Sunday, June 8, 2014

#LSUYAL2014 as a Metaphor For the Writing Process @writingproject - The Stadium

"Running in Louisiana is like jogging in pea soup."

As soon as I arrived to Louisiana I set out on a 10K to acclimate myself to the south only to return to jot the above line in a journal. I came to Baton Rouge for the LSU Young Adult Literature conference and this was the first time Crandall visited cajun country. The hospitality everywhere was remarkable.

I'm writing today, however, to make a connection between the goliath LSU stadium, running, and the advice offered by remarkable people I was fortunate to meet on this trip. Everything at LSU is enormous, including the experience I had during my stay in Baton Rouge.

During the conference, I ran every morning (or afternoon) through the thick pea soup. I noticed at these times how everything was decorated in ubiquitous purple and gold. CVS, in fact, had a row of LSU paraphernalia besides its whisky aisle (a man has to appreciate that souvenirs and alcohol can be purchased together on a Sunday).

This campus is a waltz between Barney and Big Bird

The first night I looked at the stadium lights, I said to myself, "This campus is a waltz between Barney and Big Bird. How can a sports fan...well, PBS fan...not love it?" The pride Louisianians have for their football program, for their Shaq, for Mike the Tiger, and for education, oozes out of every crevice of the campus (and there are many of them caused by the high humidity and moisture).

When I ran one morning, however, I thought about a workshop I did with Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell at the LSU Invitational Summer Institute (it was a bonus event during the #LSUYAL2014 conference). After I presented on hosting student playwright festivals, I sprinted around the football stadium where I had a bit of an epiphany. The LSU Writing Project, coupled with Steven Bickmore's vision for the YA novel conference, partnered with the irreplaceable conversations I had with YA authors, helped me to ask questions about my work with the National Writing Project. As I drenched myself in the sprint of pea soup, I asked questions about what I personally mean by a finished product, a colosseum, or published text. They are end products and a culmination. Yes.

Yet, if I listened to Chris Crutcher, Teri Lesesne, Alan Brown, Chris Crowe, Kimberly Willis Holt, Steven BickmoreMatt de la Peña, and Sarah Guillory, I wondered if its the culmination we should be teaching or the acts of the watershed before the accomplishments arrive to the published confluence. The achievements of writers, thinkers, and academics are not a result of magic or wishful thinking. Instead, they are the result from multiple processes: routines, creating a blueprint, orientating ourselves to a task at hand, setting goals, constructing a product, and physical and mental labor.  

My point? When I entered LSU's campus, I  was sucked under the grandiose stature of the LSU football stadium. I became instantly intimidated because the structure was a vast mausoleum that left me with lilliputian insecurities. Whereas giants physically battle 'in there', the meek mentally lock horns 'here' in my head.

The dazzle of their success (and finished products) stood out as monumental 

The LSU arena is impressive. In fact, it is overbearing. This was somewhat how I felt when  meeting the incredible individuals who attended this week's conference. The dazzle of success (and finished products) stood out as monumental to me. Like the stadium, so are their accomplishments - HUGE.

When I ran, though, I came upon construction workers who were 'refurbishing' the backside of stadium - an expansive project that will allow more fans to attend  home games (shooting for seats for 100,000). This construction interested me. Rather than the awe of Tiger Pride, I am  more fascinated by the hard work behind the scenes (those who feed Mike the Tiger, those who work cranes, those who carry forth campus maintenance, those who pick up after crowds, those who sketch out designs for construction, etc. - pretty Walt Whitman-esque, I suppose). 

The hard work of these individuals became a metaphor to parallel what all the authors/academics shared with teachers, librarians, and students in attendance at the LSU Young Adult Literature conference. Yes, publications are a goal, but each and every one of the presenters disclosed that a published achievement results from how they 'construct' their lives behind the scenes: the lived experiences they've had, the discipline it takes to be productive, the vast number of books they read, the abundance of 'shitty first drafts', the incessant revisions, the power of perseverance, the lessons learned from being discouraged, the focus on what matters, and most importantly, the power of interacting with others (UBUNTU - I can be me because of who we are together). 

I think too often educators teach young people the finished product --- the LSU stadium --- without sharing the networks, labor, conflicts, snafus, contracts and frustrations that go into reaching an impressive product. There are multiple processes that must be considered, practiced, and implemented before the actual 'stadium' is built. The arena doesn't arrive from a genie bottle. It's labor and this is what schools need to highlight and encourage with young writers before they graduate and move out into the world. It isn't tests. It's isn't the measurement of bubble sheets. It is a process for living  life as committed readers, writers, and thinkers. This should be the purpose emphasized at every school.

The truth is there are multiple processes that must be considered, practiced, and implemented before a 'stadium' is built

We labored last week at #LSUYAL2014 and Steven Bickmore employed us with his vision. I am a better human being, I know, because of this vision, too. I  scribbled a lot on chalkboards and tapped a few tweets throughout the week, but the experience left my head swirled in multiple doodles of purple and gold, including this post.


It's time to leave Louisiana and think strategically about my summer work with the Connecticut Writing Project. My vacation is over and there's work to be done - work that will be easier now because I'm departing Baton Rouge as an inspired man.

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