Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What First Year Composition Isn't

My three-year term as the University Writing Center Director is coming to a close in May and I find myself filled with emotions. So many unexpected things have happened during my time as director and I've learned so much about people, managing, administration, and negotiating expectations. As a result, I have so much to say, but I will just end my time in this position by sharing some knowledge that has been reinforced for me over and over again during the past three years. It has been quite the ride. With this, I bid adieu to the Writing Center and wish my successor and all of the tutors the very best wishes for a successful operation.

What First Year Composition (FYC) Isn't

FYC is not the training ground for other disciplines. Bio and Psych and Soc and Business and Art (etc) profs who want their students to know HOW to write Bio and Psych and Soc and Business and Art (etc) research papers should dedicate class time to teaching that type of discipline-specific writing. Why on earth is this such a hard concept to grasp? It is infuriating to those of us who try to teach freshmen the basics about how to write at a college level in 15 weeks. We are not multi-disciplinary experts and do NOT teach students how to write in every discipline.

FYC is not the dumping ground for complaints about student writing readiness in the disciplines. While there are research projects generally required in FYC, they vary and may delve into the creative, digital, and multimodal realms instead of remaining locked into one rigid disciplinary style. And guess what? That teaches students flexibility as they learn how to navigate different audiences, different medium expectations, and different rhetorical choices.

The lessons of FYC may not be retained by college students two, three, and four years after they've taken the class. In fact, when students leave FYC, if they do not receive regular writing instruction along with subject studies, they will lose the ability to write coherently and cohesively with research as well as anecdotes. Writing, like any skill, must be PRACTICED.

FYC is not the Holy Grail of writing instruction. It is the rough and ready basic training to get students in shape to continue learning additional writing skills and techniques at the college level. But when those additional lessons are not forthcoming because the other disciplines don't want to spend the time teaching students HOW to write in those disciplines, then the students will not do well. They don't know how to write in those disciplines because no one has taught them how.

FYC is not enough. Fifteen weeks is not enough time to fully train student writers. Fifteen weeks is barely enough time to get them on board. When they leave us, we know what they are walking in to - classes that tell them they must write, but don't explain how. Assignments that ask them to incorporate research in specific ways that they may have never encountered before, but no one is bothering to stop and teach them how to do so in that discipline. Students need more time to develop as writers across the disciplines, and they need the practical instruction of their professors IN those disciplines. Students do not come pre-loaded with disciplinary writing knowledge and it appalls me that there are profs out there who expect this.

FYC is not the enemy. Too many professors and administrators across colleges and disciplines turn their noses up at composition, the professionals who teach this difficult and varied subject, and the students who successfully complete the course. The time for nose turning is over. Enough with the snobbery and unrealistic expectations. Our students come from such immensely varied backgrounds with different levels of experience with writing - some have never written a research paper in high school and have no idea what that even means - others have written advanced research projects that synthesize multiple authors' perspectives. And these two students sit side by side in one of our classes. We must navigate a middle ground between them so that they both learn something. And we do a damn good job of it.

Now, go thank a composition professor, and continue about your day. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

An Open Letter to Student Writers (of All Ages)

Dear student writers,

You may already be rolling your eyes at yet another "older, wiser" adult trying to give you advice. I understand because that's what I would have done at your age. The reason I write to you now, however, really is important. It's about your voice and your writing style. First, let me tell you a story.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher handed back one of my essays with a D on it. As a strong writer from a young age, I was angry. I approached my teacher and asked her why she graded my work with a D? She explained that I wrote the essay wrong, in the wrong tone, in the wrong voice. But I write in my voice, I said, and I included everything you asked for. She shook her head and said, you wrote the wrong way. I advocated for my own voice and was told that I was wrong.

I took the essay to my parents and explained what had happened. To their credit, they have always encouraged my creative expression and individuality in all forms, especially writing, so they set up a meeting with my teacher. The principal attended. I was not present, but they advocated for my voice and because they were adults who knew the words to use, I ended up with a B and a raft of dirty looks from that teacher for the rest of the school year.

That was the moment I understood that there would always be people who disliked my writing voice. But I am stubborn enough to use it anyway. And decades later, when I decided to become a writing professor, that moment rushed back into my mind and I was angry all over again. Never would I make any of my students feel that their writing voices, styles, and choices were wrong.

So that's the takeaway for you. I'm sure you've been told by one or more teachers that you are writing something wrong. If we're talking grammar and spelling and punctuation - easily discovered and fixed errors - that's different. I'm willing to bet that you've heard a teacher tell you that you are writing something the wrong way simply because you chose a different path, a different subject, or a different tone or approach. Perhaps you were trying to infuse a boring litany of facts with some life with an anecdote of personal experience and ended up with a D because you strayed too far outside the rubric's boundaries.

Sometimes, the consequences of advocating for your own voice will be bad grades. In my Master's program, I took a hideous course on James Joyce. I can hear the reverberations of complaints as academics and writers read that phrase "hideous course on James Joyce" because for some reason people love him. Fine. I don't. I'm not a particular fan of Faulkner either. So there. Back to my story. I took this course because I needed a course and that was the only one available, so I struggled through and tried very hard to learn something. Sadly, I suffered then and suffer to this day from Eyerollitis, a low Bullshit tolerance, and Whisperedasideaxis, which means I wasn't the professor's favorite. My final research project was A-level work, but earned a B because he didn't like my attitude. Fair enough. So much for a perfect 4.0. Sometimes you gladly take the consequences just to be yourself.

When it comes to writing, no one has the right to dictate the terms of your creativity, or contain the exuberance of your voice. We get this so wrong in education. What we need in this world is more voices, different voices, unique perspectives, not more of the same, cookie-cutter writers writing the same way about the same subjects ad nauseam.

Please remember this. Remember that whether you are 13 or 16 or 18 or 22, your voice is your own, your style is your own, and your voice is valuable and right just the way it is, as it is. Make sure you hit all of the grammatical correctness issues - proofread carefully and construct confidently - but we need more writers to break down the barriers and push through the boundaries. And although I am loathe to admit it, James Joyce broke those barriers with aplomb, and so did Faulkner. I admire those writers for their willingness to take chances, leap into the unknown with vigor, and flout conventionality. I strive to do the same with my own work and try very hard to help my students see the value of their own words.

Write from your soul. Write what is true and real. Write fearlessly. And don't be afraid when someone, a teacher, a parent, a friend, doesn't like what you've written - it's too unsettling, it's too sad, it's too angry, it's too unfamiliar. Good. Make people uncomfortable. Make us think. Make us wonder. Make those people who say you aren't writing right sit back in wonder as you start to succeed.

Don't let anyone else dictate your voice and you will go far.

- Dr. M.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eight true confessions of a garden dreamer

Confession #1: I just spent $80 on zinnia seeds. But with names like Raspberry Lemonade, Queen Red Lime, White Wedding, and Zaraha Double Fire, how could I resist? :) Ok, so it wasn't the names that got me. It was the color and size varieties. I've decided to focus almost exclusively on zinnias this year as my annuals, which means no big box store or nursery petunias, lobelia, or other potted flowering annual standards for the back yard and most of my pots. That's my gardener logic - I'm spending more on seeds because I'll spend less on potted annuals later.

Oh, who am I kidding.

Hello, my name is Amanda and I'm addicted to my garden.

Confession #2: I'm creating a new garden bed this year just for squash and melons. Last year, the acorn and spaghetti squash took over my main 10' x 14' planting bed, along with the heirloom purple pole beans and sweet potatoes. If you walked by that bed in late July, you would not have known that there were pepper and tomato plants lurking in there. I must have done something right with the soil because everything did really well in that small space, crowding problems aside. But this year, I am DETERMINED to do better. I suspect all gardeners share this sickness.

Confession #3: I miss Paul James, The Gardener Guy. I love to cook, so I enjoy watching cooking shows for relaxation and education. I also read Food & Wine magazine and cookbooks, but sometimes, I just want to kick back with a lemonade and watch some cooking shows and dream. Same thing with gardening. I love to garden. Having my first home means having space for gardens - flowers, perennials, vegetables, fruit, shrubs, and trees. I read gardening books, web sites, and blogs. What I don't have is a good gardening show. Victory Garden on PBS is ok, but it's not on all the time and isn't the kind of hands-on show I'm looking for. I wish #HGTV would either resuscitate The Gardener Guy, or create a new show of the same style and energy as all of those hands-on cooking shows. Honestly, I couldn't care less about yard crashing - that's not useful to me! Nor is it entertaining because who the hell has a crew of 30 people, three days, and a limitless budget to do the overboard shit they do on those shows?! I mean, really. Give me someone who is mildly peppy, knowledgable, and capable of sharing information that helps me to learn something while being entertained. Is that REALLY asking too much #HGTV? Really?? :/

Confession #4: While purchasing my exorbitant amount of zinnia seeds, I also bought a packet of Chianti Hybrid Sunflower seeds that I will attempt to start when I return from this last academic conference of the season. And yes, it is a dark red wine-colored sunflower.

I may weep if the rabbits get these sunflowers.

Confession #5: I seem to be incapable of restraint when it comes to my garden. Whereas in other areas of my life, I am quite capable of showing an abundance of restraint, with my garden, I just want more. I haven't overloaded any of my beds...yet. But I suspect that my spacing is probably too close. But I do adore walking through my ever-changing garden and yard beginning right now and going all the way through the end of autumn - just watching and noticing every little change in the plants and weeds and soil. How the blanket flower pushes through the taller zinnias, how the pinwheel zinnias look like they are bursting out of the rock wall, how the scents shift and change day to day, how the abundance of colors and foliage and textures are so comforting and welcoming.

Hello, my name is Amanda and I have a plant spacing problem.

Confession #6: I don't use any pesticides in my gardens, but will not hesitate to kill any mammals that aim to eat my flowers and decimate my food plants.

What can I say? I am a zinnia mystery wrapped in a cypress vine enigma standing in a black raspberry paradox.

Confession #7: My garden spaces, the physical work, the planning, and the money spent are more consistently pleasurable to me than much of my paying job. I would not want to garden for a living because anytime you take something this pleasurable and turn it into a professional career, it kills the joyful spirit that drew you there in the first place. That's what happened to me with creative writing - I can no longer write fiction because I spent ten years earning my living as a professional writer. The ability to make stories up out of thin air dissipated like so many farts in the wind as each assignment ticked by over that decade and now, well, now I love my creative nonfiction, but my stories must be true to be both written and enjoyed (by me). It's the biggest reason why I haven't pushed my professional photography services too hard - I'm good enough to make a living as a photog, but I don't want to because I want to retain that creative curiousity and joy.

So, gardening. I'm just fine with gardening in my free time, in the evenings, on the rare weekend that I'm home. Gardening is pure joy. Because every night that I come home from work, beginning next week, before unlocking my front door, I will wander down the fenceline, into the backyard, and walk all the way around the entire space, pausing to observe, listen, feel leaves, pull a weed, enjoy the manipulated natural space that I am carving out for my own pleasure and when I enter the house, I will feel refreshed, relaxed, and re-invigorated with a sense of hope and peace.

Confession #8: I wish I had more land so that I could have a bigger garden. Knowing that this wish comes with a ton of extra work, I still wish I had more land. My man and I sometimes dream together about the perfect place for us - view of mountains, on a body of water, five acres with a large enough sunny space for an extra large and vigorous garden and plenty of room for flowering annuals, bulbs, perennials, shrubs, a large berry patch, perhaps a small orchard. Don't ask me when I will have the time to tend to all of this space and all of these plants...a woman can dream.

Hello, my name is Amanda and I dream about my future gardens.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The price of intervention

Recently, I saw a comment on a Facebook thread that set my teeth on edge. You've probably seen comments that do this to you as well. The commenter is being lighthearted and the content of the photo or link has nothing to do with the comment - it is just an add-on - a tangent. And yet, it is so potent and offensive in its casualness. Let me explain.

Here is the portion of the comment that caught my attention:

"...I want to run like the wind with a Pocahontas costume..."

For those of you who know me and know that my academic focus is Indigenous Rhetorics, you know that this kind of fun, easy, seemingly innocuous comment is anything but fun and innocuous. Easy? Yes, because of the ubiquity of misinformation about real Indigenous peoples and because of the ubiquity of misappropriation and misrepresentation about real Indigenous peoples, past and present. Fortunately, my friend whose photo this thread was on is understanding and reacted exceedingly well to my intervention comment. 

To intervene or not? That is, perpetually, the question. Vine Deloria, Jr. wrote in Custer Died for Your Sins that "we need a cultural leave-us-alone agreement." He meant American Indians need us white people to leave them alone - stop writing about, studying, trying to help - just stop intervening. All respect to Deloria and his motivation for making this statement, but I disagree to a certain extent. 

The price we pay for NOT intervening and NOT trying to help change the narrative about real Indigenous peoples and cultures is the continuation and predominance of misinformation, stereotypes, and misappropriation of Indigenous peoples, their cultures, practices, sacred items, languages, names, everything. If you doubt what I say, consider this brief list of products and organizations:

Cherikee Red soda, Washington Redskins, Calumet Baking Soda (logo), Land 'o Lakes Butter (logo), Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves (and their fans' charming "tomahawk chop"), Disney's Pocahontas, Princess Pocahottie (Halloween Costume), "What Makes the Redman Red?" (Disney song), Lone Ranger and Tonto (TV show and newer film), Firewater Whiskey, Jeep Cherokee, Ford Thunderbird, Winnebago (this is the "Chieftain" model), Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, Sue Bee Honey, Urban Outfitters' "Navajo Panties" et al, hipster headdresses. . . .I could go on.

Argument: All of these representations are racist.
Counterargument: "But we're honoring Natives!"

Here, read this. She says it better than I could. And has all of the persuasive visuals to back up her argument embedded in the post. 

As an outsider to this issue, all I can do is feel sympathy and offer action in my own small way. So I post stories to Facebook, I teach college students, and I intervene online when I see a seemingly innocuous comment that I know was not intended to be offensive. Most people just don't know. And while I do have a great deal of sympathy for this unwitting lack of knowledge, I also understand that 'not knowing' is just shy of being a lame excuse. However, as I am committed to changing the narrative, I do my best not to be too aggressive in my approach. But the hesitance that I still feel, even after years of studying this issue, writing about it, and educating people. . .that hesitance is what bothers me.

I paused when I saw that FB thread comment. Stared at it. Read it over and over, in fact, debating whether to say something or not. I knew the stakes. My friend and her friend may not take too kindly to being told, even in the kindest terms, that Disney's Pocahontas is a complete misrepresentation that sets the stage for believing Native peoples to be fantasy relics of the past - invisible to our current lives. The stakes for me are fairly straightforward whenever I make public activist statements that advocate strongly for a position or a group - I may lose friends, I may make enemies, I may be thought of in ill-terms, or at least thought of with accompanying eye rolls. Interestingly, all of these thoughts did cross my mind, but then another thought dominated and it is the one that caused me to act. 

I can handle losing friends, making enemies, and being thought of with eye-rolls. What I choose not to handle with silence (which, to me, implies acceptance) is the persistent expectation that Indigenous peoples do not currently exist and do not have feelings if they do. I consider myself fortunate to have many colleagues who hail from such diverse nations as Miami, Citizen Potawatomie, Eastern Band of Cherokee, Osage, and more. When I see such lighthearted comments, I think of my colleagues and students and the harm these types of comments are doing to them. And I just can't sit quietly by for the sake of peace in the family and friend circle. 

I've never been one to leave anything alone, least of all a blatant injustice. I encourage you to consider intervening the next time you see any kind of lighthearted comment made about a group of people that you care about. The personal price is miniscule and worth paying if the result is just one more person who gets it. 

Change may be slow, but as individuals, we must be willing to pay a small personal price in order to make progress. We will enjoy a more open, tolerant, and knowledgeable society, and that is the result of intervention. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The real barriers to being a public intellectual

Today is my writing day. I should be working on writing that counts. Such as the two scholarly articles I'm composing for academic journals - the kind of writing that Mr. Kristof calls "gobbledygook . . . sometimes hidden in obscure journals — or published by university presses whose reputations for soporifics keep readers at a distance."

Here's a sample of one of the pieces I'm currently working on. Is this "gobbledygook"? You be the judge.

"Exerting authority over their own identities, re-claiming space to express resistance, and challenging the stereotyped assumptions of thousands of readers, Indigenous feminist bloggers are on the rise and are gaining attention with arguments that lance the core of American popular culture and misinformed imaginations. In October 2013, Adrienne Keene (Cherokee), author of the blog Native Appropriations, was nominated for the 2013 Women’s Media Center Social Media Award, reflecting the impact and import of her blog work, much of which demands awareness of problematic appropriations of Native images and artifacts. Linking the past with the present to create a new and more positive future for Indigenous peoples, Native women such as Dr. Debbie Reese (NambĂ© Pueblo) and her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, expertly use the communicative tools and technologies of the 21st century to share stories from the Indigenous perspective and insist upon change."

You tell me. You are a reader and a member of the general public, possibly a member of the academy, possibly not. Is that gobbledygook to you? Is it over your head? Are you confused?

I suspect not.

However, and this leads me to my argument: There are REAL barriers to being a public intellectual, but one of them is NOT that academics aren't writing in the public domain. My article, once complete and published, will NOT be available to YOU, unless you have access to a university system library database, which is a paid platform accessible only to those in a university community. I actually agree with much of what Mr. Kristof says. Not the gobbledygook part, obviously, but certainly the idea that academics only write behind pay walls. Many academics (and I know A LOT of them) write in understandable and accessible forms in those obscure journals. And many of these academics are ALSO writing for the public.

Back to the idea that this blog post which tackles a very important academic issue will not count toward my bid for tenure and promotion. One of the largest barriers to academics publishing more for the general public is the fact that our public writing does not count and will not be considered as valuable and as worthy as our "gobbledygook" in "obscure journals." Kristof employs an interview comment to briefly touch upon this problem:

"'Many academics frown on public pontificating as a frivolous distraction from real research,” said Will McCants, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution. “This attitude affects tenure decisions. If the sine qua non for academic success is peer-reviewed publications, then academics who ‘waste their time’ writing for the masses will be penalized.'” ("Professors, We Need You!")    

 I couldn't agree more. And I have a simple solution, although simplicity is not the academy's strong suit: Institutions and faculty unions should create a category called "Public Writing" and accept everything from blog posts and movie or book reviews in popular outlets to essays and opinion pieces in local, regional, and national publications, both in print and online. Instead of rejecting public intellectual work, this simple move would make public writing a REQUIREMENT of all faculty. And let's make the percentage low - 10 percent. So, 10 percent of your academic writing should be in a public forum. Most of the academics I know have already exceeded that by a large margin, and those who haven't done so may be hesitant to try because the existing system doesn't value public writing. If the goal is to reach more people, then this would effectively start to solve that problem. Moving on.

The second barrier to reaching a broader audience is the pervasive and very real anti-intellectualism in this nation that points and shouts, "Indoctrinator! Liberal! Left-wing nutjob! You're out of touch and don't know what the real people need to know! You think you're so smart? I don't care what you have to say! So there!"

Yes, I did just devolve that statement into a two-year-old's tantrum and for good reason. Because from my perspective, that's exactly what it sounds like when I write about an important issue such as Indigenous sovereignty or the academic system, and the response is a deafening silence. No response. No comments. No discussion. No engagement from anyone except my colleagues in the academy. And I'm small potatoes - I can just imagine the vacuum of silence for more well-known academics such as Tenured Radical, who composed her own excellent rebuttal to Kristof's missive. It is that silence that I now speak to.

Many of us in the academy WANT to reach a broader audience. We WANT to share what we know and understand about our specialties with YOU, the general public. But when the culture of our nation tells you to hate us because we have more education than you, because we work for the state and your tax dollars help to pay for our modest salaries, because you believe that we make too much money, and because you suspect that we do NOT have your best interests at heart with our pontificating, then our work is for naught, it is in vain, and we have NO AUDIENCE. 

I tell my students again and again to always keep the audience in mind before they write. Who are you writing to? What is it that you would like them to understand or believe? How can you persuade them to see things your way?

My answer to these questions for my own public writing is this: I am writing to whomever has an interest in the issues that I believe are important. I would like my audience to understand the problems that exist within those issues and think about how they are contributing to the problem, as well as what they might do differently to become part of the solution. And to persuade, I try to use humor, facts, connections that make sense, but often take a more hammer-like approach because I can't stand softballing an issue and softening the tone because I am a stubborn, passionate writer and I'm fed up with being told by my society that I'm not worthy of being listened to. So that is probably my mistake. I come on very strong and I'm aware of that, but writing diplomatically is not my strong suit. 

To solve this dilemma then, perhaps I need to soften my approach, but the question remains, will my audience be more receptive or will silence continue to resonate across the interwebs because of the fundamental disconnect between the reality I want to share and the perception that my audience holds dear? My audience perceives that I'm just an indoctrinating, liberal, feminist nutjob ranting away about some issue that doesn't have any effect on their daily lives, so why listen? If I soften my tone and become more diplomatic, will that audience changes its fundamental position? I suspect not.

I'm not sure how to solve the anti-intellectualism that runs rampant in our nation. I'm not sure how to convince people who are absolutely sold on the idea that we academics are the source of the problems in this country and not a source of solution. Perhaps by requiring more academics to engage with the public through writing, this iron wall of resistance can slowly be chipped away over time. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Complaints for 2014

While the bitter cold polar vortex exposes our softness and inability (or unwillingness?) to deal with extreme weather situations, I have noticed something about 2014. In the first four weeks of the year, I've heard and seen more complaints about more things than I think I heard and saw in 2013. I could be remembering this wrong, or maybe I just blew off last year's litany of various complaints so quickly that they didn't sink in. I even mentioned to my man last week how often people seem to be complaining in various venues and for various reasons and I wondered why. He said it is our nature to complain - something about survival skills and not wanting to settle - getting our species off the plains and into heartier abodes and such.

Well, then.

In the spirit of moving the species forward, I give you a list of complaints to last all year. Let's use these as motivation to improve ourselves. Did I miss any?

It's too cold!
There's too much snow!
My (insert body part) hurts!
My (insert product) stopped working/needs repaired!
I'm broke!
I'm jealous of (insert name)!
(Insert situation) isn't fair!
It's raining!
It's too hot!
It's too dry!
It's too humid!
(Insert publication) is subjective and publishes crap (because they rejected me)!
I'm bored!
My (insert space) is a mess!
I'm not having fun!
I'm disappointed!
I can't lose weight!
I can't gain weight!
But, I don't know how to (insert activity)!
But, it'll cost so much to (insert activity)!
But, I don't want to (insert expectation)!

That seems like a broad enough range to get started. In an effort to be more proactive, here are some suggested responses to these complaints that should result in forward movement/progress and possibly (gasp!) lead to changing the situation that we find intolerable enough to complain about:

Complaint: It's too cold!
Solution: Wear layers, invest in winter outwear that actually keeps you warm (scarf, hat, mittens, warm boots, etc.) Spend as little time as possible outside and just get to where you're going. And yes, this applies to all ages.

Complaint: (Insert publication) is subjective and publishes crap (because they rejected me)!
Solution: Of course (publication) is subjective. When you create anything that didn't exist before, people will judge its quality and appeal. That publication's editor judged your piece as a bad fit for their agenda...so what? Send it elsewhere. Don't let one rejection paralyze you or make you quit. Send that piece to five or six publications (and accumulate five or six rejections) before revising it. Maybe your work doesn't suck. Maybe it just didn't fit. Rejection is part of our world. Suck it up, buttercup.

Complaint: It's too dry!
Solution: Buy a humidifier. Drink more water. Use lotion.

Complaint: But, I don't want to (insert expectation)!
Solution: Then don't. Just stop. If this is part of your job and it is a required activity, suck it up, buttercup. If you can't stand that aspect of your job, figure out a way to change it or go find a new job. If you can't change that aspect and actually enjoy the rest of the job, just do it, do it as quickly as possible, and focus on the more pleasant aspects. If this is something that someone in your personal life expects you to do, have the difficult conversation and address the issue directly so that person knows you don't like it and you can work together to seek alternatives.

The next time you feel a complaint rising in your throat, pause and take a breath. Try to imagine what the answer might be for you - a complaint means something is wrong. And you really DO have the power to change most situations by taking action. ;)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hand talker

She grabbed my wrists and stood in front of me, all five feet of her, white puff of hair, color-blocked shirt, and sugar smile.

"If your hands were cut off, would you still be able to talk?"

I've heard variations of this insult/criticism/observation since I was a kid. My parents used to chastise me for being too exuberant and physically expressive with my hands when I spoke.

"No one will see your face or hear what you say, they'll be so distracted by your hands waving around," they would admonish.

I'm used to it.

I tried for several years to stop using my hands when speaking extemporaneously and found, instead, that the effort to suppress my physical form also suppressed my thoughts as they formed. Result: I spoke less.

In a world that doesn't value confident, assertive, and knowledgeable female voices, it occurs to me after this latest experience that the real criticism embedded in such statements is this:

"Be quiet. Be calm. Your exuberance, enthusiasm, and confidence intimidate me. You should be more measured, more controlled, quieter in voice and movement, so that I am more comfortable in your presence. You're a woman. Behave the way society wants you to behave."

Of course, when I speak in more formal podium-type settings, I stand and hold the podium and follow carefully crafted notes, but in almost every other public or private speaking situation, from the classroom to the coffee shop, from the dock to the dining room, I embrace my natural exuberance that expresses itself physically. I reject suppression and let my hands punctuate my words because that is more comfortable for me.

I am a hand talker.
I have the right to express myself the way that I want.
I will not be suppressed.