Archive for ‘cBlog’

April 9, 2015

The Writing Center as Bike Co-Op

bike co op

“What does a Writing Center do?” It’s a complicated question, and people have come up with a number of metaphors to explain what writing center consultants actually do. The one thing that we’re darn sure we’re not  is a “fix-it shop.” Many articles about writing centers criticize those who consider a writing center a place where students take papers to get them cleaned up and “fixed,” with no real collaboration between the student and the WC consultant. Of course, this is a good message: we want to avoid merely “fixing” a paper for a student like the Best Buy “Geek Squad” fixes computers (or used to, anyway.) The focus is on trying to change a writer’s writing process for the better, not just make one paper look nicer. (“Teach a man to fish…”)


However, I think that perhaps part of the reason that the “fix-it shop” metaphor works so well as a straw man is because it feeds the English major’s (often) inherent mistrust of the mechanical world, of being connected to technological work, working with one’s hands–an area of expertise most of us (definitely me) do not have much experience in. No, ours is a loftier mission. We aren’t a fix-it shop, we’re artists!


But I’ve seen mechanical metaphors for writing work very well. For example, Roy Peter Clark’s writing handbook “Writing Tools” ( pushes against the Romantic ideal of the writer as tortured soul and diviner of spirits, replacing it with a straightforward, mechanical mindset of things that often work and things that definitely don’t. He provides a tool set of 50 well-tested strategies in the book, including writing instruction greatest hits like “The Ladder of Abstraction” (move up it and down it, but don’t stay in the middle!) This mindset is not just for beginning writers. I think it can help clear the head of a more experienced writer desperately trying to reinvent the wheel instead of looking into her trusty set of tools that have worked just fine in many situations.


And to the list of metaphors we’ve heard for the mission of the Writing Center, I’ll add my own, somewhat Truman-specific: “The Center as Bike-Co-op.” I recently took my bike to the co-op for the first time to have a broken spoke replaced. I have very little experience in fixing bikes, and so I like how the co-op gets students to fix the bike themselves while the co-op member tells the student what to do. When it came time to true the wheel, the student helping me first began tightening spokes to show me how to do it. Then suddenly came the terrifying offer: “Now you try!” Terrifying because I hadn’t really been paying attention, thinking he’d do all the work for me. But I quickly figured out the simple process with his guidance and trued the wheel on my own. (By the way, I didn’t know ‘true’ was a verb before that day. Auto/bike shop neologism?)


Might we have something to learn from this model? In many situations, we deal with students with very little prior experience either in one specific aspect of writing or many. They don’t have the tools, and we do. In such cases, it’s best to invite the student to try out the tools themselves. The co-op’s method of providing the tools, showing how something is done, and then having the bike owner do it for themselves clearly works very well in such situations.


I ran into a situation like this the other day. A student used passive voice several times in each paragraph. After explaining the difference between active and passive voice, and the advantage of active voice, I showed an example of how you would go about fixing a sentence with an avoidable passive voice problem. Then I had her fix a couple sentences on her own. First I told her exactly what to do, but then she had to take ownership of the process. And once you learn how to fix a bike…well, hopefully that works the same as learning to ride it.
February 26, 2014

Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History

English majors often look at literature through theoretical lenses.  Each theory is equally unique and thought-provoking but often times English majors favor a certain theory just a little bit over the rest (kind of like parents do with their children).  We never really admit it, but the favoritism is printed in black and white.  I will admit that I often take a psychoanalytical approach to most of what I read and write, but this semester that seems to be changing.

At the beginning of the semester, I walked into Dr. Woodcox’s Restoration and 18th Century British Literature class not knowing what to expect.  Originally, when I thought of literature from this era, scientific documents and dry diaries came to mind.  This class has proven me wrong on so many levels and it all has to do with the women from the 18th century.

The women of the Restoration and 18th century era were revolutionary bad asses, not only fictionally but literally as well.  Women like Margaret Cavendish, Mary Wortley Montagu, and Eliza Haywood publically voiced their opinions through essays, short stories, and plays.  They faced ridicule from both men and women during their lifetimes but are now well-known and respected authors of their time.  I have been blown away by the amount of girl power that can be found in the literature from the 18th century.

A fantastic example of “girl power” in the 18th century is Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina”.  For those of you that have not read this particular short story, I strongly suggest it.  It is a saucy tale about a young woman who becomes enamored with a fellow courtier while disguised as a prostitute.  The two become lovers, but the man in question quickly becomes disinterested.  Our main character, Fantomina, continues to pursue the same man through different disguises until she becomes pregnant and is sent to a French monastery.  Essentially, the story is an earlier and more risqué version of the chick flick John Tucker Must Die.

Although this particular short story seems to follow the typical layout of a novel during the 18th century on the surface, it really has more feminist undertones than many of the works before its time.  Not only is this piece written by a woman, but the main character—also a woman—has full control over her lover.  She has her lover hoodwinked throughout the entire story, up until the very moment she confesses her scheme during childbirth.  This level of female power was never depicted in everyday life in the 18th century.  Haywood is bold in suggesting that women could actually be the seducer in a romantic relationship or ever have the upper hand.  These revolutionary ideas were taken with much criticism by the public, but they were still widely read during the era.

Female authors were not the only ones with powerful female characters.  In Daniel DeFoe’s Moll Flanders, main character Moll has complete and utter control over her life.  She calls the shots and does not let her husbands or children hold her back from what she wants.  Many dislike Moll Flanders and her self-absorbed approach to life, but I think she is a ballsy woman that doesn’t get as much credit as she deserves.

All of these real and fictional women from the 18th century have shown me that a feminist outlook on life has existed for an extremely long time.  As I said before, I often prefer to look at literature through a psychoanalytical lens.  This course has made feminism so much more intriguing for me than it ever was in the past.  Thanks to the women of the 18th century, my favorite theoretical approach to literature may have some competition.

February 13, 2014

Kate Turabian and the Footnotes Hit the Scene

A new band has appeared on the McClain hall music scene: Kate Turabian and the Footnotes, formed entirely out of musicians from the Writing Center. Taking their inspiration from Turabian’s uncompromising, high-flying Chicago Style, the group featured lead, rhythm guitar, and vocals by Alexus, tambourine and vocals by Lacy, and First Act drumset/water cooler by Dave, violin and mandolin harmonies by Conor, ukulele accompaniment by  Kevin, and occasional grooves on the toy xylophone by Jamie. The set list included “Wagon Wheel,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “London Calling,” and “Home.”

Early reviews of KT and the Footnotes have described their sound as “acoustic, rough-cut and punchy, like pre-Beatles John Lennon” and “like a smashup of John Cage, Van Morrison, and the Roots (when they ironically play toy instruments with Jimmy Fallon [but really well because they care about their music] ).” Reviewers particularly praised the polyrhythmic percussion between the water cooler jug and the tambourine.

Much speculation surrounds the next performance of Kate Turabian and the Footnotes, who plan to continue playing at off-the-path venues to develop their Chicago Style sound. However, sources indicated that the next session could be within the month. Get cited, folks.

October 7, 2013

Consultants at the Lake

This Saturday, several WC consultants and their fearless, cargo-shorts-wearing leader set out for Thousand Hills State Park for an afternoon of chili, hot dogs, chili hot dogs, taco salad and various other snacks and drinks.  They played frisbee by the shore, somehow managing to keep the disc away from a watery fate by finesse and hustle, until a certain individual wearing cargo shorts sent it between two people and into the waves. However, while staring ruefully at the frisbee and preparing to abandon it to the fish, they realized it was slowly working its way towards shore. Encouraging it with tossed rocks, and with the chord progression from Elvis Costello’s hit “What’s So Funny ‘Bout (Peace, Love and Understanding)” played on a mandolin, Jamie was eventually able to snag the wayward frisbee with a long stick, to the delight of all.

This propaganda is brought to you by the Writing Center Social Committee (WCSC). The WCSC desires a larger turnout for its future events and is devising a campaign of snark, promises of food, and passive-aggressive arm-twisting to accomplish this objective. When meeting in their usual alleyway, members’ talks have centered around a movie night, possibly with a theme of B-movie horror.

The Social Committee: Enjoyment is voluntarily mandatory.

September 16, 2013

Solving the Oxford Comma Problem: A Platonic Dialogue

One June morning, an Oxford Professor of English, whose lectures had been unattended during the summer term,* was taking a stroll of the grounds when an American journalist crossed his path, taking pictures with her large black camera. They greeted each other wordlessly, the Professor nodding his head sideways and half-smiling, the Journalist raising her eyebrows civilly.

Then the Journalist remembered something.

“Excuse me, sir,” she called after him. “I have a quick question for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” said the Professor readily. “That is to say—I believe I have time for a question, so long as it is, as you say, quick,” he added, though he was secretly delighted by the distraction.

“I am an American journalist here to report on medical research at Oxford, but I love literature, too,” said the Journalist. “And I was afraid I would end up visiting this place without ever getting to ask an Oxford prof about the Oxford comma!”

“Oh dear me,” said the Professor, preparing himself for a bitter argument. “I fear we will find we have great difference of opinion on this matter.”

“Well, maybe not,” said the Journalist. “We’ll see. You probably know that the Associated Press Stylebook has for years mandated that when you list items in a simple series, you should use commas, but not before the conjunction. In other words, you ought to say, ‘Richard Nixon was a fraud, a liar and a crook,’ no comma before the ‘and.’”

“Just so,” said the Professor. “And you know, of course, that the University of Oxford Press has—since time immemorial—preferred a comma for the final item of the series, before the conjunction. Thus you would have ‘Guy Fawkes was a Jesuit, an Englishman, and a traitor,’” he concluded, saying ‘comma’ aloud punctiliously each time it occurred in his example.

“Yes,” said the Journalist. “And in an American context, we see that comma as unnecessary, and a sort of affected Anglicization. An American using it is trying to put on airs—like spelling ‘gray’ with an ‘e.’

“Well now,” said the Professor.  “You Yanks are always so brutally forthright in your opinions and your series of items, no helpful pauses to allow what has been said already to be digested properly. And what would be so wrong with re-Anglicization, after all?”

“You have to admit, though, that in a simple series, the comma is not necessary for the meaning of the sentence,” said the Journalist.

“Sure, I will grant you that,” said the Professor. “But does precedent and tradition mean nothing to you?”

“Eh,” said the Journalist, squinting her eyes thoughtfully. “It depends what the tradition is, I suppose.”

“However, I am afraid I now have the minority view, even within the school from which the serial comma gets its name,” began the Professor wearily. “The revised University of Oxford Press Styleguide now says, and I quote, ‘As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used – especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and.’ See what they have done, those iconoclastic, hair-shirted villains!” he cried rather loudly, frightening a magpie from a nearby branch.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” said the Journalist kindly.

“Still and all, there are instances when even your cold, utilitarian AP Stylebook admits that the serial comma is absolutely necessary,” said the Professor.

“It’s true,” said the Journalist. “For example, and I quote from the Stylebook: it should be used ‘if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: ‘I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast,’” she said, verbalizing each comma. “Since ‘ham and eggs’ is a set phrase that includes ‘and,’ there has to be a comma before the first ‘and.’”

“Correct,” said the Professor. “But there are even more serious cases in which a comma is non-negotiable—in which grave ambiguities could result from a lack of punctuation!”

“What cases do you have in mind?” asked the Journalist.

“Good gracious, it gives me goose-flesh just to think of them,” said the Professor, shuddering. “But one of the most noxious is the following: ‘This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.’”**

“What’s the big deal?” asked the Journalist, taking out her notebook.

“Why, don’t you see?” said the Professor. “Punctuated in that way, the sentence seems to suggest that the writer’s parents are Ayn Rand and God!”

“Holy Deepthroat, Batman!” exclaimed the Journalist, scribbling illegibly. “I see what you mean now.”

“Yes, yes, perhaps now you see why we at Oxford have traditionally chosen careful restraint over incautious assumptions of clarity.”

“Sure, I can. Yet I hope you will agree that there is some merit to our side of the story. In so many contexts, the serial comma is just clutter, an extra stumbling block. For example, in the sentence ‘Duke Ellington composed, arranged, and played jazz music,” that comma just steps on the flow of the sentence, like a false note.”

“Of course, yes. Verily so. It seems we all live just long enough to see ourselves proved the fool,” said the Professor ruefully. “Perhaps, at least, you can learn from my mistake, and prepare yourself for the day when the next generation will be making fun of your most beloved institutions—Twitter, perhaps, or Greek yogurt. Vile stuff, really, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Ha!” laughed the Journalist. “The sun will never set on Greek yogurt’s day. However, thank you very much for your time, sir. Our conversation has been illuminating.”

“And the same to you,” said the Professor. “I always enjoy speaking with our American friends.”

They shook hands and parted ways. For some days afterward, the Journalist hesitated just a moment before plunging her spoon into her Greek yogurt.

*Gerard Manley Hopkin’s “On the Origin of Beauty: A Platonic Dialogue” begins with the same premise—of an unattended Oxford professor with too much time to muse upon a subject.

**Example taken from Mental Floss article: “The Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars.” They have many other fun examples, and arguments for and against the serial comma:

September 9, 2013

Game Day at the Writing Center

The Writing Center Social Committee, an institution of vast resources and shadowy, ominous prestige, hosted a “voluntarily mandatory” day of board games this Saturday. On an otherwise balmy, innocent late summer afternoon, a crowd of WC consultants struggled for ore and lumber in Settlers of Catan, strove to survive the zombie apocalypse in Last Night on Earth, and squabbled over a stolen haul in Cash and Guns. Food appeared, was collectivized, and eaten rapidly. It included red velvet cookies from Erica, buffalo chicken dip from Kevin, and brownies of mysterious eclectic composition but excellent taste from WC Director Dave.

Having demonstrated its decision-making capabilities, the WCSC is rumored to be considering a further campaign of events soon, but no one is entirely certain when they will strike again. However, anonymous sources close to the story indicate that news will be broadcasted via the WCSC’s propaganda office’s emails, and possibly via bullhorns.

March 7, 2013

Question of the Week

At the Writing Center we have a question every week on our chalkboard for the consultants to answer. Typically, the question is a considerable one, a venerable and ancient mystery, perhaps touching on the social contract or the great sadness of the world.

This week’s question was, “If you had to eat only one thing for a whole week, what would it be?”


Pizza (I can have a different kind every meal)


Blogger’s note: isn’t this kind of escaping the problem? I leave that for you to decide, dear Reader.


Cocoa Puffs



Reese’s Puffs












French Fries

-Anon. (as well as most of the continental United States)


Keep your eyes out for future WC questions of the week and our consultants’ carefully considered, illuminating responses!

October 30, 2012

Anonymous Magnetic Poetry, Harvested on Tuesday, Oct. 30

Students, WC consultants, and mischievous wind spirits have been observed moving word magnets on the Writing Center’s magnetic cabinets to create poems. Here are some of the tastiest of Monday’s harvest.


why incubate that stare you dress as knowledge

emerge the shadow of luscious power pictured

in global screams   smear a bitter symphony on

success   a robust hit

     do you feel frantic

          utilize eternity

                     I shot the boy in the black suit

I drool languidly

I please death

by worshipping life


all the men identify a suit above vision


copy delicate form not for profit






create a


a purple flood voids my fiddle

sun sings the garden apparatus

under crushing rain    read tiny life

Two of the poems took on shapes that were impossible to reproduce in word-processor text:

Note how the wordy, weighty corporate-lingo words appear to break the back of the sentence below them.

‘Nuff said.

October 30, 2012

Shelby’s Paper Plate Poem

Tuesday morning breakfast in the WC became an opportunity for poetry. Click photo to enlarge.

September 27, 2011

Life as a spiraling force, movin’ through the universe . . .

. . . unencumbered by modular time concepts.

This is the first post.  It was forged by the Dark Lord Dave.  It serves as a replacement for that “Hello World” thing.  This particular component of the periphery is the “Consultant Blog” or “cBlog.”  This should be used for writing-related posts by consultants.  Please, someone, write another post and categorize it under cBlog.  Don’t make it too good, or else no one will want to follow it.