What language do I speak?

A translingual approach entails respecting multilingual writing, not making foreign languages “secondary,” and ultimately a classroom where difference is respected. Makes sense to me. From what I’ve read on the subject from Trimbur, Lu, Anzaldua, and others, a translingual approach has much to do with the self: students who speak English as a second, or third, language might tend to find their home language less viable academically–Less important. It disadvantages them. While they should be rewarded for speaking multiple languages, instead their identity seems banished from the classroom.

When I was an undergraduate, I was all about English. And not just English–American. A standard for me was to say I spoke American, to scoff at the idea I spoke English. I was, without a doubt, one of those students who saw the foreign language requirement at school to be unnecessary and annoying (Probably because my older brother, Dan, spoke Spanish fluently and went to college for it, and so I distanced myself from that type of study as much as humanly possible; perhaps from a fear of not excelling as well as he did–but this isn’t a psychoanalytical post).

At the same time, I very much relate to the idea that “virtually all students who are monolingual in the sense that they speak only English are nonetheless multilingual in the varieties of English they use and in their ability to adapt English to their needs and desires.”  Because in the end, because of my fast way of speaking, my addiction to old-fashioned comedies and every musician this side of the solar system, I have arrived at my own jumbled language. Particularly in the way I communicate with my friends. Other than a select few, no one else has a clue what I mean by “GG,” “It’s niara,” “oomama,” “Oh my Lantan… Although I don’t think that’s particularly what they were referring to in their paper. Also, coming from a Jewish upbringing, I use boychik, oy gavolt, and have a particular inflection to my accent… Coming from a childcare background, my exclamations have been replaced by poopyhead, fudge, Timbuktu, and I avoid phrases like I hate, I can’t… When something is completed well, I’ll say coo coo cachoo; having been raised with Dan, I’ll say mi madre, instead of my mom, and vamanos when I want things to get a move on…
Do these things belong in Academic writing? The point is, I think, that no one on the planet really speaks one language. Depending on the situation, whether I’m with my friends from elementary school, my college friends, my family, or talking to a strange, I’ll use a different language to serve the situation. And to say my own language isn’t as valuable as Standard English, would be an attack on me personally; just like to say Spanish or French isn’t as valuable is disrespectful.

Advertisements

Climbing Up

Eric is long gone now, but Eddy remains.

Eddy and his friend Eric climbed a hill of wet rocks near the pier. The pier was just a walkway, without amusements or fishing, just benches and a railing going around it. They climbed the rocks and sat at the top overlooking the waves of the ocean thrashing the rocks beneath them. They talked and then roughhoused. Eddy stood up, slipped, and fell, his head first against the rock hill, tumbling into the salt water on the side of the hill opposite the pier.

The waves thrashed Eddy against the rocks, and Eric slid down the other side, scraping the back of his legs and arms and back before landing in the wet sand and then ran toward the lifeguard down the beach, who was running toward him already and a minute or two away. Eric stopped and started screaming and pointing, his feet sinking in the sand as he fell to his knees and pointed, not following or watching the lifeguard running by, the image of Eddy’s face smacking that ridged rock above the waves before entering, splitting his face, comatose body and foaming waves.

Media came.

Eric is long gone now, but Eddy remains. Eric’s parents filed suit in the town, not for money but awareness. They forced a lifeguard station nearer to the pier rather than a football field and sprint away. More people began swimming by the rock hill, which they tapered off and buoyed. Teens made bonfires at night under the pier and dared each other to climb the rock hill. Some did. The town hired a night watchman to keep the teens at bay and alive. They considered loading the rocks away but figured it too expensive, and Eric told them to keep the rock hill as a symbol. To keep it in the town, they put a plaque dedicating Eddy on it. First came food stands on the beach. Couples sat on the benches of the pier overlooking the fatal ocean and listened to the thrashing of waves against rocks. The food stands moved onto the pier. Bikers rode down and back and gave extra landscape and distance to their route. With a connection, Adventure Park Group saw the pier and its location as an untapped resource. With a promise not to remove the rock hill, they built four rides, game stands, and various other carnival stands on the pier. Families there on vacations remember Eddy when the older kids tell the younger ones the ghost story. But Eric is long gone.

Intro to a short story I’m writing

Once upon a New Year’s Eve, he and I were naïve, attractive freshmen at an invitation-only house party. Bouncers guarded the front and back doors. Tuxedoed frat brothers hurried in and out of the kitchen like cocktail waiters, divvying out bottles of champagne and gallon jugs of spiked punch. Blunt roaches, red cups, condoms, and cigarettes bobbed around skinny dippers who cheered for me to loosen up. I undressed to the music of their wolf-whistles. I went cannonball into the suspiciously warm pool. I kept up with their drinking pace, shots served to us from the diving board, unknown flavors I forced down like bad medicine. I stayed in until I was ready to vomit.

With my dress on inside out and soaking up the water that stank of latex, I stumbled to a place where nobody would find me unless they were searching for me. At the edge of the woods in the backyard, behind the broken jacuzzi filled with empty liquor bottles, I was bracing against a tree, calculating the positives and negatives of lying facedown on the ground, when he fell hard nearby. I only heard the collapse and saw the aftermath. He rolled onto his back so that his head rested on one of my tree’s massive roots. He had a pretty boy face made for the silver screen, and the heels of his hands were scraped and dirty. He introduced himself as Don Corleone, questioned my motives, why I hadn’t offered him my friendship or invited him over for coffee, why I dared to disrespect him on his daughter’s wedding. He’d been stalking me, I think, waiting for me to lose track of my friends, like a wolf pouncing on prey separated from its herd.

To Discourse or to Talk?

Elbow’s essay,  “Reflections on Academic Discourse: How it Relates to Freshmen and Colleagues,” and Bartholomae’s essay, “Inventing the University,” at first appear to come at college writing from opposite sides of the field. For Bartholomae, the college class ought to teach academic discourse in the mode of communication that universities give students access to. Students must appropriate the language of the subject to better suit their writing, to learn the audience and manipulate them “or accommodate her motives to her reader’s expectations.” Whereas Elbow argues that writing classes should teach nonacademic writing, and by adopting a specific, high level discourse a writer is detaching from the audience. College is short and life is long. Plus,different subjects, such as history and psychoanalysis, use different types of jargon and modes of communication. So in that way, B and E are juxtaposed. However, Bartholomae is often referring to being an “insider,” which I think can fall in line with metacognition. According to Elbow, if students always use ordinary language, their own thinking about a discourse will come much easier, and they will be more frank, rather than trying to dazzle with unnecessary academic riffraff. Bartholomae wants students to be able to see any discourse, recognize it, and adapt to it, so that they can write well and communicate their ideas. So there is something similar in that idea of playing multiple roles through what we know.

The readings for me raise a few questions:

A first-year writing class ought to prepare a student for the subject they ultimately choose to major in, so why even teach it in a separate department? By that I mean, perhaps a student who knows they want to be a psychology major should have their first-year writing class with the psychology department. It may be true what Elbow says about life being long and college being short, but if a student’s profession is completely based on their major (e.g. psychology) isn’t that discourse and jargon something they will take with them throughout life? And by that I mean, is there really a “college” language? Aren’t academic journals separated by their subject matter? Engineering, American history, 19th century Russian literature? Perhaps then the first-year writing program should aim at helping students decide where they want to be within all the possible choices of discourse and how to quickly adapt to the vast assortment of them; and it should help them come to terms with this new thing in their life: college, scholarly articles, being an adult, being a member of politics and the world–which I think Emerson’s first-year writing program does.

The Call to Write

For me, the call to write is a ghost.

“The Choices Writer’s Make”—more so, Jerald Walker’s essay on Michael Jackson, “Before Grief,” and also June Jordan’s essay “Nobody Mean More to Me than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan”—got me thinking: why do I write? What is the rhetorical situation of my fiction? For me, it’s different from a societal need. Not to pigeonhole the “rhetorical situation,” but it does tend to demonstrate that the reason to write ought to be based on a necessity of action. Action in the sense of external. What the people, or planet, needs. Michael Jackson dies, people wonder why they should care—they call him a freak show, they question his legacy—which compels Walker to write his essay, in a sort of defense. Sure, it’s not always a defense—someone might want to forward a new idea, like Jordan’s essay on Black English versus Standard English, because they foresee a benefit to interested parties, or they aspire to interest more parties. Still, in that, it seems to be a question of benefitting society. The exigence, often referred to in our literature, seems to be that of the external requirement.

That is not why I write fiction. However, there is a “rhetorical situation.” My need to write is far more physical, as I’m sure it was, in part, for Jordan and Walker. After the cop killed Willie Jordan’s brother, after Walker read a post about how his idol had been called a freak show, a deep, guttural necessity forced them to their notebook or computer. My reason for writing happens constantly, from that feeling. I’m walking down the street, I’m working in a preschool, I’m riding the train. I see something, I hear something, which creates something, which I can’t put my finger on yet. At night, it comes back to me: What is that? I hear it, I see it, that image, that moment. What do I do with it? Nothing for now. It’s hard for me to come to terms with it. Wait, there it is again. It’s clearer. It spurs other images, other ideas. Why do I write it down, though? What compels me to stop everything and put the words into a notebook, then bring the notebook to the computer? The answer is simple: whatever it is that’s creating the story is following me around like a haunting ghost. And I’m Whoopi Goldberg. The reluctant psychic, who ought to interpret it. Or else it might keep lingering. That’s the situation.

Train Tale

I got on a train last Wednesday. When it picked up speed, the headwind blew me. I fell on the dirt, but it’s all right because I wore my helmet.

With two broken legs, I headed for a bar. When I reached the bar, I used it as a cane to drag myself across the grass. I found another bar and decided to remove both my legs and use the bars instead. They couldn’t bend at the knees, which was all right, but I couldn’t sit down in the bar.

I stood at the counter and ordered a Scotch. When he came over, I couldn’t understand what he was saying because of his accent. I ended up with a new pair of shoes, but I wanted a beer. So I went behind the counter and poured myself one. I realized I was using the same glass as the guy across from me when I saw his dentures floating on the froth. Good thing too because I needed dentures. My teeth had fallen out after I’d fallen off the train.

The guy didn’t want me taking them. They were a gift from his nephew and sentimental. We decided to fight to the death over them. We tied ropes to the ceiling so that we could swing around. I used one of my bars, and he used my other bar. This gave me an advantage because I was a smaller target without legs. The bars clanged together, while we swung around. Before we knew it, each bar was broken at the center yet still one piece. I halted the fight. The guy had done me a favor. Now my bars had knees. I thanked him and presented him with the dentures. We both sat at the bar and shared a chocolate sundae. I told him about the train, and he called me a liar. No train ran near that town.

Beyond Cognition, From Silence to Words

Trimbur’s “Beyond Cognition” reminded me of my philosophy days. Lu’s essay, “From Silence to Words” reminded me of a memoir. Trimbur’s essay used multiple authors to prove a point; Lu used her own life and one guy’s epigraph on communal discourse to come to terms with her childhood and draw from it the positives. Lu starts her essay with the death of her mother, whereas Trimbur opens his essay with a problem, the inner/outer metaphor.

When I was a philosophy major, we often did what Trimbur did. We discussed philosophers, their theories and arguments, all for the sake of a final conclusion. Trimbur seems to have done that here. His mode was, in my opinion, argumentative. Despite how strong he made the argument of the inner/outer metaphor, he knew he was going switch gears. The metaphor itself reminded me of Kant’s phenomenal vs. noumenal plains of existence. I do see his point at the end about Bakhtin, about how much of our language derives from outside sources, various voices.

I don’t think they reached similar conclusions, though. I don’t exactly mean that. Maybe I misread one of their pieces. Lu’s essay had everything to do with dichotomy and homogeneity; Trimbur’s essay seemed to have to do with where we begin to write and egocentrism. They both would agree that the voices from the outside pervade our inner language. For Lu, the voices of school and home fought each other for greater territory. For Trimbur, the voices from the outside completely create our inner language, or so it would seem. Maybe I’m just not getting it, though. Also, Lu’s conclusion about communal discourse seemed to have more to do with opposing viewpoints, whereas Trimbur’s seemed to have to do with the creation of viewpoints in general and where to begin when writing.