These words can anchor and focus this image.

These words can anchor and focus  the reading of this image.

I’m teaching a class this term called Writing for New Media.  As I prepped for class today, I read about anchorage, a new media composition technique drawn from the work of Roland Barthes, where a composer anchors a visual with written text, directing the viewer’s attention and changing the reading of the image based on the words, the anchor.  Thinking of anchoring images in this way reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog for a while about transitions, change, and the “anchors” that sustain.

Crystal VanKooten in PhD robes

Walking at the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School Graduation Ceremony

So much has happened in my life over the past months, both academically and personally.  Last year, I defended my dissertation and finished my PhD in English and Education at the University of Michigan, I was on the academic job market from September through February, and I got a job at the end of it all as an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.  This past summer, I walked in graduation, my partner and I sold our house in Toledo, Ohio, and we moved ourselves to Rochester Hills, thirty miles north of Detroit.

Amid so much change, I feel anchored – personally, by my partner and family, but I also feel professionally anchored through my graduate training, the mentoring I received from my dissertation advisors, my experiences in the field of composition studies, and in particular, through what I’ve learned as a new media teacher and composer and a member of the computers and writing community.  Let me offer a few examples.

The Concept in 90 Viewing Screen

The Concept in 90 Viewing Screen

In May, I worked as a Senior Instructor at the Digital Media and Composition Institute at Ohio State.  I met and got to know wonderful teachers and friends there, led sessions on audio-visual composition and copyright, and watched as many participants composed their first audio and video compositions.  At the end of the institute, everyone gathered at Cindy and Dickie Selfe’s home to watch the participants’ “Concept in 90” video compositions.  We drank margaritas, ate desserts, sat outside in the yard as the evening turned dusky, and viewed and listened to each other’s compositions projected on a large sheet.  The videos played consecutively in a row with no stopping.  As I watched, insects were biting incessantly at my ankles.  But I couldn’t move, riveted by the images flitting by and the sounds and silences filling my ears.  I had observed and talked with participants as they conceptualized their Concept in 90 videos, looked at drafts, and tried to help trouble-shoot many technical problems.  Watching the results of our efforts together in person was special, and magical, and meaningful.  Teaching, and encouraging and helping as best I could, and then watching others use new media to communicate and to move an audience – this anchors me.

After DMAC, later in June, I attended the Computers and Writing Conference at Washington State University.  C&W has always been an anchor for me – a welcoming, smaller conference, filled with friends and teachers grappling with how to best use technologies in the writing classroom and generous senior scholars willing to mentor and guide (and buy beers for) us junior folks.  A few highlights from this year’s conference:

  • speaking at the GRN (Graduate Research Network) and seeing all the bright, excited faces anticipating the job market – oh, if you only knew what lay ahead, the joy and the sorrow!  (I presented this video on how to win the job market.)
  • listening to Kyle Stedman, Jon Stone, Harley Ferris, and Steven Hammer present on sonic rhetorics, play weird sounds, and even sing!! (You can access my review of their session on the Sweetland DRC.)
  • bowling with other video composition specialists!
  • watching Sarah Arroyo’s, Bahareh Alaei’s, and Corey Leis’s video compositions at their panel – I cried!
  • hearing UM colleague Aubrey Schiavone present on her research about multimodal composition and textbooks: smart.
  • learning about Mike DePalma’s and Kara Poe Alexander’s research on new media and transfer
  • cheering for my advisor Bump Halbritter as he won the Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award for Mics, Cameras, Symbolic Action
  • walking and talking with UM colleague Liz Homan and celebrating my birthday with wine, cheese, and HGTV
  • presenting on using audio-visual composition in FYC (drawing on my dissertation research) to a room full of interested and engaged scholars

As always, C&W was supportive, stimulating, fun, and I learned a ton.  In other words, the folks in the C&W community, their openness and generosity, the cutting edge scholarship, and the opportunity to join in and to learn – this anchors me.

A view on OU's campus that includes a road, the baseball fields, and a campus building

The view on my walk

Now, in the fall term, I’m teaching three writing classes and finding out what it’s like to be a prof.  I spend much of my time planning for teaching – oh, the planning!  I have also mapped out a research agenda for the fall, and I’m drafting several articles and a video project.  I go to meetings, and I’m starting to serve on committees.  But amid all this, the planning and the mapping of my own agendas and the getting-through-the-day, I see my students, and I get to witness and encourage their writing and learning.  I met with one student today, for example, who is grappling with developing specific inquiry questions for what will become a video project and a research essay on music therapy.  I can’t wait to see, hear, and read what she’ll compose.  I also gave feedback on essays, blog posts, and one collage made with Polyvore – some were creative, fun, and fantastic.  And then, as I finished my work day and walked from my office to my car, I looked around, and the campus was suddenly beautiful.  The sun was shining, and tinges of fall colors were edging their way onto the leaves of trees.  Cicadas chirped, the baseball team was practicing on the field below, and it was beautiful.   This – the students, the creativity, the beauty – this anchors me.