Friday, August 30, 2013

Thoughts on Composition

A student of mine, in response to a homework assignment, writes the dictionary definition for composition: “the acts of creating written works.” When I give ENG100 students the kind of writing prompt that pushes students to discuss the meaning(s) of composition and their personal strengths and weaknesses, I always get a dictionary definition. Sigh. But it's not a terrible thought: composition is an act as well as a creation. Process and Product.

This student goes on to talk about the importance of creativity, like when he texts a girl he likes and needs a "creative hook." This is a cutsie anecdote that I'm sure is relatable to most of my students. What really strikes me is when he talks about growing up as a deaf person and how he always had practice a word tens times harder than anyone else. These words signify moments of struggle through practice and pronunciation. This is repetition. But, as Gertrude Stein reminds us, there is no such thing; each repeated word comes to us with a new meaning and intention. And through this student's words, I find a sentence to mediate on:"I am not a strong writer because English wasn’t my first language and I am profoundly deaf."At UHM, English (Standard) isn't many students' first language. As this student indicates, it's not that which makes this student "not a strong writer,"but instead it's his deafness.

Deafness, as defined by the IDEA, is “a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification.” But there are also other kinds of deafness that are cultural, colonial, philosophical, theological, political, and so on. Can first year writing [re]pair these kinds of deafnesses with linguistic deafness, through the process and creation of writing?

I am thinking here of my husband, who hears everything despite his eardrumless right ear. He writes beautifully, but even more importantly, long ago, found a process for translating the world into a product with writing. There is no real point to this post. I'm just thinking about language though loss and gain, impairment and repair, as learned and taught. I am also thinking about the stunning poetry, both written and not, that come the simple act of creating.

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