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Guest Blogger: sara heaser  is a Lecturer of English at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, where she specializes in basic/co-requisite and first-year writing curriculum, pedagogy, and program development. She is an alum of the Dartmouth Summer Seminar for Studies in Composition Research and is currently in the midst of a qualitative study to explore first-year writing as a space for retention. She can be reached at sheaser@uwlax.edu.

 

I have a four-year-old son who understands the world in basic binaries: good vs evil, happy vs sad, big vs small, and such. So when he asks his big questionslots and lots of themabout really abstract things, I resort to the most simple, applicable analogy I can think of.

 

Here’s an example. We were reading a book about the human body and he asked about the “weird-looking lines” (veins) inside us. We live in the Midwest on the Mississippi River, so I said that those lines were like little rivers of blood, and that the blood rivers have barges on them, and the barges carry things he needs around his body to where his body needs them. There’s obviously not microscopic chunks of bananas and fruit snacks floating from his stomach to his toes via his veins, but it’s a close enough explanation to appease his curiosity and to reach a level of understanding that he gets, for now.

 

This is a hard part of parenting, negotiating mutual understanding of an unfamiliar concept. The same goes for teaching. As teachers, we collectively live in the same world as our students, sometimes quite literally in the same communities. But this doesn’t mean we share or value common experiences. This is especially true when it comes to writing.

 

The students in my FYW courses are well beyond understanding the world dualistically like my son does, but when it comes to writing, I see them rely on old tropes. I often find their understanding of writing and its processes is limited to playing it safethey rely on archaic rules that someone told them to follow somewhere along the way in their writing education. And as we know, FYW can sometimes be a student’s first foray into writing for purposes and audiences instead of writing to follow rules--a very unfamiliar concept, indeed.

 

Rules are inflexible; metaphors are interpretative. Introducing metaphors in FYW that imply writing is flexible, unsteady, confusing, messy, frustrating, and such might suggest not only a difference in kind but a difference in understanding of what writing is, as a verb. Some I rely on often:

 

  • A wacky genius effortlessly producing prose is a mythological trope seen in fictional films.
  • Writing is like cooking. Gather the ingredients as you prepare, adjust them as needed to your purpose and audience. (And this one reminds me of my own role: I’m not the one cooking. The students are. So back off.)
  • Engaging in research is like having a conversation. Sometimes you might not know what the conversation is about, and that’s ok. Just listen for a while.
  • Learning to write well is like learning a sport. It requires repetitive, deliberate practice. Just like you might stretch or lift weights to train for a big race, you might practice combining sentences to train for revising a big draft.

 

The five-paragraph essay, sad and useless, is a particularly fun target on which to apply metaphor. Even entire rhetorics for FYW invoke metaphor, like Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing, which uses “hosts” (the authors) that guide students through a journey of learning about writing.

 

I don’t have extensive data on student response to metaphor or the effectiveness of metaphorical language in composition pedagogy, but I have a teacherly sense that the use of metaphor in FYW plays a special role beyond just explaining what writing is and can be.

 

If shared language is a symbol of intimacy, metaphor is essentially the foundation on which we can build a sense of community. (A metaphor to explain a metaphor—I couldn’t resist.) When I overhear students drop our metaphors in conversations or read them in a reflective essay, I can literally see and hear metaphor functioning to humanize writing and to establish a relationship between writer and audience, between student and teacher, and between the most important relationship of them all, between the novice writer and writing itself.  

 

What metaphors do you use to talk about writing with your students?

Stephen Parks

Sueños y Pesadillas

Posted by Stephen Parks Expert Oct 31, 2018

Hearing the Voices of the Immigrant “Caravan”

Over the past several weeks, the Trump Administration has been attempting to create an atmosphere of fear around the “caravan” of refugees fleeing the violence of their home countries. Their political and personal suffering has been recast in terms of a “takeover” of our country by “violent and dangerous” individuals. There have even been calls to increase military security along the border. 

 

I want to use this space to simply remind us of the humanity of those attempting to reach safety. Last year, I had the opportunity to publish the memoir SUEÑOS Y PESADILLAS/Dreams and Nightmares by Liliana Velasquez, who left her home at 14 to come to the United States. I am providing an excerpt of her story as one small attempt to remind us of the courage of many of those in the “caravan” and the strength they are bringing to our nation. (Proceeds from Dreams and Nightmares are used to pay for Liliana Velasquez’s college education.) 

 

SUEÑOS Y PESADILLAS: Liliana's Story

 

I Got Rid of My Fear

When I was fourteen, I decided to come to the United States alone. I told myself, I’m going to get rid of all of my fear, if I never strive, I won’t accomplish my dream. When I made that decision, I was ready for anything. What was going to happen to me wasn’t important, because many things had already happened there in Guatemala. I made that decision out of desperation, out of the anger I always had, from seeing my mother and father suffering, from seeing parents in my village who didn’t care for their children, from seeing the violence within families and between neighbors—from seeing my poor country. And, as I suffered some of that, I decided to go far away without fear. When I came here I did many things that I couldn’t imagine, without knowing anything. I didn’t have a plan, like where I was going, who I was going to meet up with or stay with, if I had anything to eat or a place to sleep, or where I was going to get money. I didn’t think about those things. I only told myself, I’m going! I didn’t know what I was doingit was insanity and bravery at the same time.

           

Fulfilling My Dreams

In Guatemala, I wanted to go to school and continue my studies, but I wasn’t able to. I wanted to be someone and overcome what had happened to me, and I decided to make a different life. I didn’t want to get married and have children, like the other young girls in Guatemala, and I had to escape the violence there. My dreams were to live with my brothers in North Carolina and work and help my mom and my sisters. 

 

When they captured me at the border, I felt like my dream had ended. I said to myself, If they deport me, I don’t know what will become of me—I will be destroyed if I return to Guatemala. When I was caught, destiny took me down another path beyond my imagination and changed my life. I came to the United States only to work and be with my brothers. I had no hopes of living with a foster family that would love me, I had no hopes of continuing with my studies and living like a regular girl, of having papers, of having more freedom and respect and opportunities, of not suffering from violence, or of finding so many people who would help me. 

 

Thinking about the future, I am going to keep on fighting and taking advantage of the opportunities that I have. Right now, I’m only focused on my present goals. Eventually, I want to go to a university and study nursing. I will be the first person in my family who has graduated from high school and gone on to the university—who has a career.

 

This hasn’t been easy, it has cost me a lot. In one sense, I’m achieving the American Dream, but a part of me—the part that I love the most—I left in Guatemala. I’m separated from my family there, from the place that I was born. I’ve had to get used to a completely different culture and to new people and have had to determine my own path. It’s been hard, but it’s worth it. 

 

Finally, I Have Told My Story

 Since I was a thirteen-year-old girl, I have wanted to tell my story. When I cried in my house in Guatemala, I imagined that the house was a witness to my suffering, and that someday it would testify about what had happened to me. I wanted to express everything that I felt—how I cried because of the separation of my parents, or the abuse and torment that I experienced, and my lack of education. I didn’t think about including my dreams in my story—I only thought about the ways I suffered.

 

I decided that I had to tell my story. It was very important to me, because there are many people who can’t express themselves, who don’t have the opportunity to tell their story, who have suffered like me. It is my story, but it’s also the story of all the others who have come to this country.

 

Also, I’m telling my story for the people here in the United States who don’t know anything about the life of immigrants—the poverty and violence and lack of opportunities in our countries, and the risks that we take to come to the United States in order to have a better life and help our families. They can’t imagine how we live here, how we suffer, how we try to get ahead and struggle by the sweat of our brow to get what we want. I hope that people who aren’t immigrants see the great difference between their life and the life of immigrants—that they reflect a bit and change their attitude. They haven’t suffered from hunger, they haven’t suffered rape or abuse, they have opportunities to get an education, they don’t live in fear of being arrested and deported. We immigrants came to fulfill our dreams—I want them to understand our dreams.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Stephen Parks.