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Forced sterilization of Romani women – a persisting human rights violation

Forced sterilization is still happening to Romani women. This would not happen if governments saw Roma as people instead of pestilence. This injustice certainly casts as pall on all those “sexy Gypsy” stereotypes. It doesn’t help matters when the media misrepresents Romani women as hypersexualized animals/objects.

Forced sterilization of Romani women – a persisting human rights violation Read this article on the Romedia Foundation blog for more


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Feliz Noche and Happy Holidays!

Feliz Noche and Happy Holidays!.

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Research in Paris: Day 3

So this didn’t exactly follow the “every day I post a thing” format I wanted, mostly because I was too busy doing the things (museums! cafes! gardens! things!) to post about them. I have a feeling this will be easier when I get an internet magic phone.

Anyway! I got my notebook back! Len spent many hours (really), scouring the city looking for it, and he found it at a creperie we had visited in Monmartre. They kept it safe and so faith in humanity is refreshed.

More friends from Ireland came on day three, and after our happy reunion, they frolicked in the Latin Quarter and Len and I headed over to the Louvre. 

I have a sense that hearing someone else’s Louvre experience is almost as pointless as trying to sum up one’s own Louvre experience. There is simply too much. I read once that even if you went to the Louvre every day for a year and only looked at each artwork for 30 seconds, you still wouldn’t have seen everything. And that’s without factoring in the magic store in the basement! So we took the opportunity to experience France’s artistic heritage and I took notes on what was inspiring for whatever reason.

Major hitters: The ancient Egypt wing. No spoilers, but my novel draws a lot on mythology, though primarily Romani folklore and mythology and ancient Indian mythology (India being the origin of Romani or “Gypsy” people). But I am consistently amazed by the amount of cross-over there is between different cultures and religions… and enough justifying, I really love ancient Egypt. Who doesn’t? FOOLS! THAT’S WHO!

French sculpture: There were so many Dianas, so many hounds and bows and quivers,– I was ecstatic. I used to pray to her when I was a kid. It’s unsurprising that she’s helpful to me now, too.

Orientalism: It’s important to see how Romani and “Eastern” people are Romanticized, to remember what not to do, and also to swoon over the gorgeousness.

The evening kicked off with a lovely vegetarian/vegan restaurant near Notre Dame and many toasts to our friends, who, as it happens, are planning their wedding. Yay!


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Research in Paris, Day 2

Today was a mixed-bag. The wonderful news is that a dear friend from Ireland came to visit for the day and we had lunch and a drink later and caught up after 2 years. The bad news is, later in the day, a kerfuffle of sorts broke out, and in the mess I lost my notebook full of novel-notes, rough drafts of novel scenes, writing exercises, insights from the retreat, and a lot of the research I’ve done in the past couple months… so… that happened. But I have my name and address in it, so I hope some kind-hearted chickadee who’s chanced upon it in Paris might mail it back to me. That happens sometimes, right?

I feel like there’s not much more I can say at this point. Bonsoir, Paris. Bonsoir, notebook. Bonsoir, moon.

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Voice Now and Then

When I first started this blog I was thinking of voice in a highly individualistic way. I saw voice as a very specific term, so narrow that I thought it might be difficult to explore, but one that I was interested in nonetheless. Although I strongly believe in a holistic approach in the classroom, I have leanings toward expressivist teaching. I feel that my expressivist tint might have been the lens for my “authentic voices of the individual” perspective. Now I see voice as a more abstract, far-reaching idea: voice is what our students want to communicate, and the style, mode and community in which they do it. That is more condensed than I intended. These feel like big categories. This feels like a big leap to me.  Especially because I also see
that voice collaborates within itself as well as with others, and that I think was one of my most important realizations.

At first, when I thought about voice, I thought about it mainly from the perspective of a creative writer. It seemed that creative writing doesn’t involve collaboration or a tremendous amount of technology. Or so I thought. As the class and the readings progressed and I traced my key term in relation to this progression, I realized how much collaboration and technology influence voice, provide a vehicle for voice, and enhance voice. I saw that what I do as a teacher affects the voice of my students. Their peer review groups and sessions at the writing center are times of collaborative learning, which shapes their voices. Technology allows students a different way to communicate, through publication, multi-media, remediation, and community. I began seeing that the voice of the student is, in part, the voice of the student’s environment. I see this as a creative writer too– workshops are collaborative spaces where voice is influenced, modified, and expanded. Television writing is a collaborative effort, as are improvised productions and many other forms of published, performed, influential writing.

The whole way through the blog project, I felt that the readings were more of a jumping-off point. I didn’t see a lot of point in rehashing articles that we had already discussed in class from the very specific lens of my key term. I didn’t think that was what was expected of us. So the articles served as inspiration, and I applied my understanding of my key term’s relationship with the articles to contexts that were closer to my world, closer to my future classroom, and closer to my life. Writing that way gave me a lot to consider, and forced me to think very carefully about voice and the theories we covered in a way that shapes me as a teacher.

So how does this shape me as a teacher? It has made me considerably more interested in writing exercises that encourage students to use their voices and say what they want to say, sure. It has also made me think about ways to introduce logic and rhetoric through discussion and study. I plan to talk about audience through in class writing exercises and analysis. I will give them opportunities to use different types of technologies through a remediation project, and spaces and assignments that are computer-friendly. I hope to foster an environment of peer review and collaboration through workshop, in-class activities, and journals. Voice does not make sense when it’s separated from logic or the community. Voices are heard easier when they communicate their message through technology, whether that’s a printing press or a computer. And voices are multi-faceted. Voices are met with an audience of other voices. I feel hyper-aware of voice now and its place in the classroom. I have also learned that the best way for me to teach is to become a good listener. Each class is made up of individuals. If I don’t listen to them, or don’t know anything about them, I won’t know what they need, nor how to reach them with my voice.


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Voices in Englishes

Like I usually do, I will explain this via music video.

In “Sunshowers,” M.I.A. uses a lot of Sri Lankan-English constructions and in makes perfect sense to do so. She has filmed the video in Sri Lanka, and she is singing about her experiences of surviving the Sri Lankan revolution. That voice she uses has rhetorical power, it’s her home voice, and it is a voice of the community. In “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued,” A. Suresh Canagarajah writes about the power of allowing the voice of writers to express this dynamic multi-cultural nature, and that doing otherwise suppresses students and writers alike.

In “Bucky Done Gun,” M.I.A. uses a lot of London street slang, another one of her home languages. This also has great rhetorical power because she is singing about the ridiculous nature of gang violence. She incorporates other slang and references other cities that she has lived in (such as New York) to weight her song with meaning, but also, to use the may authentic voices she has. I am again shamelessly referencing bell hooks when I speak of these “authentic voices.” I know that these examples are songs, and that creative use of language is tolerated in lyrics. However, the reason I use these examples is because M.I.A’s lyrics are communicating with both the content and the grammar. Canagarajah points to the effective use of home Englishes in articles and books by bell hooks and Geneva Smitherson. Their mastery of different Englishes is such that they use each one wisely, rhetorically, and creatively. They sure as hell know what they’re doing. Isn’t that what we want to teach our students? I got really excited about the idea that I might be able to discuss the power of different Englishes with my class. I love the way this works! We of course need to teach the English of the Academy, because our students will need that to survive effectively in academia. But home Englishes have their places too, and do not need to be checked at the gates.

How did I not realize the fluid, dynamic nature of voice before? Upon reflection, this was not only a powerful realization as a teacher, but also as an artist and as a person. I had a lot of voices that I was trying to overwrite because they weren’t “right.” If I had done that to my students… oh my… I don’t want to think about it. I saw my own life broken into Englishes, and I was a little in awe. Please, indulge me.

I grew up with a lot of languages floating around: German, Italian, bits of Romani, and of course, English. I never learned German, Italian, or Romani fluently, though I probably got closest with German. My Romani Grandmother speaks German, and I spent so much time with her when I was little that I even picked up some of her accent which, oddly,  slips out when I’m very tired. And then I grappled with two Englishes: specifically, my parents’ working class mill town Massachusetts English, and the deep forest of New Hampshire English (where I grew up). You can imagine what this little girl sounded like. Or can you? What would be the best example? Perhaps it’s when I was three and, standing before the broken-down car in my Easter dress, I kicked the tire and sighed “Fuckin piece-a-shit!” Or perhaps it’s when I went to school and told everyone, “Nein, we don’t read the Bible zu Hause. I have ze Greek myths at bedtime. Ist the same, ja? I like zem a wicked lot!” It wasn’t long before no one could understand a damn thing I said. And in the middle of the forest in Epsom NH, where it’s not unheard of for a 6 year old child to ride a cow to school on her own, you really don’t want to look out of place. I was already suspicious enough with my Gyspy face. So when I was nine, I decided to iron-out my English and make it the English I heard on the news, that flat non-regional grammar-tight speech. I wished to be unremarkable; I wished to be correct. I made an orphanage out of the textbook and raised my English there, apart from it’s weird, loving family.

Then of course, I had to go and complicate everything by falling in love with an Irishman and living in Ireland for three years, where I thought I would stay for good. I made every effort to fit in neatly in Ireland, assuming new spelling, new pronunciation, new rising and falling tones, and new idioms. I loved it, too. And then the  Irish recession hit and  now, here I am back in America, saying “brilliant” and “bollocks” with an Irishman at my side, keeping the traditions alive. In between NH and Ireland, I was in Virginia for school, where bits of that accent crept in, and then, magically, when I lived with my parents for a few months before moving here, my NH/MA accent came bounding back like a family dog glad to see me. And so did my weird half-German-ish accent. Oh boy. I don’t sound like a mess any more though. Maybe I never did. I’m just glad that all these Englishes are under one roof. They are a part of me, and they really do come in handy. I can address a few audiences, order and toast a pint like a lad, and probably sweet-talk a black bear. I can also write professional, polished prose when I need to do so. This is powerful stuff. This is the kind of stuff I want to teach. The trick is using the rhetorical power of speech, and being fluent in all the Englishes that we have. Our students have a new home in the academy, and it’s our job to get them speaking our language. It’s not our job to obliterate their other home Englishes.

My Romani mother in a dirndl, in Germany, when she was 12. Today, this woman sleep-talks in German.

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A babble of voices

Muriel Harris discusses collaboration in “Collaboration Is Not Collaboration Is Not Collaboration: Writing Center Tutorials vs. Peer-Response Groups” and points out that the type of collaboration in writing centers is very different to the collaboration of peer groups. At the writing center, students experience collaborative learning, discovery, and are challenged to consider their own work and writing process analytically. In peer groups, students hear what their peers think– what the author should change, what the work is about, and what is the work’s best qualities. These are two different environments with different purposes, an I imagine that the babble of voices can become overwhelming. Even more overwhelming when added to that mix is the teacher’s voice.

In high school, the assignments our students were set were normally quite rigid. In the 1101 class they are much more open to interpretation, and that in itself can feel a bit scary because we still expect polish work from them. But we also expect their own thoughts and in-put.It’s like rewriting the lyrics within a song’s structure, which at first, sounds like a stiff and controlled task, but really it can be quite fun and liberating.

Amidst all these spaces where students are advised, corrected, poked, and prodded into writing well, the goal is always for the student to write authentically well. Developing voice within a babble of voices can be confusing and intimidating, but when the different for learning collaboration, writing collaboration, and instruction are used mindfully and carefully, the babble would die down to something else. Not directives so much as a number of routes. Those bad guys with the pipe wrench suddenly become just people chatting about what a poem means. While I trust the writing center to be what it needs to be, it’s our job as instructors to make sure that peer-response groups are what they need to be. We need to write that song and let them change the words in the best way for them.

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