The Struggle is Real

I want to write about Jason Palmeri’s Remixing Composition:A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy. I want to talk about how much I appreciate his project, his offering of an alternative history of multimodal composition. I want to tease out the ways in which this book helps my own work with rhetorical delivery, especially since a significant part of my own project is reframing delivery’s history within rhetorical theory/practice.

And yet, for the last 3 days or so, every time I try to sit down to do so, I can’t. It’s been a pretty rough week for me mentally/emotionally. My anxiety and depression flared up swiftly and (mostly) out of nowhere, and I’m having a hard time finding the motivation or energy or spark to create, specifically critical writing. I’m feeling comfortable and confident in my teaching right now, which thankfully is keeping me grounded through this current rough patch. I consider teaching a creative endeavor; since I tangibly see and feel the impact of that work immediately, it’s easy to find the motivation to do it. And thankfully, it’s rare that I cannot muster up the energy to read, since 1) I’m a compulsive reader (like, I’ll read the shampoo bottle in the shower)  and 2) reading, to me, doesn’t require the same type of energy, focus, and engagement as composing/creating does.

However, no matter what I do, when I try, how I try, I’m finding myself unable to compose. And this isn’t just affecting my scholarly/critical writing; I’m hitting a rough spot in my songwriting as well. As I said before, when my anxiety and depression act up at the same time, I often lose my ability to create. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a chicken/egg thing — which one comes first, the anxiety/depression or the loss of creativity? Whatever the relationship, it’s real, and I feel it very deeply. It’s almost an identity crisis — who am I, what am I worth, if I can’t do the thing I do best: create?

The musician part of me has been living with this for so long, I’ve learned to recognize that this is temporary; I will write again soon. And when it happens, I most likely won’t be able to stop for a while. That’s a pattern of mine; I hit a lull where the songs aren’t coming, and then out of nowhere I write 5, 6, 7 songs in an explosive burst. More importantly, I’ve learned that when I am in one of these lulls, I can still be connected to my art, my music, by simply playing. Grab my guitar, choose one of my bands, and run through the catalogue of songs; grab my guitar, play some covers, and figure out how to play a new song; grab my guitar, sit in front of some background tv (baseball, football, old wrestling PPVs, mindless reality shows, etc.), let my fingers and brain just wander for a little. You get the idea.

So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m grabbing my instrument, sitting in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers game, and letting my fingers and brain wander. I can’t write about Palmeri’s inviting, accessible, and useful reframing of multimodal writing pedagogy. Now right now. And I’m going to have to (learn to) be ok with that. I have to listen to and learn from my practice as a songwriter — this is simply a part of my own creative ebb and flow. I have to acknowledge that it’s ok to struggle with my work, my brain, my process, my emotions in my scholarship, which is difficult considering the high (obsessive) standards I (and my anxiety) set for myself. Instead of contributing to the feedback loop of anxiety, instead of forcing a creative act that doesn’t want to come, I’m going to stay connected to my art and practice through another (albeit less creative) avenue, even if that means simply reflecting on how my current struggle with anxiety and depression is effecting my scholarship.

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Anne Frances Wysocki: Writing New Media

Anne Frances Wysocki and company’s Writing New Media has been an enjoyable and valuable read this past week. Foregrounding issues of materiality, multimodality, and even intellectual property, it’s full of both theoretical and practical content for writing teachers/scholars. Most notably, the book contains curricular suggestions for integrating new media focused reading/writing assignments into the classroom. These activities range in depth and complexity, and most can be adapted to a wide range of classes that rhet/comp scholars can find themselves teaching. Not only do I feel like this book will be on my exam reading list, there are also a number of texts referenced within that may end up on my reading lists. All in all – fantastic, valuable read whose core ideas and activities do not feel outdated in today’s technological/compositional environments (important given that this book was published over a decade ago). In fact, I’d love to see an updated edition of this book soon, to address additional/further concerns surrounding new media that have developed since its initial publication.

Anyway…

That quick overview of my impressions/thoughts/takeaways aside, I’d like to reflect on this text briefly in the context of my dissertation work. As I envision it now, my diss will focus on making delivery a (the?) central concern for rhet/comp scholars. Delivery has been chronically undertheorized, ignored for a large part of rhetoric’s tumultuous history, and while many scholars over the past few decades have called (explicitly and otherwise) for closer attention to be paid to delivery, from what I’ve seen, this work has been scattered and marginal (though this is slowly changing). As I’m thinking currently, I want to centralize delivery as the core, defining canon of the rhetorical arts since delivery colonizes every other canon; that is, we encounter concerns of delivery at every moment of the composition process. Given that I’m still in coursework, I’m a little while off from having something more concrete or realized than those scattered thoughts, but hopefully that bit of background helps me frame where I’m coming from as I reflect for a minute on Writing New Media. 

In the introduction, Wysocki makes two important moves when it comes to new media texts and the composition classroom. First, Wysocki feels that the field of new media studies, no matter the disciplinary entry point or perspective, has been historically concerned with either analyzing individual texts or writing about broad contexts and functions, with little-to-no scholarship that “[helps] composers of texts think usefully about effects of their particular decisions as they compose a new media text, [helps] composers see how agency and materiality are entwined as they compose” (6). She claims that writing teachers are in a unique position to facilitate meaningful conversations around composition/reception of new media texts, particularly because we are skilled in “[helping] others consider how the choices we make in producing a text necessarily situate us (or can try to avoid situating us) in the midst of ongoing, concrete, and continually up-for-grabs decisions about the shapes of our lives” and, thusly, “can bring to new media texts a humane and thoughtful attention to materiality, production, and consumption, which is currently missing” (7). This move is essential for my work on delivery; I intend to argue that the exact things she says writing teachers bring to new media studies are all under the domain of delivery. Wysocki highlights how writing teachers can bring attention to “materiality, production, and consumption”; yet each of these concerns deals directly with delivery. We’re so quick, as a field, to tether delivery to the consumption of a text, that we have been blind to the ways delivery is present in the production of our texts via the material concerns of the medium and modality. From the moment of exigence, a rhetor considers how to best reach her desired audience, which includes considering what practices of reading and meaning-making that audience will bring to the text. Such considerations shape decisions related to the material production of the text. Thus, delivery colonizes every part of the composition process, since the audience as well as the socially agreed upon conventions of a given genre are always already present, shaping the text in practical, material ways. And as writing teachers, we know this; we already help our students consider such things as they are composing. It’s about time we rightfully identify these material considerations as belonging to delivery so, as a field, we can begin to centralize delivery in our theory and practice.

Second, Wysocki’s definition of new media isn’t grounded in, and doesn’t rely upon, the digital. Instead, she defines new media texts as “those that have been made by composers who are aware of the range of materialities of texts and who then highlight the materiality” (15). Further, “what is important is that whoever produces the text and who- ever consumes it understand—because the text asks them to, in one way or another—that the various materialities of a text contribute to how it, like its producers and consumers, is read and understood” (15). This definition/understanding leaves room for a wide range of textualities to be considered a new media text, which is hugely important for my dissertation. My argument will be grounded in the claim that delivery has always mattered, has always been concerned with such things as materiality, we just haven’t needed to consider it as explicitly as other rhetorical canons because our composition technologies were limited. While Wysocki doesn’t frame her observations as concerns of delivery, she does notice the same rupture as I have: “we have a time of opening here, a time to be alert to how these choices of material very much articulate into the other structures that shape writing and our lives— and that being alert to these choices can help us shape changes we might want” (10). Digital technologies and new media texts, then, have exposed the importance of delivery, as well as the blind spot surrounding it, that has developed in our field over the passing millennia. By positioning new media texts as those that foreground their materiality, traditional textualities (print and performance, for instance) can still be considered new media. One example I anticipate turning to to exhibit this is the work of novelist Mark Z. Danielewski, particularly his groundbreaking novel House of Leaves. This novel, by calling attention to the materiality of the print novel, created a work of fiction that can ONLY be effectively delivered as a print novel; in other words, the text calls attention to, and relies upon, the delivery system of printed pages bound together in a portable, hand-held form. Wysocki’s definition of a new media text will, without a doubt, become critical for framing my understanding of delivery, precisely because it harkens back to an Aristotelian notion of discovering the available means of persuasion; discovering the best available means of persuasion means considering the material concerns of a given modality, which immediately takes the conversation into the realm of delivery.

So there you have it, some of my quick, initial thoughts and reactions to Writing New Media. I can tell already that this book will become an important one for supporting some of my work on delivery going forward. Good read!

All quotes taken from:

Wysocki, Anne Frances, et al. Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Utah State University Press, 2004.