Apparently, there’s a natural way to plan things. I watched David Allen’s Ted Talk on it, and here are my cliff-notes:
My purpose in writing this blog post was TO WRITE this blog post. What I envisioned was hitting the “share post” button. My brain exploded with a bunch of ideas on a handful of topics that have been swimming around in my mind and about which I have a lot to say. I saw sentences I wanted to write, headlines, quotes I wanted to pull and reflect on, etc. In the amount of time I have right now to write this post—it’s not possible to explore those things. So I structured my ideas within my time and resources. I opened the webpage, and began typing. I won’t choose to link the TED talk to the one above. You can search it yourself if you’re interested. I’m about to “share post.” Hit my purpose, fast!
Not too long ago I started noticing text below photographs shared on Instagram and Facebook. The text was different from captions, wedged separate and within square brackets, like this: [Image Description: ...]. I noticed organizations, businesses, or individuals used that space to describe the photo that they were sharing, in great detail. Why? What is that? I wondered. Don't I already have enough to read?
Pulled straight from Stanford's Online Accessibility Program, here was the short answer to my question:
Image descriptions provide textual information about non-text content that appears on your website, allowing it to be presented auditorily, as visual text, or in any other form that is best for the user.
Who Do Image Descriptions Help?
[End of copy & paste]
Oh, I thought. Why didn't I think of that?
Here's why: I'd never had to! I've got 20/20 vision, consistent access to quick internet, and an ability to interpret both text and images with ease. "Voice recognition software" never applied to me in my every day life, the way it might for someone who relies on it for digesting the daily feed.
I invited myself to the Image Description party, and have since aimed to include image descriptions when I post photos to social media. I don't know that it's the kind of party to which you can invite yourself, but I did.
So far, I'm discovering obstacles and hiccups in writing these descriptions, especially when they include people. The hiccups come in the form of my momentary discomfort: do I name race? gender? time of day I'd assume the photo was taken based on the lighting? The fact that none of the people in the image are in wheelchairs? HOW DETAILED DO I NEED TO BE HERE, PEOPLE?
Writing image descriptions is strengthening my observations skills, and in turn waking me up to some of the discomforts I carry about identities or abilities-- mostly, my discomforts about naming differences. Why the heck is that? No time for guilt here, I'll be done for now.
How can we give things when we don’t want to spend money? Or rather, when we have very little money to spend on other people?
Giving is human nature. The verb “offer” is one of my favorites.
Giving is also power-play. My first course in college, Cultural Anthropology, demanded us to explore the act of gift-giving among our own and other cultures. Holy shit! We -people of the world- give for a lot of reasons. But there’s always strings attached.
I’ve been the recipient of some pretty memorable tangible gifts. I like to give tangible gifts, too. Giving is a way of sharing power. Sharing possession. It’s not bad. It just is. Lately, though, it’s been difficult for me to give tangible gifts. When traveling with dear Leeann, we made a list of giveable things. It’s pretty delightful to see the themes of time, respect, attention, and connection emerge:
Things I can give for almost free:
-My undivided attention
-A smile and/or awkward body language to strangers
-Reminders to friends that I think of them
-Comments of encouragement/appreciation on social media, or in email, or other virtual & visual mediums
-THANK YOU LETTERS
-Uniquely-written life updates
-My true impression of the people I meet, to their face
-An attempt to communicate in someone’s native language
-Bites of my food
-Sips of my drinks
-RESPECT… patience, quietness
-Inquisition when I have a sense something hasn’t quite surfaced in someone yet
-Things I already own
-A funny piece of knowledge, trivia, or a joke
-Dance moves (or, lack thereof)
-Stories from my day
-Stories from my life
-Stories I’ve heard and had noteworthy reactions to
-The benefit of the doubt
-Advice, and judgment-free spaces
-Demonstrations that I remembered something small about someone
-Enthusiasm and celebrations with people even if it’s a minor thing
-The comfy seat, the comfy side of the bed
-Hands in the kitchen
-Serving/pouring/plating/scooping/placing/bringing things (especially a glass of water) to someone without them asking
It’s retrospectively unsurprising that it took me until I had very little in my bank account to realize how important it is for me to be able to GIVE—and that I’d relied on consumerism to so conveniently show something as beautiful and sacred as respect.
Cheers to offering you this brief thinking list on giving! Happy Thursday.
One concern I have for myself as a writer, writing consultant, private tutor and ESL instructor is that I will sustain an attitude of righteousness when helping others improve their abilities to express themselves through speaking or writing.
I attended a workshop called "Power & Privilege in the ESL Classroom," facilitated by Ilse Griffin and Jodi Versaw at the Minnesota Literacy Council. This workshop lasted two hours and addressed the historical context of English, post-colonialism, dominant narratives and white normatives, examples of microaggressions in the ESL classroom, and two approaches to address power and privilege in the classroom: Translingual Orientation and Critical Pedagogies. I'll get into what I learned later but first I wonder is it righteous of me to mention all of this? Am I just trying to prove how "with it" I am on being progressive and aware of my privilege? Maybe. I hope not. I had a few "oh shit" moments at the workshop. Now I want to write about them.
"Colonialism" is a word that scares me. I cringe at "colonialism" because it feels like some secret distant thing that no one ever thoroughly told me about but when I started hearing the word in casual discussion I could sense its negative connotation. Kind of like in high school when I would hear the world "student-debt" thrown around but didn't pay attention to what it meant because it didn't apply to me at the time. While I understand neither student debt nor colonialism completely, both most certainly apply to me now. You too, probably. Definitely colonialism. Consider the colonization of English (surprise!).
All languages developed indigenously. That is to say, languages began at particular places-- the people living in a certain spot spoke a same certain language. Cool. We get it. I learned, though, that the land I live in now recognized as the United States was home to 7 million English speakers in the year 1600 (~1.3% of the world population) and 1.5 billion English speakers 400 years later (~20% of the world population). I mean, these things happen, right?
What!? No! What happened to the indigenous language of the US? Even just my state? The indigenous language to Minnesota is Ojibwe, explained Ilse and Jodi, and is now spoken by the Anishinaabe people in Canada and US border states, according to Google (not that we can trust Google). Indigenous language was pushed aside into a corner like Baby in Dirty Dancing (except with more violence and cruelty). The social constructs of race and language are very closely linked.
When patriotism in the United States began soaring, propaganda asked everyone to speak English so our country would have a common language. Immigrant voices were muted (unless they could be understood through a brogue). Now, monolingualism is standard and us residents of the United States are subconsciously enveloped in the construct of race through colonialism, perpetuating deadly racism. And what can we do? Linguistically, as teachers and citizens and volunteers and instructors, we can be aware of spoken and printed microagressions. Ilse and Jodi offered two approaches.
Translingual Orientation.and Oh Shit Moment Number 1
In a classroom, this approach owns the recognition that there are many different dialects of English spoken all around the world. It may look like a teacher giving feedback to students based on whether their error gets in the way of communication, rather than what is "grammatically correct" (Power & Privilege Handout, Griffin and Versaw). For instance, take a look at this slide:
Whether a student chooses "begun" or "began," "done" or "did" to complete the sentences, the choice does not interfere with the meaning of the sentence. In fact, to me, it seems like a righteous-- even elitist and/or ignorant-- pursuit to correct such a minute detail. It is like when a black voice is praised for sounding so "articulate." Well, what the fuck is "articulate" and what more is that comment saying about black voices not perceived to be "articulate?" Does a person have to "sound white" to be considered articulate? God I hope not. I hope we can change adapt this, because I've been the and met plenty of white people who speak with perfect grammar but say a lot of messy bullshit.
However, when absorbing the slide for the first time, I did NOT see this at first. I immediately began solving them in my head. While imperfect, I do think I have a well-trained ear for grammar and this worksheet came easily to me. I heard the room sprinkle with "oh" and "mmmh" and looked around confused, waiting for the secret reveal-- which was the sentiment of the above paragraph.
As a writers, instructors, and tutors, we can use a translingual approach by using texts that reflect students's identities, a variety of speakers with different accents and different levels of fluency, and give feedback to students based on whether their errors get in the way of communicating their message.
Critical Pedagogies and Oh Shit Moment Number 2
Similarly, take a look at this slide:
My first response to this slide was a little more in-the-know, but still delayed. It took me a second to see it. Did you notice right away that all the jobs are low or medium-level jobs at a hotel? Where is the “Supervisor” or “Manager” position? What about the “Executive Director?” I’m not sure that there’s a special, academic word for it, but worksheets like this one send a message: if you’re learning English you don’t have the capabilities to hold upper-level jobs as a hotel. Perhaps the word is “insulting” or “WRONG.”
Now, the worksheet could have categorized it differently by outright titling it something like “Hotel Support Staff Positions” but still, that’s problematic.
A Critical Pedagogies approach is all about challenging stories, and having students naming a problem. This approach asks the question, “Whose perspective is being left out?” Honestly, we can all take a page from this PowerPoint and apply the Critical Pedagogies approach in every aspect of our lives, not just the ELL classroom.
I believe that both the approaches, in fact, are ones I need to implement in every part of my life—not just the teacher, tutor, or writer realms.
Here are the reasons I am afraid to write a blog:
-It will not be good
-It will not have purpose
-It will not be well-written
-It will not be read
-It will not be engaging for others to read
-It will not be "true-to-me"
-What the hell is "true-to-me"?
-It will document what I think about. More importantly...
-It will document what I don't think about, pronouncing my ignorance
-It will be material for others to use when judging me
-It will advertise my grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, which is the polar opposite of what a freelance writer and private tutor aims to advertise
-It will be another thing with which I fail to follow-through
Here is what I think about blogs in general:
-They are dumb
-They are for people who aren't me
-They are a "dying art." Or, at least, anything you can find in a blog you can find somewhere else
-There are too many of them on the internet
-They are for people who have internet access and a lot of people don't consistently have internet access
-They are for people who are self-absorbed
-They aren't read
-They are for fashion, recipes, celebrity gossip, among other things that capitalize on historically feminine gender roles or
-They are for really smart, engaged people who know way more than I do and woke in ways I'm afraid I'll never actually grow to be
Here are two quotes that I've read in the past 48 hours that I'd like to absorb but also make me roll my eyes:
"Maybe you fear that you are not original enough.
"Maybe that's the problem-- you're worried that your ideas are commonplace and pedestrian, and therefore unworthy of creation.
"Aspiring writers will often tell me, 'I have an idea, but I'm afraid it's already been done.'
"Well, yes, it probably has already been done. Most things have already been done-- but they have not yet been done by you."
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
[Image description: A notebook lays on the ground atop a rug. Two toes peak into the frame. The notebook page reads, in hand-drawn bubble letters, "Perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning. Risk might be our greatest ally. To live a truly creative life, we always have to cast a critical look at where we presently are, attempting always to discern where we have become stagnant and where new beginning might be ripening. There can be no growth if we do not remain open an vulnerable to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that was not rewarded a thousand times over." -John O'Donohue]