syndrome with Valerie Young in November of 2019. My notes, included below, seem particularly relevant as I am preparing for my upcoming course load for Spring 2020. In thinking about how to approach this coming semester, this idea of imposter syndrome is on my mind. I want to be more conscious of this phenomenon in my students and in myself as well.

This presentation was not what I thought it would be at all. I was skeptical about the talk because it seems that in my circles people generally pay a lot of lip service to imposter syndrome but do not commit to action in navigating it. It’s almost as though claiming imposter syndrome becomes a status of its own—a way to demonstrate some kind of humility about our achievements. Dr. Young went through several ways that imposter manifests itself. The most prominent is in perfectionism. This is a double-edged sword. It is easy to admit you are a perfectionist because that means that you don’t stop until you reach perfection. This becomes a badge of honor, a way of admitting a weakness that is really a strength. The next is the expert. The individual that never feels there is enough knowledge to accomplish something. Then there is the super-human. The one that must be accomplished at every task from scholarship to motherhood to art. There were two other manifestations of the imposter syndrome that I can’t remember, but all of them are associated with shame and are commonly held discourses accepted in high achieving communities. It is not generally acceptable to admit failure, or to indicate that you have rested, or to say that you don’t know or understand something. In academia, one thing that perpetuates this idea of imposter syndrome is the elision of these discourses. The absence of conversations surrounding these forms of just living seems to be a way of reinforcing who belongs and who does not. The characteristics of the discourse community become self-fulfilling.

I did not get to ask her about comparison. I think various modes of comparison, particularly in terms of ethos and knowledge production, contribute to imposter syndrome. If you don’t look like the “others” or talk like or act like them, then you feel as though you are just posing as someone who belongs. This form of community-belonging and the way imposter syndrome is negotiated seems to be an important part of the remedy. Young did talk about ways to create an environment that normalizes imposter syndrome and invited people to be more matter of fact about their successes and failures rather than to translate them into a commentary on someone’s worthiness and identity. This is especially key in the classroom.

What struck me the most is the emphasis Young placed on students. As a graduate student I rarely heard anyone discuss the possibility that an undergraduate might feel as though they don’t belong in college or suffered from imposter syndrome. I also did not consider the impact this absence might have on my pedagogy. When I consider the opportunities I have to discuss what it means to join an academic discourse community with my students, I have failed to consider that they may believe they have to perform this already. When we discuss academic writing and what those characteristics might mean for their ability to be successful as a college student, it did not occur to me to foreground the ways in which they might need also discuss that it is really ok NOT to know stuff. I think it is a common belief that you need to already know what you are supposed to learn from the beginning and that if you struggle, if you do not know stuff, then you don’t belong. So, some thoughts on strategies moving forward:

  1. I want to create an exercise that opens the classroom space to discussion of failure and learning and what that means. I use exit cards and I will give the students opportunities to express ways in which the students might feel as though they do not belong. Last semester I also used a card that asked for questions I could put in an FAQ part of the syllabus for the next semester. What do the students think the next class should know ahead of time? What questions would they have liked answered at the beginning of the semester? How to emphasize failure as a process of improvement? What expectations were unclear?
  2. I have built my Spring 2020 courses (all First-year writing) around writing practices and process. We will discuss the theories, pitfalls, and practices that inhibit and encourage writing, including space-based activities, distractions, and subjectivity. In my three face to face classes, I have a significant number of students enrolled that are coming from my Fall 1301 classes. This will give me an opportunity to build on some of the things we worked with in the previous semester.
  3. I plan to begin my first class with a personal narrative about my growth as a writer, my writing experiences, and my failures. I hope this opens the discourse of our class as a safe place to discuss these concerns.

I’d love to hear more ideas about how instructors talk about or ask the students to think about imposter syndrome, particularly as it relates to higher education and writing. Do you have practices or ideas that you use to address some of these issues?

On Practicing Practice

When I was a girl, I hated to practice the piano. I contrived many excuses to get out of playing the same notes over and over. My piano teachers over the years spent many hours working with me to memorize Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. This idea of repetition and practice made me cringe. I have spent a great deal of energy over the years avoiding practice.

Yet even in this environment of avoiding practice, I was in fact still practicing. Considering what it means to engage in posthuman practice, Casey Boyle claims that “practice makes practice” or rather that practice “emerges from particular situations, distributed across a variety of material relationships, and are temporally contingent” (541). This does not sound like the rote memorization I learned as a child. The variety of possibilities inherent in this definition involves an “ongoing ‘mangle’ of relations that incorporate as a material body” (543). The collective ecologies within the environments in which we practice, the conditions of the bodies that interact in that environment, and even the underlying assumptions and emotions contribute to a continuous emergence even in the face of repetition. Boyle makes the point, drawing on Andrew Pickering and others, that practice functions more like a tuning or a habitus (as opposed to habit) that works in a nonlinear way. When I think back to the times I was most engaged in practicing something, this is the way of being I most enjoyed. Practice, particularly with repetition, does not necessarily require similarity. In fact, practice done well must evolve. The goal of practice is to produce a different outcome in each repetition.

My resistance to practice is that it is boring. I get excited about the prospect, however, of generating an abundance of relations through practice, as Boyle explains in his article (550). The relations that intersect through the writing process, composed and encountered as habits that are “firm but flexible, positioned but persuadable,” seem particularly fitting in the context of this new year and decade. New Year’s resolutions seem to focus on habits and repetitions, on bodies and behaviors, and to consider them as an abundance of relations makes those practices more productive and pleasurable. I’m still pondering what kinds of serial encounters I want to practice. I’m also curious what kinds of serial encounters others have resolved to participate in. What would our resolutions look like if they were framed as serial encounters that lead to an abundance of relations?

Teaching Reflection #1

This semester I assigned reflections to my students after each major writing assignment. As a writer of creative non-fiction and memoir, I believe in reflection as a method for creating meaning from one’s experiences. One definition of reflection refers to the kind we understand as a mirror or “the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it.” In the context of reflecting on my teaching this semester, I am throwing back the light here to see what shows up when I consider the work I accomplished this semester.

I started a new job this fall as a full-time lecturer. My job requires a 4/4 teaching load. This was the first time I had ever had four classes and in the beginning the volume of students alone was overwhelming. Throughout the semester, I found myself recalibrating everything about my pedagogy just due to the number of students.

In the first few weeks of school, I struggled to remember all of the students’ names and what sections they were in. It took much longer than usual (last spring I taught one class with less than 40 students). One principle that I believe is integral to a successful writing course is trust and I felt that knowing the students well was key to that trust. I had to readjust the way I interacted with the students so that I could keep track of them. This included mnemonic devices such as association and repeated requests for the students to tell me their names when they spoke up in class.

I also had to rethink the way I utilized regular daily assignments. I use exit cards to calculate attendance. In the beginning, I had prompts that I would give and ask the students to respond. I had to let go of some of the more detailed prompts because I could not turn the cards around fast enough. I also hand write a response to each student and for several class days I could not accomplish that. I want to continue the practice because the personalization, as well as the private communication, of these notes help to establish a relationship between me and the students. They can talk to me and I to them in ways that are not always possible otherwise. However, I am rethinking how I count/reply on these cards.

One thing that surprised me was the peer review process. In many of the students’ final reflections they stated that peer review was the most successful writing strategy they learned. Many of the students were very shy to share their work but over the course of the semester all four of my classes built relationships with their peers that made them seek out peer review without being assigned to. In my 1301 classes, the students created their own peer review groups for the final project. I did not utilize this space well enough this semester. We will spend more time in the spring doing peer work and self-assessment which will make the volume more feasible for me and provide a better form of reflection for the students.

Finally, I realized over the course of the semester that I want to reframe what I am teaching more in terms of writing and rhetoric than in the performance of academic convention. I think I can do both. While students need to learn the conventions and discourse of their disciplines, they also need to develop writing practices that will serve them in many other contexts. I write a bit about practices in next week’s post. However, in terms of revising my syllabi for the spring, I am adding more reading and more in-class activities that center around writing theory and practice.

Teaching Narrative #1

I get up at 3:30 am. I shower, prep the dishes and breakfast for the kids. I pack my own lunch, listen to music, and write in my journal. I text the kids notes for what’s happening for the day. I leave just before 6 am to drive through the dark early hour through Dallas before the traffic gets heavy. The lights on the Dallas skyline have changed colors. Today they are green and yellow. I listen to heavy metal, loud, banging my hands on the steering wheel as I navigate around big rigs and small SUVs. Once I pass through Dallas, I turn on my book and I head into the sunrise. Each morning I make this drive and I think about my family in one city and my students in another. I feel divided–my identity geographically separated into two distinct parts but no less integrated into the rhythm of my life.

I arrive to my office in time to sit for a few minutes and have breakfast. My colleague greets me each morning with a smile, sometimes some advice, sometimes some teasing. This starts my day of teaching with positive energy that I bring to my students.

Today I have student conferences. They come steadily for two hours. One is shy and barely smiles. Another smiles at me for the first time in the privacy of my office. Another is chatty and we discuss Halloween and hair color. They each get ten minutes of my undivided attention. In the few stolen minutes between visits I read about my new retirement package, check emails, and try to grade a couple of assignments.

At 11 am, I teach my class. The students are waiting for me as I rush in from my 10:50 appointment. I notice one young woman is in the back looking as though she is on the verge of tears. I can feel her just barely holding it together. Just Barely. Another student is sassy and he always has a comment. Still another jockeys for my attention. I put them in groups for their task for the day. This is a task they don’t really need me for but I circulate around the tables anyway. They ask me questions, stay focused. Except for the sassy one, who leans back and says, “I hate school.”

“Then why are you here,” I ask.

“Because I want to play golf.”

I argue with him a minute.

“If that’s your goal why don’t you just play golf. Why go to school?”

“I have to be in college to get on the pro circuit.”

I tease him a bit. And then the girl from the back rushes out of the room. She doesn’t make a scene, but I can tell she is not ok. I stay in the room circulating for a bit, trying not to be too obvious about going to check on her. I get a minute to step outside and she is huddled on the floor with her arms around her knees—sobbing. Another student, who was coming back from the bathroom, sits beside her with his arm around her. He’s quiet, just holding on to her and sitting beside her. I kneel on the floor and ask if I can help. I ask if she has what she needs. She nods. I run to my office and when I return she is laughing a little. I leave them to gather themselves privately and a few minutes later they come back in. I am feeling bad about teasing the sassy one. That maybe I went too far. But the students are finishing up for the day and getting ready to leave. The intellectual one wants my attention so I cannot pull the golf student aside to talk to him. I also have to visit the bathroom before my next meeting. At 12:10, I want to just step outside for a few minutes. To thaw out and to breathe uncirculated air.

I go to my meeting, which is about advising. I have never done advising. I listen and watch carefully even though I don’t really understand what is going on. I have two student appointments after the meeting and before I teach my next class. However, I manage to get twenty minutes to run to HR to drop off paperwork and to pick up my travel card at the cashiers. The cashier, James, helped me process my new faculty ID and I am glad to see a familiar face. He is funny and jokes with me and even though all he had to do was grab an envelope, the five minute encounter energizes me for the afternoon.

My next appointment is a student who is dyslexic and worried about her writing. She is a good writer and works hard. Mainly, she needs encouragement. The next student who comes does not have an appointment and I turn him away, trying to teach a lesson in responsibility and preparedness.

My 2 pm class is typically less focused and I find that I am too. As I walk among the tables I chat with them about music and relationships and inquire about their lives. I feel the importance of being seen. I want them to know that I see them.

I have four more appointments after class. I try to eat my salad but I have another student. He just woke up. At 4 pm. His is not prepared for his appointment and neither am I, but we muddle through his paper together. My final student is at 4:50 pm and I am secretly hoping she doesn’t show up. I want to go home. I want to crawl in my bed, to stop moving. But the student messages at 4:55 and says she will be right there. She arrives breathless from running across campus from her previous class. She is juggling her courses and trying so hard to get it right. We have a lovely conversation, and I realize I am glad she made it. I am glad I could help.

I head to my car for the drive home. My book is on and I am enjoying it. I realize that for the first time this semester I don’t need a map to navigate my way home. I call my daughter and connect with her, hear about her day, and we talk a long time. We discuss her life plans and her worries. My brother-in-law calls next as I slow to a crawl through construction. He offers to help as I share my exhaustion. I realize then that we are doing ok. We are going to school, and having dinner, and everyone is just doing what needs to be done. I am weary and sore from sitting in the car for the long drive home.

I enter the house and it is quiet. My youngest is doing homework and she wants a bit of help, but I can’t do more than nod and close my eyes. I have not reserves left. My husband is out of town and I have a child who needs a ride home from his football game. I sit slumped on a seat with my head back and my eyes closed. I cannot move. My oldest son volunteers to do football game pick up. His girlfriend is on FaceTime. She say: I love your mom. I smile with my eyes closed just accepting the compliment. All I want is sleep. But I also climb into bed with satisfaction. I have done good work today. I have been a good teacher. I have been a good mom. My youngest comes in to kiss me goodnight.

“Will you read my homework in the morning?”

“Yes baby. Yes I will.”

She nurtures me as I drift off into a deep, satisfied sleep.

Acknowledgments: Part II

The Ecology of a Dissertation

The beginnings of a dissertation start long before the actual writing and research. I could in fact turn this essay into a longer autobiography that begins, “she was born into a family…” However, in lieu of starting at the very, very beginning, I have chosen to write bios for all of the entities (or at least as many as I can think of) that have participated in the ecology of my dissertation. I’m certain I have left out some and for that I apologize. The beginnings of my dissertation, the forming of the ecology of what it has become, began in North Africa, but the real work of the work happened over years in and around places with people and things who contributed to that effort.

I could not have done this without them.

Dr. Estee Beck has a stylish comfortable office for meeting with students and telling them how to be better writers. She is very good at this. She is also an expert in teaching time management, responding to drafts, and juggling a million things.

J.R. Bentley’s is very quiet between 1-4 pm—a perfect place to think and write. When not quiet, a place for great conversation and company.

Carlisle 409 is home to the couch of wisdom, sleep, and laughing, vortex of all good beginnings and the ten commandments.

El Jem endures as one of Northern Africa’s largest Roman structures. It sits in the desert under a wide expanse of sky. The chambers for the gladiators resonate in the underbelly of my dissertation.

Sean Farrell makes a great sock puppet. He also enjoys movies, teaches too much, and looks fantastic in a suit.

Dr. Luann Frank will make you a Heideggarean without your knowledge or permission. She also possesses the unique talents of smacking a table so that it shapes up and yelling Vagina Dentata with intensity.

Erin Galland is my person. She is telepathic (if you are me) and an amazing crier. She feels the world in all its ugliness and beauty which makes her the most well-rounded person alive.

Dr. Jason Hogue knows a lot about trees. On long walks he will identify them and explain their reproduction much to your delight. His real superpowers, however, are his enduring friendship, great debating skills, and love of music.

Larry Huff spent his days at UTA doing his rounds in a dapper hat and bow tie. His visits included stories of his personal history, the history of Arlington, and occasionally a small jar of honey. He is sorely missed.

Hurricane Harvey produced awesome and terrible ruin–in landscapes, writing, and lives. Harvey also produced opportunities to radical transformation.

Dr. Penny Ingram has been a damn good advisor to the graduate students at UTA through her role as graduate advisor and as EGSA faculty sponsor. She also possesses a commanding voice, a sharp wit, and courage to speak truth.

Margie Jackymack is the unsung hero of the English department. When she goes on vacation, things just don’t work right. She also possesses an uncanny ability to know what you need and then make it happen.

Jeff and Janet Kirk have many children. I am the best one. They are really the reason I love to read, to learn, and to think.

Hope McCarthy is full of grace and courage. She carries a Victorian secret identity. She doesn’t know that she is an example of those traits to those who know her.

Jeffrey Marchand is fiercely and unapologetically himself and allows everyone else the same freedom. His catch phrases, “I have a problem with that…” and “Yeah, I’d do that,” will push you to change your perspective. He will also always have something fun to do and a solid hug available in times of need.

Dr. Rachael Mariboho’s kindness falls into the realm of magical realism and, if you are lucky enough to experience it will be able to survive anything—especially the first year of a PhD program.

Christina Montgomery knows what it’s like to parent teenagers and can offer great insight and hugs when needed. She also knows what it’s like to work her tail off, fight the Man, and do work that matters.

Catherine Morphis will drive an hour to a foreign film in the middle of the night with someone she just met. She works as a Grand designer and dreamer with the energy to bring her creations to life.

Paper Mate Flair Pens make the page a more colorful and enjoyable place. They do not bleed, and their color combinations are infinite.

Lauren Phelps is a quiet force for thoughtful change, not to be underestimated. She has excellent taste in historical periods and moonlights as a knowledgeable and entertaining Chicago tour guide.

Dr. Tim Richardson plays great ambient sound for writing, which means sharing an office wall with him will never be to your detriment. He also encourages his students to experiment and tries new things out himself from time to time.

Dr. Ken Roemer exudes a rare utopian spirit that makes him unroastable. His smile and his generosity make everyone’s day better. He also leaves great books in the Little Free Library outside Carlisle Hall.

Abigail Rowntree is an expert organizer and leader. She will make sure things are in their place and that the ship does not get off course.

Ayla Rowntree takes after her namesake by riding wild, loving hard, and working with purpose. She also writes excellent notes of encouragement.

David Rowntree makes things happen. He fixes everything from cars to trampolines to hearts. His willingness to go along with hair-brained ideas makes him the best life-traveling companion.

Haley Rowntree has a unique laugh that is infectious and can dye hair with panache. She loves long nails, but don’t let them fool you. She is also a fierce warrior who won’t hesitate to break those nails for those she loves.

Jared Rowntree will always ask provoking questions, like “why am I me?” and remind you to pay attention to the small things. He also can talk for many hours about Nissans and other cars and will not care if you understand what he is saying.

John Rowntree will gruffly tell anyone they need to man up when they need it. He cooks excellent pork tacos and knows that a wire is not a wire.

Josh Rowntree shows respect to those around him, can have a memorable conversation in five minutes, and goofs around at family dinners.

Wesley Rowntree keeps the world from settling. He makes the atoms in the air move with him. He will hug wrestle at any time. He also loves shenanigans that make you laugh.

Rod Sachs is an activist, realist, idealist, but not-an-ist. He is a dismisser of systems, sharer of dreams, world traveler, storyteller, and heart healer. He is also an excellent house guest who will leave everything (and everyone) in better shape than when he arrived.

Yael Sasley not only manages graduate students with efficiency she also has a smile that can cheer the most melancholy visitor to the English department office. Her forthcoming vegan cookbook is sure to be full of mouth-watering recipes.

Bethany Schaffer can do a comp exam cheer that will knock your socks off. She throws a great wedding, makes every student feel valued, and is a great mama.

Dr. Sarah Shelton cannot be described. She is a mythical creature of affirmations, cheeky chokies, and magical dancing. Queen of assassins and listeners. You want her in your corner. She is also a superior travel companion, party thrower, and a million other mythical beings.

Joul Smith is an aspiring cult leader of the best kind. That beard. He is also a neo-romantic. Follow his musings and never be disappointed.

Vince Sosko is the kind of man who gives you his jacket when he’s cold. He is an excellent dancer, a concerned feminist, and the kind of man who should be kinder to himself.

Dr. Stephanie Tavera is a vigilante for justice who talks 90 miles an hour and always has something to say. She is dedicated to intellectual badassery. Work with her and you will always do better work for trying to keep up.

Connor Stratman writes poetry on the extraordinariness of the ordinary. He sings with emotion and plays the guitar for others to sing along.

Dr. Kathryn Warren can recite Romantic poems with a soothing voice. She also makes academia easier for others and writes great essays.

Acknowledgments: Part I

First, I would like to express my gratitude for the Office of Graduate Studies and The College of Liberal Arts who provided me with a Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship to finish the project this summer. The English Department staff, Yael Sasley and Margie Jackymack, have been instrumental in not only helping me navigate the inner workings of the university system but also in making me feel welcome. Bethany Schaffer is a gem, the most cheerful person I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with. Dr. Penny Ingram first talked me into applying to the PhD program and I will always be grateful for her frank advice and support. Dr. Amy Tigner told me there would be time for art when I finished and many other encouraging things that helped me see that graduate school would not last forever. Dr. Kathryn Warren for the poetry recitations, the deep conversations, and the unfailing support. Dr. Justin Lerberg and Dr. Mike Brittain both contributed to my professional development in administration and their optimism about my skills still might be slightly exaggerated. I appreciate their counsel and leadership.

It has been a tradition in my PhD program to post the acknowledgments page on Facebook. I am going to post mine here in two parts. The first part is copied and pasted from my dissertation. Part II is a slightly cheekier and more personal version.

The community of students that I have come to know and love have been my tribe. From our first class, I knew that I had found a friend in Dr. Sarah Shelton. I am so grateful for her wisdom and her wit. Dr. Stephanie Peebles-Tavera and Joul Smith contributed hours of conversation and support to my development as a writer and person. I am grateful for Catherine Morphis, Rod Sachs, and Connor Stratman who inspired me by choosing their own paths. For Dr. Hope McCarthy whose indomitable spirit taught me a great deal about doing hard things. For Jeffrey Marchand who never failed to give me more to read and contributed hours of his time reading and responding to my drafts. For Dr. Jason Hogue, officemate extraordinaire, who has been my partner in so many things but especially in writing and thinking. For Vince Sosko who showed up at the most unexpected moments to tell me that I am great. Dr. Christina Montgomery and Lauren Phelps who can do anything and whose passion for their work is contagious.

I could not have asked for better professors. Dr. Luanne Frank taught me to read closely and to summarize. Dr. Timothy Richardson who let me experiment with sock puppets and who has continued to contribute to my understanding of rhetoric and theory. Dr. Ashley Miller served on my exam committee and taught me so much about scholarly writing and Romanticism. Dr. Ken Roemer has been a light and an encouragement. Dr. Estee Beck dramatically shaped my dissertation by introducing me to rhetorical ecologies and cultural rhetoric. While it was too late
for her to join my committee, her influence is throughout my dissertation. Dr. Stacy Alaimo’s scholarship has also been a guide and inspiration for my work.

Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank my dissertation committee. Dr. James Warren taught me to argue and to stand up for myself. Dr. Kevin Gustafson, a true delight, has been willing to go along with my wild ideas and supported my work at every turn. Dr. Karl Petruso started me thinking about ruins in new ways and has continued to provoke thoughtful questions. And last, but certainly not least, Dr. Kevin Porter who has been a stalwart advisor. He has taught me many things and I am so grateful to be the recipient of the best of his pedagogy of charity. I am indebted to him for his wisdom and for the ways he has challenged my understanding of meaning.