The Singular They: What’s a writer to do?

Grammar evolves to keep up with our changing world, and the singular they is one example.  However, once again, not all Styles are created equal.

How do writers maintain gender neutrality when English doesn’t have a singular, gender-neutral pronoun?  How do writers talk about transgender, non-binary, or gender fluid people when English doesn’t have a singular, gender-neutral pronoun?

The old answer– use he to stand in for everyone– doesn’t fly anymore, because people finally realized that he cannot be both male and gender-neutral.

The new answer is to allow the singular they in cases where the person has chosen that pronoun or when the person’s gender is unknown. Continue reading The Singular They: What’s a writer to do?

(my part of) Signs of Unitarian Universalism

On Sept. 30, the service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring was about our decades-long Deaf Access ministry.  I was invited to say a few words, which I have shared here.  However, I encourage you to look up the service on the church website, because the four others speakers shared very beautiful and personal stories and the whole service was a testament to what we all gain by creating space for each other. Continue reading (my part of) Signs of Unitarian Universalism

Real and imagined writers. . .

A student wouldn’t call herself a writer: “‘Writers’ to me are enigmatic, thoughtful, imaginatively complex people who know what stories they have to tell and know how to tell them; I’m far too self-conscious for that.”
I responded, “I think writers are like good chefs. Diners out in the restaurant see the delightful, plated food with its colors just so as the flavors dazzle. But back in the kitchen, what a mess! So many dirty pots and pans. . . and that one entree abandoned in the sink. Like chefs, writers work carefully on the presentation, so that it appears effortless.”

Writing ain’t quick & easy. Even after all these years.

I have been writing for just about all my life (and that’s quite a few decades.)  I have been teaching writing for more than half my life (still quite a few decades).  And I can’t say that writing has become easier. I still start and stop multiple times.  I still have my electronic version of papers crumpled around my wastebasket–files titled “brilliant insights I had to cut” or “notes for another project that keeps creeping into this one”).  I get up and clean the kitchen, or I wander outside my office praying that someone will come by to distract me.  Writing is laborious.

In all these years, I have not developed a repertoire of quick-go-to strategies that I can deploy to rapidly deliver solid drafts.  Instead, I have come to accept the struggles I encounter as part of the process.

The doubting voices still swoop in and knock me off my chair.  In every writing task, I tell myself “You have nothing worthwhile to say and no good ways to say it,” and “You will never ever meet that deadline. This is an impossible task.”  Sometimes I throw up my hands and sigh, “You are boring me to death.”

The difference is that I don’t let these thoughts rattle me any more.  I know that this is the messy work of writing.  I know that this is the hard challenge of figuring out why I am writing and who needs to hear what I have to day.  I know that if I keep plugging away, I will figure it out.

The strategy that helps me most as I am working through a new project is to separate out my writing-to-think time and my writing-to-share-my-thoughts time.  Sometimes this means puzzling through what I want to say on my own–scratching ideas in a journal and on the backs of napkins and any place where I find myself musing and wondering.  Once I’ve pushed myself through to an “ah ha!” I gather my notes and consider how to share my discovery with the people who need to hear it.

But it’s not always the case that I think best when I hold my audience at bay. Sometimes,  I need the pressure of my imagined audience to keep me honest and to push me past my initial responses.  I need that imagined audience, raising their skeptical eyebrows or crinkling their noses in confusion, to make me take a second look at some of the shortcut jargon or enthymemes I have thrown in my paragraphs.

But I still see this kind of “thinking with my audience” as different from “sharing my thinking with my audience.” As I work on my drafts, I review and recraft my analysis, which leads to a new understanding, and then I go back and rework it again.  At some point I feel confident enough in my ideas that I’m ready to go back and revise with more deliberate attention to a specific audience.  On this pass, I might spell out some of the background they wouldn’t know or add a few clarifying anecdotes to explain a concept.  But this kind of revision feels different from the first rounds of thinking my way through the main ideas.  Here, I am repackaging what I have discovered, turning it from writerly thinking into readerly prose.

I find both parts of the writing process hard and exhilarating, frustrating and motivating. But I can embrace them only when I let go of the idea that I will be able to write quickly.

I don’t believe that “good writers” can slap out a text more quickly than others.  Instead, I think they have learned to carve out the time they need to write-think their way into what they want to write-share.

I think Mark Twain understood this



Some thoughts on teaching citation

I’ve been asked to share some of my strategies for teaching students the value of and mechanics of accurate source citation. 

When I looked over the activities I have used to teach citation, my takeaways fall into two main categories

  • Does my pedagogy reveal the usefulness of citations as a research tool?
  • How can I provide interactive lessons that help students become familiar with citation styles?

Continue reading Some thoughts on teaching citation

Thinking about Anger & Decorum

In so many places of my life right now — my classroom, my church, my denomination, with American friends and family on different sides politically — I find myself in conversations that threaten to break apart the very core of what holds us together. My stomach is in knots.  I see people hurt and hurting; I see people struggling about whether to stay and work it through or just walk away.  People I care about are silent or are leaving. Continue reading Thinking about Anger & Decorum

What does it mean to be “against political correctness”? Part 1

[This is an introduction to a five part series]

The term politically correct is a loaded political weapon. Donald Trump asserts “I refuse to be politically correct” and crowds roar their approval.  Political correctness taps into something deep, and I want to understand it.  Continue reading What does it mean to be “against political correctness”? Part 1