Writing With My Students: Am I “A Writer”?

This semester, I am not only assigning beaucoup writing assignments to my students – I’m also writing with them.  I can insert many Sound Pedagogical Reasons(TM) here, but really it’s about two things:

(1)  Testing my writing assignments by doing them myself – are these prompts really worth assigning?

(2)  Practicing writing (as we all must do in order to improve at it), instead of sitting around bored-ly as my students practice writing without watching me practice what I’m preaching to them.

Since I was thinking primarily in terms of number 2 when I wrote this semester’s syllabus, I had envisioned writing with my students as they wrote in class.  I forgot that I also assign them writing prompts to address as homework.  When I remembered (this morning in the shower), I realized that I should probably write to those as well.

Like my students, I’ll be trying to keep these to about 250-300 words, or one double-spaced page.  Unlike my students, I’ll be blogging them instead of uploading them to my writing portfolio.  Because a blog is far more public than a locked folder in our school’s course management system, all of these writing responses will be my own.  I will not post any of my students’ writing unless they ask to be posted and until they provide me with a piece they feel is ready for the public eye.  All of these posts can be found in the category “Writing With My Students.”

This Tuesday’s writing prompt (due Thursday):

Who is “a writer”?  Do you consider yourself “a writer”?  Why/why not?


I write for a living.  I teach writing.  I answer the question “what do you do for a living?” with “I’m a writer.”  And yet, for all that, I don’t actually consider myself a writer – because I don’t write fiction.

What I write, professionally, is marketing copy for law firms, recruiting firms, and assorted other businesses.  I also write the occasional study guide or lesson plan or assessments for educational purposes, and I’ve written an awful lot of informational articles about various legal topics, some for highly well-known publishers.  And, most ironically of all, I’ve published a few pieces of fiction.

But there’s still this idea in my head of “a writer” being this person who lives in a remote cabin somewhere and who retires to a desk on the porch or in the attic to pound out X number of words each day, Y number of novels per year.  And because I do so much more than sit at a desk and scribble or type for eight to twenty hours a day – because I don’t subsist on whiskey or grow my own vegetables or live in a large pile of polydactyl cats – I don’t think of myself as “a writer.”  And I suspect that even if I did write a successful novel or twenty, even if the local library devoted a summer community read-along to my latest book and the local college taught a “major writers” course on what I’d produced in my lifetime, I still might not think of myself as “a writer.”

Yet I write.

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autism, changelings, wild children, ogbanje and abiku

Dani Alexis:

I have read exactly two of these so far and the others are all RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS.



Originally posted on Lemon Peel:

To continue my foray into the magical changeling fairy-tale world that Dani Alexis currently hangs out in, I can offer up some fun citations of my own that I culled from my giant, completely disorganized folders of sources. I found most of these back while I was researching either disability in literature/history in general, or the specific figure of the “wild child” (as in Victor of Aveyron, etc. etc.) in Romantic and Victorian philosophical works about language and species.

General bits on changeling myths, disability/abnormality in the Middle Ages, and “wild children”:

Eberly, Susan Schoon. “Fairies and the Folklore of Disability: Changelings, Hybrids and the Solitary Fairy”

Wade, James. Fairies in Medieval Romance (Chapter 1): Fairies and Humans Between Possible Worlds

Bruhm, Steven. “The Counterfeit Child”

Laes, Christian and Katariina Mustakallio. The Dark Side of Childhood in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Chapter 3): Disabled Children in Gregory of Tours


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Another Way to Split the Baby: Chemerinsky and the Roberts Court’s ACA Decision

The Supreme Court’s holding in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius (the “Obamacare” case), with its particular constellation of things-upheld, things-struck-down, and who-voted-with-whom, surprised everyone except me and one commentator at the New York Times.  Both of us called the decision’s basics – 5-4, with Roberts both casting the deciding vote and writing the opinion – and for the same reason: because we saw no way in which Roberts could protect the legitimacy of his Court’s precedent without upholding and no way in which Roberts could limit that holding unless he wrote it.

Recently, however, I reviewed UC-Irvine law professor and much-assigned Constitutional Law casebook author Erwin Chemerinsky’s newest book, The Case Against the Supreme Court (Viking, September 29, 2014).  Chemerinsky argues that if the purpose of the Constitution is to protect fundamental individual rights against institutional power, the Supreme Court has failed in its job to uphold the Constitution, often at the times the Constitution needed it most.  One of these failures, in Chemerinsky’s view, was the Court’s ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius.

I can’t fault Chemerinsky’s reasoning, and I personally think he’s right.  But what his discussion of this case did was to cast my prediction of the case’s holding, and the holding itself, in a new light.

For some time I have, simplistically and cynically, been predicting the Roberts court’s rulings based on the following system:

  • Government vs. individual: government.
  • Business vs. individual: business.
  • Government vs. business: business.
  • State government vs. federal government: states.

This system doesn’t always work – unions are arguably institutional powers, yet the Court treats them like individuals (that is to say, badly), and Scalia’s dogged adherence to the Fourth and Sixth Amendments has produced some rulings in favor of individuals as against government prosecutorial power (for which I am generally grateful).  But this is obviously not a Court that is, in Roberts’ words, “calling balls and strikes.”  This, like any of the Courts before it, is a Court with an agenda – which is how I can create a system for predicting its rulings at all.

Chemerinsky points out that in Sebelius, Roberts finds that conditions on federal funding are unconstitutional for the first time in U.S. history – and for spurious reasons. The fact that those funds are Medicaid funds, intended to protect the health of society’s poorest individuals, cannot be overlooked.  Here we have the federal government losing to the state governments, in the terms of the opinion, and individuals losing to both.  The system requiring individuals to purchase health insurance from private insurers, meanwhile, is a clear case of individuals losing to business – and, while not the Court’s doing, one could argue that the death of the public option represented a loss for government against business as well.

My original prediction/interpretation of the Court’s ruling in this case questioned the continued acceptance of the Court’s precedent.  I still suspect that factored into Roberts’s decisionmaking.  But Chemerinsky has also pointed out to me that, in addition to being a last-ditch effort at legacy preservation, Roberts’s opinion in this case also split this particular baby in the ways that best fit the Court’s framework for protecting (or failing to protect) individual rights against various institutional powers.  Something else to consider in my ongoing struggle/fascination with the Obamacare decision.

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Top Five Things My Students Should Know About Me

This morning, I sent my students the first of we-hope-not-too-many emails they’ll get from me this semester.  My goal was to warn them not to buy their books until after the first day of class before they buy their books.  Every class has a Hermione who already has and has already read them (it’s cool, I was her too), but I’m hoping I got most of them.

What I probably did, though, was send half of them into a panic about OMG CLASSES START IN A WEEK and the other half to Google to find me.  If you are in the latter half (or both halves), hi!

Here are the top five things you should know about the professor you just Googled:

Continue reading

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In “Because I Need More Projects”: Job-Seeking For Autistic Adults

You may or may not have caught my latest post at Autistic Academic: An Autistic Adult’s Guide to Getting Hired.

That is, I have since realized, a hella misleading title, because the post itself is not a guide to getting hired.  It is, rather, my first foray into an idea I return to every time I sit down to write for one of my various recruiting-firm clients: that most job-search advice is useless for autistic adults like me, but that useful job search advice can exist.  It’s just that no one’s writing it.

Well.  I’m autistic, an adult, and co-own a human resources consulting business (I do law, she does management).  And I write for recruiters constantly.  The only thing I’m missing from this equation is time, which is about to be in even shorter supply as I have two first-year writing sections to teach and an MA to finish.

So right now, I’m collecting ideas and anecdotes and answering questions, which I’ll post at Autistic Academic.  Collaborate with me!

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Autism, Changelings, and Developmental Narratives

emmapretzel at Lemon Peel and I have been kicking around the concept of developmental narratives lately.  Or, to be more specific, the linked post made me realize that I have a developmental narrative question of my own to answer.

Google “autism and changelings,” and nearly everything that turns up – including this actual entire article from the Archives of Disease in Childhood – begins and ends its analysis with “once upon a time, changeling stories were probably told about people who had autism.”  Implied, but only stated about half the time, is the second half of that story: “but we don’t anymore, because we discovered science and left behind our silly superstitious forebears in ye Dark Ages.”

Naturally, I think the question is a bit more complicated, or I wouldn’t be trying to write a thesis about it.

In fact, we haven’t left this “superstition” behind at all.  Not only are charities and popular media still selling a conception of autism that involves mysterious, malevolent forces replacing children with changelings, but much of the “science” surrounding autism still deals in this storyline as well – from the persistent “theory of mind” theory to the “weak central coherence” or “lack of empathy” arguments.

In Autism and The Myth of the Person Alone, Doug Biklen notes that perhaps theory of mind and similar ideas worked once as useful metaphors, but we have largely forgotten they’re metaphors, with largely negative results for autistic people as well as for scientific inquiry.  Meanwhile, in The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers dwell at length on the fact that we currently live in a society that is moving too quickly for a mythological structure to take hold – but that, as myth-performing and myth-performative beings, we really can’t live without one.  Our myths, Campbell explains, orient us in our society and our society in the world.  Julius Heuscher, in A Psychiatric Study of Myths and Fairy Tales, makes a similar argument from the point of view of psychology: our brains need mythological structures, and in the absence of a recognizable structure, the brain will attempt to impose one.

If this is the case – that we cannot, in fact, “science” everything and that it may be futile to try – several implications suggest themselves.  At this point, the most pertinent one to me seems to be that if we can’t keep myth out of our science writing, then we need to be aware that we’re using it, and take greater steps to identify our metaphors.  So far, science writing on autism seems largely to have skipped this step.

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The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library: Interviewing Lei

Dani Alexis:

Librareeeeee *flapflapflap*

(Translation: This is one of the coolest projects I have heard about in months…and I like to read about projects. See also the CFP for the Autism and Race anthology by Lydia Brown at Autistic Hoya.)

Originally posted on Thirty Days of Autism:

Hand in hand with speaking out and taking a stand for social justice and human rights, there is an opportunity to explore and celebrate amazing things that are happening within Disabilities and Autism communities.  There are many people creating new projects and participating in posAutive events, and expressing or amplifying the important perspectives of Autistic people and celebrating Autistic pride and culture.

One of those people is Lei Wiley-Mydske. She is the creator, curator, and Director of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library.

leislibrary2.jpgYou read that right! Lei was not satisfied with the focus of the books that were available in her community, and she wanted to make books available that were supportive of neurodiversity and so she just freakin’ started her own library!!

You can probably tell I am pretty enthusiastic about Lei’s project, and I am lucky to live close enough to her that I was able…

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