About Carrie O'Dell

Dramaturg. Playwright. Professor. Foodie. Book junkie. Scorpio. Semicolon enthusiast. Crazy cat lady.

Understanding Beginner’s Anxiety, or Why My Neighbors Hate Me Now

by Carrie Lee O’Dell

Every Wednesday night for the past seven weeks, I’ve gone to a small studio space in a repurposed warehouse close to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for group violin lessons. Along with eight other people, I try to coax sounds out of my instrument without calling to mind the sound of a disgruntled cat. Sometimes, I’m successful. Often I’m not. This is, of course, frustrating. It’s also fun and challenging. It makes me use parts of my brain that haven’t gotten much exercise in recent years. When I manage to drag my bow across a string with just the right pressure, it sounds beautiful, which is immensely satisfying. I’ve learned more than just some scales and a short simple song in this class, though. It’s reminded me of the experience of being a student, of learning something from scratch. When you teach something you’ve always been fairly confident doing, it’s important to have the occasional reminder of what it’s like to not know.

Of course, my experience of choosing to take a group music class is hardly a perfect allegory for my students’ experiences in college writing. I sought this class out; many college students look for ways to avoid freshman comp. The stakes are low if I don’t do well—failure to master an instrument that by all accounts I’m picking up nearly forty years too late will not keep me from getting into my desired course of study or prevent me from graduating. I’m not being presented with new rules and restrictions on something I thought I’d already learned. The worst thing that can happen to me is public embarrassment at the recital. The recital that’s open to the public, is a few days away, and will be filmed for Bantam Studios archives. The recital that I’ve invited friends, some of them audio professionals, to attend.

Just a moment. I have to take some really deep breaths. Continue reading

What We Talk About When We Talk About Values: Navigating Discussions of Privilege and Justice in the First Year Writing Classroom, Part II: Lemme Whitesplain That for Ya

By Carrie Lee O’Dell

This blog post took me forever to write and in the end, I cut enough material to make another post and made enough notes for a third. There’s just too much to say to fit it into one post, even one that’s this long. The material kept coming at me: in his campus talk, Elizabeth and Hazel author David Margolick called Paula Jones a bimbo and Hazel Massery Bryant a cracker. A student at Mount Holyoke College filed a complaint against an English professor for racist language in the classroom; another English professor, this one from Sarah Lawrence College, took to the virtual pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education to bemoan the rise of the singular they as a personal pronoun for trans and agender students. A young man in Oregon walked into a writing class and opened fire. I was explaining to a friend why this was so hard to write about; after twenty minutes, I’d taken so many detours, gone down so many rabbit holes, that she had to ask what I’d been talking about when I started. We all have a lot to say about privilege and justice, but it’s hard to find solutions to the problems that come up when we discuss race, gender identity, sexuality, class, or ability. The conversations are important, but exhausting.

When Leslie Doyle and I first sat down to talk about this workshop, we discovered we were coming from different places, though we had a common reason for wanting to open up a conversation about questions of privilege in the First Year Writing classroom. While Leslie was considering student response to class content, I started thinking about this workshop last fall. In a paper discussing potential obstacles to achieving the American Dream, a student wrote about how hard things are for colored people and I had to stop and consider my next move carefully.

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