Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What it means: the purpose

I was on the phone with my friend Cydney a couple of weeks ago, and I said I needed to make a new MySpace page to replace the musician's page I had with Don. But I said I couldn't think of a cool name for it. Her partner, Brett, who was listening to her side of our conversation, suggested "reticulator." I liked the sound of the word, but realized I didn't really know what it meant. Something to do with a snake's spine? A bonobo's fur? Or maybe the veins in an oak leaf? Yep, that last one turned out to be pretty close, and it was just the right word for me. (Brett said he just pulled it out of...thin air, and since he doesn't know me that well, I believe him, but it was, nevertheless, the perfect word.)

Why is it perfect? Two reasons. The first is that I'm all about patterns and connections and networks. It's how I think. If there's a pattern to be found, I'll see it. If not, I'll go crazy until I find it. Everything is connected. I'll be writing more about that.

And I love connecting people too: connecting them to each other or to things they need or to information they need or to doing what they need to be doing. I'm like Alice Piaszecki on The L Word, only I don't stop at lesbians who sleep with each other. I connect everything.

The second reason is that one of my great loves, writing, is all about making connections. "Entering the conversation" we call it in our English 101 classes. And for some reason, it's a hard concept for my students to grasp. Yet, how often do we write in a void? Not often! We almost always write in response to something else that happened or something someone said or did.

Which means there's this invisible web connecting everything we write to everything else that's been written...oh! Here I get such delicious existential angst! Imagine. My writing is connected to Plato's (wouldn't he hate that!) and to Susan B. Anthony's and, yes, even to Nietzsche's. And to Margaret Atwood's and Barbara Kingsolver's and even, dear reader, to yours. It's heady company I keep.

Of course, we recognize these connections when they're personal. The Internet has made our writing connections so much more obvious. I've been friends on an email list for years (before yahoogroups) with women all over the country. We started out homeschooling and we've maintained that connection--mostly through writing--all these years as our children have grown and our families changed through divorce, death, war, and birth, and even through the death of one of our own.

And then there are social networking sites--which is where this whole thing got started. MySpace--when my son found out I had a MySpace, he said, "What are you, Mom? Twelve?" And Facebook. I only opened the Facebook account because Cyd and I were looking for a way for students to post essays for a week-long class we were teaching. It didn't work out for that, but soon students from my next class had found it (and a year and a half later are still on it) and then those women from the email list and colleagues from the Academy (where I teach and go to school) and friends from church and even my baby sister...and so it goes. Unintentional reticulation.

What is intentional though is this blog. It's a place where I can share ideas for writing that is intentionally reticulated, networked, responsive to something someone said or did. And I'll share my own writing here too. Finally, I hope hope hope you'll post some of your own ideas and writing, especially if you find the prompts motivating.

That's the purpose. Stay tuned for the first prompt. (Clue: it will be delicious.)


  1. Oh, I'm excited! We are very alike with the pattern and connection thing. I think the human brain does that naturally, but not all of us are as aware of the process as some. I'm also always trying to connect people, which can be hard because once a connection is made I tend to feel responsible for keeping it healthy.

    See, you've already got me thinking and wanting to write more!

  2. Yay! Welcome to the Blogosphere!

    Next thing you know, you'll be Twittering!

  3. Oh, my Twittering. Now I do have something to look forward to. Do I need one more internet addiction though?

  4. I'm taking English this semester, reluctantly. I tested into the highest English class, but it didn't fit into my schedule. I took a bunch of classes that had an English pre-req, or having tested into the higher English.

    So now I'm thinking why bother? I already have been writing a ton of research papers, and getting good grades. I already tested high. Why should I have to take English at all?

    This is sounding fun, though. Maybe this will get me in the mood, you know? Writing as interesting rather than writing as required.

  5. I don't know what your English class will be like, Mothersong, but in the ones I teach, the writing goes beyond what most professors require of their students. I expect my students to create knowledge through their writing; I want them to learn about something and be excited about that learning as they communicate it in writing. I don't want them to tell me what somebody else said; I want them to understand what other people are saying in a larger context and then add to that conversation. And I don't want to see it in that dreaded five-paragraph essay format. (Imagine the sound of me retching here.) It's hard work, and no matter how hard I work as a teacher, a quarter to a third of my class will fail.

    In fact, if I were to take my own English 101 class, I would find it challenging, and so would most of my peers in the English department. I hope they would also find it fun and rewarding. That's what writing should be.

    Because it's a required class (required for graduation), most of my students don't care about writing better; they just want to know what they have to do to pass. But there's always that handful who step up to the challenge and find out that even something hard like writing can be a rush when they create something bigger and better than they thought they had in them.

    I have no doubt you'll get your A out of your English class. The question is whether you will write in ways that make you want to go back and read your own words over and over just because you love they way they sound. And whether you will say exactly what you want to say in a way that amazes you and makes you want to share it with your friends, even though it's just an college English paper. I like my A's too, but that buzz you get from putting what Yeats called "the inevitable word" on the page is worth all the A's I've ever earned in my life.