it’s 2017, time for a new story project

I’m still working on my intellectual history project, but I’m a bit stuck as I figure out what to do with it next and how to move forward with it in light of the super shitty post election U.S. While I think about that, I’m embarking on a new story project about running and training for a marathon. It’s called Run! (which is a reference to the women with a British accent on my Couch to 5k app in 2011 who would signal the start of each run segment by urgently declaring, “Run!”). Here’s what I wrote about it on my about page:

On October 1 2017, I will be running the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. My first marathon. I’ve been running since June of 2011 and finally feel ready to take on the distance. As part of a celebration and sustained focus on running, and to help keep me inspired and motivated over the long months of training, I’ve decided to embark on a new story project about running.

Inspired by Poverty Creek Journal, which I just finished reading, this story project is structured around a daily log of my training. As I briefly record some details of my run, I hope to add in reflections on running, reading, writing, thinking, feeling, engaging, surviving (post-2016) and being/becoming.

The project also includes my running stories and a resources page where I’m archiving books, movies, blogs, articles and more that shape my process (mentally, physically, emotionally) of training to run for four hours without stopping.

Site: Run! a story project about running

Shifting Questions

Since November of 2015, I’ve been working on a story project about my teaching life. By this October, I had finished two-thirds of it: 1. I am a Teacher!, about my past life as a formal professor, and 2. I was a Teacher., about recovering from my loss of passion for teaching and my exploration of new ways to be. I planned to write the third part, Am I still a teacher?, about imagining new ways to be a teacher, before the end of 2016. Then the election happened and I found myself struggling to write. Doubts about my project and whether or not it makes sense or has any value intensified as I was forced to confront what I already knew but was, before November 8th, able to ignore, or at least push aside: the system is fucked (and fucked up). I could say more about what I mean here and hopefully will soon, but if I try right now, I won’t ever get to the actual point of this post. 

This struggle has got me stuck and compelled me to wrestle with some new haunting questions. How do I respond to the fucked-up-ness of it all? What can I, as someone who has studied oppression, feminist movement and resistance for 20 years and has a Ph.D in troublemaking, offer to others? These questions are very difficult and without easy answers, but they are urgent and necessary and might help me to respond to and move beyond the question that prompted me to begin this project in the first place but that now seems too self-centered and unimportant.

Not, Am I still a Teacher? but How can I (best/most effectively) be a Teacher?

Today, in mid December, just days before the electoral college officially votes, I want to shift away from the question, am I a teacher?, to, how can I be a teacher in ways that enable me to use my skills to help others (and myself) to resist, refuse, reimagine and reclaim? One tentative answer: by crafting a resource guide (in syllabus form) for how to stay in trouble. I’ve already started collecting resources in Staying in Trouble: Post Election.

On not needing permission

A few weeks ago, I encountered the following quotation from Trinh T. Minh-ha on my Facebook feed:

S/he who writes, writes. In uncertainty, in necessity. And does not ask whether s/he is given the permission to do so or not.

Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman Native Other (8)

I love this quotation and the book it comes from. I’ve used and taught Woman Native Other many times. Her belief in the writer who doesn’t ask for permission is a nice contrast to Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea that women need permission and that she, as a hall monitor, can give it to them (she’s said this in many different interviews. Here’s one source).

I meet people who want to be doing interesting and creative things and they’re stuck,” she says. “Women especially seem to feel they need a permission slip from the principal’s office before they’re allowed to do anything, and I’m so happy to just be constantly writing those permission slips for everybody.

I’m the hall monitor: You have a pass and you have a pass and you have a pass,” she says, handing out imaginary passes. I’m very happy to have that be my job, or one of my jobs.

Gilbert

Yuck. As a teacher/guide/mentor, I’m not interested in granting permission. Why reinforce the power structure of an Authority figure who must say it’s okay? Why have a hall monitor?

Bewilderment

I love this description of bewilderment by Fanny Howe:

There is a muslim prayer that says, “Lord, increase my bewilderment,” and this prayer is also mine and the strange Whoever who goes under the name of “I” in my poems–and under multiple names in my fiction–where error, errancy and bewilderment are the main forces that signal a story.

A signal does not necessarily mean that you want to be located or described. It can mean that you want to be known as Unlocatable and Hidden. This contradiction can drive the “I” in the lyrical poem into a series of techniques that are the reverse of the usual narrative movements around courage, discipline, conquest, and fame.

Weakness, fluidity, concealment, and solitude find their usual place in the dream world, where the sleeping witness finally feels safe enough to lie down in mystery. These qualities are not the stuff of stories of initiation and success.

Fanny Howe

Stories that aren’t about courage, discipline, conquest, fame or success. Yes!

A List and an account

Even though I haven’t been posting much on this blog lately, I have been working and writing a lot. In honor of my love of lists, here’s one describing what I’ve been doing this fall:

List! Fall 2016: Some Activities

  • Completed a draft of two of the three sections of A Troubling Teaching Portfolio
  • Planned to send those sections out to some people to get their feedback but somehow got stuck in messy, unfinished bits, lost steam and still haven’t even contacted anyone about reading it
  • Posted all of it, along with an edited version of my unofficial student transcripts, on its own site
  • Tried to prepare for the most difficult running race I’ve ever done, the “loony challenge” which entails running a 10k and 5k back to back on Saturday and then 10 miles on Sunday, and completed it even though I wasn’t really “trained up.” Ignored the reality that I am 42 years old and need to take longer recovering from loony races and ran a fast 4 miles only 2 days after the race was over. Developed some sort of hamstring injury and now, over a month later, still only running 5 or 6 miles a week. But, that’s okay, well almost, because I got to run in the same 10 mile race as Gwen Jorgensen!
  • Attempted to endure the increasingly terrifying and horrific nightmare that is the 2016 Presidential election by limiting my social media consumption, working on writing projects, binge-watching The Great British Bake-off and (not quite) obsessively following Gwen Jorgensen on Instagram and Twitter as she trained for the New York City Marathon
  • Learned that, contrary to my original assessment that best disease is the best disease having quirky vision problems is not that awesome and while finally knowing what has been wrong with me for so long is a relief it also becomes an excuse for closing myself off from the world even more
  • Tried unsuccessfully to read several books from the library. One was too long, one was too sad and one I just didn’t like.

Guess who picked up some books at the library today? #undisciplinedreading

A photo posted by Sara Puotinen (@undisciplined) on

  • Even as I struggled with doubt over what I’m doing and who, at age 42, I’ve become, experienced moments of joy and felt proud of myself and my willingness to confront the questions that haunt me

An Additional Account for my Student Transcripts

As I work on my teaching portfolio, I’m planning to combine it with my student transcripts to create an unDisciplined Dossier. Here’s the first draft of an account about my student life in high school, that I plan to add to the edited version of my transcripts:

Practice!

In this account, I reflect on my love of practicing the clarinet, which I did frequently between the ages of 11 and 22. I was that weird band nerd who loved practicing scales: majors and minors up to five sharps and flats, three octaves, and very, very fast. I found comfort in the repetition of the notes. And I was energized by the challenge of it: I could memorize and perform the scales quickly, but even after years of practice, just barely. 

I didn’t include this account in the first edition of my transcripts because it seemed to contradict my claim to be unDisciplined. Isn’t devoting hours to practice every week for more than twelve years and being deeply involved in band, orchestra, woodwind ensembles, clarinet lessons and more, evidence that I was very disciplined? 

I started playing clarinet in 5th grade. Why the clarinet? I can’t quite remember. I think it was because we already owned one, a plastic Bundy, that one of my older sisters had played for a few years in high school. Did I love it right away? I can’t remember that either. But I must have; I kept playing it all through elementary school, junior high, high school and college. I even played in a few ensembles in graduate school.

It’s hard to overstate how important the clarinet was for me. It shaped my junior high, high school and college years. Countless recitals, private lessons, band, orchestra and youth symphony rehearsals, honor band auditions, orchestra concerts and daily practices. On the first day of band rehearsal of my first year at Gustavus Adolphus College I (Sara, age 18) met my husband, Scott. He played the clarinet too and sat one chair behind me.

Why did I play the clarinet for so long? While many reasons come to mind, one that makes the most sense to me now involves my love of practice, repetition and the rituals of sitting alone in a room with a clarinet, a stand, a metronome and sheets of paper filled with notes, preferably sixteenth or thirty-second ones.

When I practiced, I focused more on technique than artistry. I was a skilled technician not an artist. And that was satisfying and comforting to me. I liked practicing and memorizing Baermann scales and finger exercises from my Klosé book. Repeating difficult passages from my band music or etudes in Selected Studies over and over again until I got them right.

I always enjoyed practice more than any performance. Some players feel that the right performance can be religious. A deep and meaningful, almost transcendent, experience of connecting with the music and the audience. Not me. I always liked the private moments, when an intimate, almost sacred, connection with the notes, the music, and my instrument was created through repeated and habitual practice. Who finds transcendence through scales, played to the steady rhythm of a metronome? I did.