Week 2 critique as an appreciation to understand and expand horizons #creativewriting

Our first proper session. The room was full. We were about 20. Definitely more than last week. I saw some of my peers again. Instantly I felt less lonely. Next to me (yes, in the last row) sat a lady I hadn’t seen before. She is also interested in children’s literature, I quickly found out. What a lovely surprise. We discovered that we had a few more things in common. Many of my peers have done an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing or Literature. This will have given them good foundations for their current degree. I haven’t. I need to learn to swim fast and this reminded me actually of how I did learn swimming as a child. It wasn’t a pleasant experience… I had to jump in the deep end of a pool. I still remember how scared I was and kept moving to the back of the queue hoping that I didn’t have to do it, until there was nobody else in front of me.

What was particularly interesting in the session was what Dr Caroline Magennis, the module leader, said about unlearning. Unlearning some of the theory and sticking to the rules. Unlearning what some of my peers learnt during their undergraduate studies in creative writing/literature, would be important. Her argument was that, that knowledge about literary theories might be constraining for creative writing. It could act as a barrier. So sticking to the rules is not a useful strategy for creative writing. Very interesting observation which echos an extract I found in a book recently about the importance of freeing oneself when writing creatively and added to my week 1 post (Smith, 2005). So, will creative writing work for me as I don’t feel entangled in literary theories? Less is more, in this case? It seems to be. This, of course destroys Bloom’s taxonomy, completely and the revision by Krathwohl as well! This linear construct usually shown as a pyramid that captures higher order thinking and is regularly used to define learning outcomes moving upwards from more simple to more complex. I knew it and am saying it all the time. Learning is messy, learning is not a linear process. Who says we can’t be creative without knowing the rules, the theories etc.? I am pleased I signed up for this course! And that we are encouraged actually to be creative by ignoring the rules… and that obviously is easier when you don’t know the rules…

As my literary theory foundations are very wobbly or not existent, I probably feel exactly like our PgCert students at the moment who are highly qualified often with a doctoral qualification but have to jump into a Masters level course in higher education, theory and practice, without having studied anything or very little in this area before. While I did a few modules around literature and language in my undergraduate degree in translation, many years ago, I really can’t remember anything about literary theories. So, am I a blank canvas? Scary. I confessed this to the lady next to me. I have a lot of catching up to do… and better start reading and engaging critically and creatively with what I read.

I am here to learn. A module overview was provided (what is that “uncanny” seems to be mentioned a lot? There is a lot of new terminology. Thinking as a translator makes me want to create a glossary, but I haven’t started any yet…).

In the session we got some information about the assessment. It was useful so that I can get organised and make a start with my assignments. Essays. Looking back now at my educational life… I actually can’t remember ever have written an essay or having asked my own students to write one. Now I have to write potentially two in the same module. One of them can be a hybrid. But what does this exactly mean? What could it be?

Seeing the essay questions, all 13 of them for the first time on the screen in class, made me freeze. I couldn’t relate to any of them… now what? When I arrived home, I downloaded them and read them again carefully. I have narrowed them down to four, but am still unclear how to work with them. And if I could use two of them for the two essays or how I would work with them. I guess in a way the given questions seem to be like research questions I am expected to respond by doing secondary research. Is this how it works? That seems to help me a little bit. Now also thinking about thought paper… is this what an essay really is?

For week 1, I printed everything I found on the VLE and read the articles. They were not easy to digest. I made notes on the printouts and articulated questions. We went through one of them together in class. The one about Literary criticism with a focus on being postcritical and what that means. First we briefly discussed our understanding of  theory more generally. What is it? I think we agreed that a theory is a lense used to explore something, in our case literary work. For me theory is something that can be a conceptual or empirical construct, or the combination of the two, that helps us make sense of something. In literary theory a lot seems to be about politics, society and culture, I noticed. The intersection of theories and the blending and overlaps of theories is now acknowledged more and recognised in the 21st century, I heard Caroline saying. That is encouraging as our world is not black or white, through my eyes anyway…

Going together through the post-critical article was useful and really helped me better understand what it was all about and what is changing. I really liked the fact that we will explore theory and practice through time and link to our time. It makes the discussions fresh and current and helps us relate to the theories and our own experiences, practices and realities.

In the evening, I was still thinking about post-critical literary criticism. I reached out to Wikipedia… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-critical while some references were missing there, I could still make sense of some of it. I had read the article about it we were given and the class discussion we had earlier today also helped. I was worried earlier that it would all turn into mash but it actually makes sense now. Well, it starts making sense. Not all of it did in the morning when I first immersed myself in the article on my train journey to work. The questions that were asked in class about the article were really useful and helped me understand what this is all about. I started getting under the skin of the sentences. For me post-critical as I understand it currently is a lense of exploring literature, a lense of evaluating literature and perhaps human activity and behaviour more general based on appreciation, empathy and do I dare to say compassion? Compassion to understand, to be open to alternative perspectives and to learn from these in order to extend and expand our current understanding about something in particular, as one of my peers said. In a way, as the article says, it is about moving away from suspicion, finding what is wrong and policing literary work and perhaps also reducing the gap between the person who criticises and the person who writes? The concept of post-critical reminded me of appreciative inquiry often used in pedagogical research to explore experiences. We also use appreciation and appreciative approaches as academic developers when working with our colleagues to acknowledge and celebrate what they bring to teaching and supporting students and building on these instead of seeking faults and accusations. We know that this approach does not lead us anywhere. Wondering now, are academic developers who operate in the post-critical domain more effective and what does this exactly mean? What are the implications for university leaders and managers? What would entering a post-critical phase mean for all of us learning, living and working in the academy? A few things to think about.

Caroline asked us also about the pleasure  of reading. What about also the pleasure of writing? Can this all be spoiled easily by literary criticism? And in academic development, the pleasure of teaching, my academic criticism? Also in research? And peer review there? I can see so many connections…

Back to my readings now for next week. I was told that it is very short… I started reading Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism but find it very heavy and it feels much longer than it is.  I am reading this very slowly… It does have loads of gems and I am picking up “soundbites” that speak to me at the moment as I can relate to these politically, socially and culturally. It feels however, very messy and disorganised reading this book and I am really unsure how I would use this text for a possible essay…

I can relate to the below but refuse to agree that there is no alternative! There must be an alternative! There must be multiple alternatives, hope and futures. What role does literature play?

“Capitalist realism’: a widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” (Fisher, 2009, 2)

“Action is pointless; only senseless hope makes sense.” (Fisher, 2009, 3)

“The focus shifts from the Next Big Thing to the last big thing – how long ago did it happen and just how big was it?” (Fisher, 2009, 3)

“Over the past thirty years, capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology’ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business.” (Fisher, 2009, 17)

I also need to revisit the possible essay questions and get in touch with one of the lecturers to share my initial ideas. First, however, I need to construct them for myself. Could I draw a visual map? Struggling at the moment…

The essay questions that have started tickling my interest, a little bit, are the ones below. Still very unsure…

1.      ‘From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly everything is possible again.’ (Mark Fisher) Can literature and culture imagine alternatives to capitalism?

3.      ‘To share what deviates from happiness is to open up possibility, to be alive to possibility’ (Ahmed). To what extent does literature showcase Sara Ahmed’s politics of feeling?

8.      ‘A novelist who takes himself as the principal subject of his novel is asking for it’ (Smiley). Critically assess the risks and rewards of auto/fictional practices, drawing on relevant critical and creative material, including at least one auto/fictional text of your own choosing.

9.      ‘We are suffering, in academic life, from a surfeit of words. […]The challenge, then, is to find a different way of writing’ (Ingold 8). How might genre queer texts respond to this challenge? Illustrate your answer with specific examples.

Weekend update:

Capitalist realism: I have now read the whole book by Mark Fisher. My brain hurts. As I was reading it page by page I became entangled in his ideas and stories and tried to jump with him through these. It was not always possible. His writing reminded me of a patchwork and a deeply reflective piece. I could relate more closely to his writings that seemed to echo my own experiences and life story. I needed help understanding and making sense of it.

So I started googling and quickly discovered some of his lectures. I had no idea he is no longer with us. I was shocked when I read that his life had ended just over a year ago. I watched parts of the clips and his passion and pain, I would say were evident in these. I felt sad watching him and at some point I wished I had met him. He emphasised on the power of the collective but how our capitalist reality, the reality we live in, according to him, is polarised and obsessed with the individual, and how damaging this is for human relationships, all of us and the world we live in. Is there a way out of this? It seems that Mark was in search for an answer which he positioned in the power of the collective. But were was the collective, were were we, when Mark needed us the most?

I have ordered the book and will read it again. It will not be the same…

Assignment 1: I have been thinking about the assignment I have to write, the first one for now. I had an idea but then I quickly abandoned it…. I now have another idea with which I am happier with at the moment as it would give me the opportunity to stitch together my current readings and my life as an academic developer. This bridge would be really valuable for me. The essay questions provided invite is to explore one article of the theories we explore in this module.

Looking at them again, and the ones I selected initially (see above), I can’t see any of them relating to “cruel optimism” (Berlant, 2011), which may be the one I would like to use.

This theory is presented in week 3 (I found a Cruel Optimism book here) and while I almost don’t know anything about it, I can relate to it somehow. I see “cruel optimism” in picture books but I also see it in academic development, my current professional reality. After also, reading an LSE blog post linked to “cruel optimism” of PhD graduates, a paper about the deficit doctorate and a recent Guardian article on bullying in higher education, I feel this may be something I would like to explore in my professional context based on my own experiences as an academic developer and experiences and realities of academic developers more widely. Can I do this?

My draft question: How can academic developers’ cruel optimism about the ‘good life’ (Berlant, 2011) in the academy be explained and to what extent could it shape the identity of academic developers?  

References

Berlant, L. (2011) Cruel optimism. London: Duke University Press.

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist realism. Is there no alternative? Ropley, Hants: John Hunt Publishing.

Smith, H. (2005) The writing experiment. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. Available from http://www.academia.edu/9485157/THE_WRITING_EXPERIMENT_Strategies_for_innovative_creative_writing

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Week 1 freedom and playfulness

I am, and always have been a mature student. This doesn’t mean I was always that old, of course… When I started my undergraduate studies, I was almost 24. Today, I was again one of the very few mature students in my new class. This time, the age gap was much larger, my peers could be my own children.

Being among young(er) people is always a privilege, to find out about their hopes and dreams, what moves them, what scares them. I think that is one reason why I love working at university… and because I love learning and helping others learn, of course. I think politicians should spent time with our young people, regularly. So that they can discover what really matter and how they can help create a future for the next generation.  

While I did feel like an outsider and a bit lonely in that class, I knew why I was there and that I would have the opportunity to connect with at least some of my peers as the weeks will progress. It was lovely seeing everybody and talk to the two girl who were sitting next to me for a tiny bit at the end. At some point I looked around and was surprised that I seemed to be the only person taking notes… A book was introduced that will be used it seems a lot in the creative writing workshops. Have you heard of The Writing Experiment? That is the one.

I loved that experimentation was mentioned throughout and that we will be encouraged to actively experiment with our own writing. Who knows what I will create! We seem all to have very different writing interests and when we were asked to introduce ourselves by stating our name and a word that comes to mind when we think about creative writing, the first one that popped into my head was freedom, but then also playfulness. So I mentioned both. I think they are interlinked and definitely connect me at least to my writing intention, the writing process. If this is also reflected in the actual writing product, the output itself, I don’t know.

Maybe when I arrive home, my two books, the ones I ordered the other day have arrived (they were there indeed and I will start reading them on the way to work tomorrow). I am curious to dive into the theory now, can’t believe it myself, and experiment with some of the texts that I have written but also write new stuff. I think the re-assurance the lecturer gave made a difference. I liked the idea of seeing the theories as a “guided tour” and that we could self-select where we would stop for a little bit longer.

Speaking about new stuff…The other day, I had a new idea… while being in a tiny space we have in our house. A tiny space that helps me escape into other worlds when I am in there. I feel it’s expansive dimension now. Suddenly. Could this space become the next creative trigger of a new series of stories?

I am looking forward later in the course to uncreative writing, the essay clinic next week, I think. I loved the invitation to unpick tensions, ambiguity, contradictions and be critical and creative of course, which are two options of the same coin, I think. Makes no sense to me to separate them, like the left and right brain theory… doesn’t work.

Freedom and playfulness, that is what I seek.

Let’s see where my children’s stories will take me/us.

ps. I found the Writing Experiment online and started reading it… the following I found interesting…

There are no rules and regulations for creative writing, and no blueprints for a good piece of writing. Anyone who is looking for a formula for exciting work will not find it, and writers who rely on formulae usually produce dull results” (Smith, 2005, ix).

“… language creates the world rather than the other way round.” (Smith, 2005, 3)

Language-based strategies sharpen your sensitivity to language and help you to be discriminating,imaginative and unconventional in the way  you use it.” (Smith, 2005, 4)

References

Smith, H. (2005) The writing experiment. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. Available from http://www.academia.edu/9485157/THE_WRITING_EXPERIMENT_Strategies_for_innovative_creative_writing

The effective supervisor/personal tutor, an #oer flashcard set

We did it!

A second #creativeHE project that started its life during the making conversations earlier this year with John Rae and Norman Jackson just came to fruition. I have written about the first project here. My colleague Haleh Moravej, Dean Brookes and students from the social enterprise MetMunch and I have been working on an open educational resource we hope will be useful for others. We will, of course, also use it in our own practice and have already identified some related opportunities in the coming academic year.

It is a flashcard set called the effective supervisor. It is an output of an assignment for a module on research degree supervision I completed and really helped me engage with some of the current literature and research about supervision. The flashcard set has been developed in the context of doctoral supervision. However, it also seems to work in different contexts including with undergraduate students and helps to engage them in conversations around project and dissertation supervision as well as personal tutoring.

The visualisation concept started from an approach I initially had destined for another project and particularly an open picture book. The tree sample… which I made on my iPad some time ago…

linedrawing

the tree by Chrissi, iPad creation

In the end we decided to use another visual approach for the book project and the tree became available to be used for the flashcard project. We worked closely with Dean to bring the idea alive and use the tree as a starting point for a series of illustrations for the flashcard set and are grateful for his creative energy, input and patience.

Two flashcard sets are available in this series. One with and one without written language accompanying the visual prompts. The has been finalised for wider use with further colleagues in the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University and specifically Dr Stephen Powell and Dr Alicia Prowse and we will release the full sets soon through the CELT website for anybody to use.

The Effective Supervisor no text and words

The flashcard set is available in English at the moment. Could we translate it into different languages? The set without any written language could also be used to translate on the go and/or come up with other prompts and work with these with students/staff.

Could we make a board game out of the flashcards? The possibilities are endless. Let’s see first what needs are out there and how others can use the existing sets and get some related insights.

With the support of the HEFCE Interventions of Success project we are able to print a few flashcard sets and share these with colleagues.

Thank you Haleh and Dean for embracing this project and working on it collaboratively. I am really looking forward in using it in a range of settings.

(I) found (a) poem #flmakeapoem

futurelearncompleted
I recently immersed myself into the open course Making poetry, offered by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University via Futurelearn. And as the above picture shows, I completed it too. In under three weeks but I keep going back now to read some of the newer contributions and comments.
In the past, I had started other Futurelearn courses but did not complete any of them. But is completion important? My own research shows this all depends on what we want to get out of any course and that our priorities may change as a course progresses. This is perhaps amplified especially when we do a course for free. Learning relationships can be a valuable motivator to stay on and persist but also make the learning experience more interesting, supported and supportive.
Other courses that were sort of MOOCs I completed in the past were offered under the MOOC label (Futurelearn seems to have dropped this characterisation for a while now), are the Creativity and Multicultural Communication course (CMC11) over several weeks designed and offered by Carol Yeager and the MOOCMOOC over a single week. Where I got the most interactions and deep conversations among peers and the facilitator over a longer period of time that led to professional relationships was CMC11. I also remember well the MOOCMOOC and the facilitators engaging during that one week of intensive activities and fun. There was definitely a buzz and I could stop myself from being part of the happenings. I remember a clip I created with my boys, well actually two, for one of the tasks. One of them is super silly…
(… oh dear… that is now 6 years ago… how tiny my boys looked back then)
That was great fun and helped me to experience learning that was drawing you in naturally. I remember that week well and am looking forward later this month to see Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel.
So if I didn’t complete any other Futurelearn course before, what was different with this particular one? I don’t think it has anything to do with Futurelearn. I think the difference was that I was genuinely really really interested and committed and that it was important for me to fully engage with every aspect of the course.i was and am interested in learning more about creative writing. I have always enjoyed being playful with language and this course was an opportunity too good to miss. I was an immersive learner and really used the time as an opportunity to learn something that would be useful for my own development and my creative writing activities and little projects. I suspect that it will be informing my academic writing as well.
Everything was useful, even the more challenging bits, especially the more challenging bits, as through these I identified specific gaps in my understanding. The course also helped me to make use of a wider range of tools for creative writing more generally, in my stories, as well as discover and uncover some of the techniques I could be using or refine in my own little writing projects, not necessarily or exclusively in poetry. The found poems, the free verse poems and the acceptance of experimenting with shape and form. I also love the idea of visual poetry and collaborative and open poetry which I started thinking more about based on my own interests and explorations. I enjoyed the focus on the process and the output of making, in this case the poem itself, and how this can help to discuss, critique and improve it, instead of focusing on the creator or maker. It did remind me a lot of LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R), where the individual creates a model and through this and based on this the story is communicated and shared. So the focus there again is on the creation not the creator and I have seen that this helps to question, discuss, debate and deepen our individual and collective understanding linked to a particular idea, concept, process or product.
My motivation came from within and was coupled with my desire to engage again more with creative writing and my intention to submit an application for the MA in Creative Writing. I have been, in one of my previous lives, a translator of mainly literary works. Many of my translations are out there as published books. At that time I also started writing my own stories and was teaching translation of children’s literature when I was at a German university during a research stay. I would like to deepen my understanding in the area of creative writing through further guidance, practice and inquiry within a writers community. My application for the MA course is ready to be submitted and I will do this in the next few days. Fingers crossed!
Thank you to all colleagues in the Manchester Writing School for putting this very useful course together and especially Dr Helen Mort and Prof. Michael Symmons Roberts and Dr Martin Kratz who commented on some of my contributions and all my peers.
On demand?
Focus. Focus. Focus.
On what?
No idea.
Words. Words. Words.
What do they mean?
Nothing.
Pictures. Pictures. Pictures.
What am I looking for?
A hook.
fish-hook
Open peer feedback I received on the above (here fully anonymised):
“I enjoyed the poem as it is light, cheery and simple. It conveys simplicity and to me, that’s a good recipe to express one’s thoughts.”
“It is very concise, clever and compact, and stands out the crowd with its simple, repeated language, almost like a nursery rhyme. I don’t think, however, that it communicates anything very profound. “
Chrissi
Ps. If anybody from the course team, would like my feedback on the open course itself and particularly the pedagogical design, very happy to do this. I have to admit that it was hard for me to stop thinking about the course design because of my work as an academic developer

 

A black day…

Arriving in Glossop by train is usually uneventful.

That day, Monday the 14th of May 2018, I will remember for ever. For all the wrong reasons.

It was a black day for humanity.

A little boy was beaten to the ground with such hatred and aggression in front of many many eyes. Eyes that looked the other way, eyes that walked away, eyes that didn’t intervene to help a little boy that could be any of our own children, could be any of us.

Beaten to the ground by three bigger boys. By three complete strangers who vented their anger and aggression towards a little boy. Without reason. Just because they could.

They were ruthless. Wild. They kicked, punched and pushed the little boy with such hatred. I had never seen anything like this before.

Every hit, hit me too, in my heart.

Nobody should be treated like this. NOBODY.

This was such a violent demonstration of power and abuse.

I was ashamed to be a human being.

I was ashamed that nobody stopped to help.

I tried. I was in between the gang while also searching with my eyes for help. Hope was dying. Hope for the vulnerable little boy was dying.

The little boy was on the ground. He didn’t move.

Then another lady rushed over and another one came too.

The attackers run away.

They were gone in seconds.

A black day…

Making is at the heart of what we do and who we are… #creativeHE

… we often forget this.

When Norman Jackson suggested a dedicated #creativeHE conversation with John Rae around making and the role it plays in creativity, I was excited and started thinking about stuff I could make. I did think about “making as a project” as defined by Tim Ingold as a concept that was introduced during the online conversations, but I could also see that through this making projects I would hopefully gain a little bit of growth too. There is of course no guarantee for this from the outset but the process of making and reflecting on this helps us identify where we are on this journey and if we are growing, even if it is a tiny bit at the time.

It was almost as if the conversation gave me the permission to make stuff. So I did. More than usual. Colleagues participating online will have seen very little of these activities as they were not all shared through the online community. Due to circumstances and preference, I seem to have adopted what I called in my thesis selective participation… (I had explored this in the context of collaborative open learning) for me, like for my study participants, it was an informed choice and should not be interpreted that I was less engaged or disengaged with the theme under exploration even if it may appear this way to some.

We often expect individuals to fully engage online but actually there is a whole world outside the digital that is exciting and stimulates all our senses and creates opportunities for creative expression, making and sharing. We can also look at my reality from an ecological perspective. The seeds for my making activities and reflections on these were triggered by the online discussions but they didn’t stay online. Norman at some point said.. “what we see online is only the tip of the iceberg” and he is right. If we would live our lives exclusively or predominantly online that would be very sad… Norman also mentioned that we inhibit spaces and we are aware where we are and what we do in these. My presence was much more invisible to others online as I felt that the ecological system of my making creations was primarily offline with some, however extensions and feelers reaching and connecting with the online world.
Pottery making
So what did I do during these last few weeks? I guess, I was pragmatic and spotted little every day opportunities. I seized many of the opportunities and made time for them.

Was this the application of what was discussed online “pragmatic imagination” during the online #creativeHE discussions?

The reality is that I spent some time with clay thinking about my last summers with my sister and somehow I realised that while I have constantly new ideas popping into my head (people who know me know this), I also enjoy small repetitive and easy creative tasks such as making little poppy heads out of clay. Many of them.

pottery_poppies

CC-BY Chrissi Nerantzi

Who says routine has no place in being creative? We are all creatures of habit. Can some of these be creative habits? Creative habits that give us the time and space to reflect and grow?

Playing with clay also reminded me of the process of creativity and the frustrations we feel when something just doesn’t work, and we become somehow impatient with ourselves. I can see now that the pottery making activities brought memories back and helped me connect with my dear sister who is for many years now too far away and we spent far too little time together. I was perhaps expressing how much I miss her and found the medium of pottery as a way to connect with her through making. Would David Gauntlett recognise his idea of making is connecting through these activities and thoughts I shared here?

As mentioned near the beginning, I couldn’t stop myself and used these last few weeks to progress some of my ideas that bring me joy and help me connect with others. Pottery but also other stuff. The more I think about it, the more I realise that making for me, is probably more about findings ways to connect with others through making and much less about the product or output. This is an interesting discovery I am making now while writing this and perhaps explains also why I love making pedagogical creations that I have shared with many others. It is the human connection that I seek through these.

Thank you John and Norman for creating these wonderful making explorations for all of us. Reading my reflections I can see the value making has for our emotional wellbeing and the  role it plays in connecting with others. I am looking forward to catching up with the conversations online and make more discoveries.

Chrissi

Are you a doctoral supervisor using LSP?

This study is now underway. I am no longer looking for study participants.

Dear colleagues,

I am conducting a research project around the use of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in doctoral supervision. The project has been granted ethical approval from the Education Faculty at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom.

This invitation to participate in this study is open to doctoral supervisors who use LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® within the supervision process and/or for doctoral researchers’ development activities.

As a study participant, you will be invited to complete a short survey and participate in a remote interview. The interview will be between you and me. I expect that the interview will last no longer than half an hour and will be conducted remotely using Skype.

If you would consider participating in this study and would like to receive the information sheet and the consent form, please let me know by emailing c.nerantzi @ mmu.ac.uk (without the spaces).

Please share this invitation with others who might be interested.

Thank you in advance,

Best wishes,

Chrissi (Nerantzi)