my leadership role model

Today’s post is about a person who appears in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, so to start us off I thought I’d share something fun I discovered this morning. I am reading the Bible chronologically, and this morning my reading was 1 Samuel 4-8. Did you know that the names of two famous characters from 19th-century fiction appear in these chapters? They are Ichabod (as in Ichabod Crane, from Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) and Ebenezer (as in Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol). I think these characters’ creators chose the names because they sound funny and quaint to modern English-speakers and may invoke a harsh brand of Protestantism, not, or not primarily, because of their Hebrew meanings: Ichabod means “inglorious” and was the name of a baby (poor little guy!) born just after the Ark of the Covenant was stolen by the Philistines, and Ebenezer means “thus far has the LORD helped us” and was the name of a memorial stone set up to commemorate a victory against the Philistines.  (I have written a post about Ebenezer Scrooge’s association with memorial stones–I’m not sure if this was deliberate or unconscious on Dickens’s part.) Anyway, there’s your fun fact for the day.

Later in 1 Samuel, we meet the young man who will become Israel’s greatest king, David. Many of the people who appear in the pages of the Old Testament are roughly sketched and hard to relate to, but David is what we would call in literature a well-developed character. Not only from the historical accounts but also from the many psalms he wrote, we learn about David’s bold frankness, his concern for those under his care (first his father’s sheep, then the rebels who fought under him during his outlaw years, then finally his subjects and his many children), and his ardent love for God. David’s emotions are always near the surface in these accounts–he has a warm heart and, often, a hot head. As an F (feeling) on the Myers-Briggs scale, I can relate to David.

David made many mistakes, some ugly and inexcusable (murder by proxy, adultery, bad parenting). But the reason he’s my leadership role model is that, throughout his life, David remained teachable and open to correction. A prophet named Nathan keeps showing up in the accounts of David’s kingship, and nearly every time we see him, he’s calling out David for some sin. The fact that David not only tolerates but welcomes Nathan’s correction is amazing considering what David’s descendants, the increasingly bad kings, will do to prophets who tell them the truth (e.g. throw them in a pit, kill them). David could say, “I’m the king; I can do whatever I want!” Instead, he responds to Nathan’s truth-telling, not with a political “Hmm, I’ll consider that,” but with repentance, confessing his sin against God and immediately doing what he can to restore fellowship with God and the people he has wronged.

One of my greatest leadership fears is becoming the person who is too imperious or even just too sensitive to be corrected–the person everyone else is reluctant to confront. I don’t enjoy confrontation, but I’m thankful that I work with people who kindly tell me about things I need to do better, and I hope I will always have people like this.

Another thing I love about David is that once he’s confessed his sin, he doesn’t wallow in it. Once fellowship has been restored with God (see Psalm 51, a painful and beautiful expression of this process), David is able to move on with joy and confidence that he’s been forgiven. Of course, his actions have consequences, and he recognizes this and grieves the harm he’s done to others. But this is another necessary leadership quality: the ability to walk forward.

I’d love to hear about your leadership role models!

IWCA recap

I just got back from the International Writing Centers Association conference in Denver.  Besides a gorgeous view of the Rockies, some Mellow Mushroom pizza, and a lot of dedicated time for grading in a quiet, cushy hotel room, I got a whole slew practical strategies and provocative topics of consideration that I can apply to my own institutional context.  This post, in which I highlight a few of those strategies and provocations, is clearly pitched toward my writing center colleagues, but you might find something interesting even if if you’re not entirely sure what a writing center is.

  • I went to a session on dissertation boot camps, a type of event in which doctoral students try to knock out as much writing as they possibly can while in a supportive environment (support = writing consultants/coaches, coffee, and food).  I’ve been hearing and reading about dissertation boot camps for several years now, but this time was different, because I’m now on my way to joining the ranks of the cool kids who have actually hosted them.  This morning I tossed the idea to our very proactive on-staff Ed.D. dissertation consultant, and as of this afternoon we’ve taken the first steps toward scheduling a weekend dissertation-writing event (I’m not sure how I feel about the term “boot camp”) for next spring.
  • I went to several sessions about writing center space, and in one of them, we were all asked to draw a picture of our current space and one of our ideal space.  Although I half-jokingly told a fellow participant that the session had sent me back to feeling depressed about our space–which I had been starting to make peace with–the session actually forced me to think about what we can do with our space, other than whining about it.
  • The last two sessions I went to got me thinking about the “personality” of our writing center–the image it projects to people who walk through the door or encounter our people outside of the actual physical space.  In one session, a director presented the results of an “inclusivity audit” she had performed by asking faculty members from other departments to visit the center and comment on the ways in which it made them feel welcomed, excluded, etc.  One faculty member said that the center appeared too “English-y” (e.g., there were inside-jokey posters about literature and grammar; there were too many books as part of the decor).  My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and say, “Of course there are books in a writing center!,” but if we profess to serve writers from all disciplines, then we may be sending a conflicting message if we project an image of welcoming only one discipline.
  • In the next session I went to, there was a presentation about whether writing center tutors identify themselves as writers.  This is another case in which we might want to say “of course,” but six of the 15 surveyed tutors did not see themselves as writers, which raises a whole lot of questions about how we define “being a writer” and whether the students who visit the writing center feel out of place because they don’t see themselves as writers, either.  Another presentation during this session was about Myers-Briggs types, which is the whole reason I went to the session (I’m a sucker for a good MBTI discussion).  The presenter’s argument was that Idealist types–NFs–are overrepresented in writing center work, while they make up only a small percentage of the U.S. population at large.  I spent most of this session trying to decide whether I actually am an Idealist (this is a perennial identity crisis for me–I usually say I’m ISFJ, but sometimes I skew toward INFJ), but I also thought, again, about the image our center may be projecting.  Are we saying that only dreamy, abstract, creative types (obviously, I’m overgeneralizing) are welcome to come discuss writing with us?  I suggested at the end of the session that all the presenters (there was one more excellent presentation I haven’t even discussed here) should do a mega-study about the writing center’s personality, but really, I want to do my own study on this topic here at my own institution.

Also, I want to get a Mellow Mushroom in Central Virginia.  Can someone start working on that?


Who am I?

I’m Jean Valjean.  Actually, this post is not about Les Miserables; I just thought I would create a fake segue from last week’s post to this one.  That line is one of the best moments in the musical, though.

This morning the topic of faculty convocation at my institution was “The Modern Identity Crisis.”  We do realize that this is now the postmodern era, but the title was a reference to a paradigm shift that occurred during the Enlightenment.  Broadly speaking, in ancient and medieval times, you were born into a certain family, class, and trade, and you didn’t worry about discovering who you were really meant to be.  (So that question in A Knight’s Tale, “Can a man change his stars?”–nobody was really asking it at that time period.  But they also weren’t listening to classic rock.  That movie is a fantasy, in case you weren’t sure.)  But in the modern period, the question of individual identity became paramount, and it’s only become more confusing as the world has become simultaneously more diverse and more homogenous.

In this post, I want to point out a few recent manifestations of the drive to self-define that may appear silly or harmless, but that are actually quite telling and potentially powerful.  One is the proliferation of assessment tools, ranging from research-based psychiatric tests to three-question quizzes on advertising webpages (“What’s your guest bathroom decorating style?”), designed to help us categorize ourselves and others.  Young adult literature fans very seriously discuss the implications of being in a particular Hogwarts (and now Ilvermorny) house or a certain faction in the dystopian world of Divergent, and each of these fandoms offers a variety of official and unofficial tests and quizzes for determining where one belongs.  Many people, including myself, never tire of talking about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators and the rampant memes that lead us to identify ourselves with characters from various worlds (The Lord of the RingsThe Office, the Bible) based on MBTI. We give these assessment instruments so much power that they are almost like a postmodern version of divination.  Instead of looking to stars or tea leaves to tell us how are lives are going to turn out, or how to make decisions, we look at our personality types.

Our self-defining statements can also create limitations on who and what we are willing to be and do.  Some of these statements give us excuses for our perceived weaknesses (“English people don’t do math,” or vice versa); others allow us to feel superior to others (“Academics don’t watch football”).  And some of these statements, especially when made and believed by children and teenagers, can actually create deep-rooted habits that can shape the quality of a person’s life (“Nerds don’t do physical exercise”).

I’m not trying to be dire or dour.  I think it’s fun to discuss these things (as long-time readers of my blog know, I’m a Hufflepuff, and I’m also an ISFJ), but I’m afraid too many of us are limiting ourselves because we’re letting our categories determine our destinies.

my literary crushes

First of all, you’ll all be glad to know that I’ve completed the first draft of the body of my dissertation.  Still to go: revisions, introduction and conclusion, and defense.

I thought I’d write a quick post to address something I’ve been saying a good bit lately.  I’ve been telling people that I “have a crush” on several different fictional characters.  What makes this notable is that I’m not talking about characters in movies, who have the benefit of being played by a cute actor.  I’m talking about characters from books.  Some of them have been portrayed in movies, but not in a way that impressed me in the particular way that I’m talking about.  I’m just going to address three here–two classics and a newcomer–but I’m sure I could come up with more if I thought about it.

1. Hamlet.  I hate it when people reduce Hamlet to the adjectives dark, brooding, and indecisive.  (I don’t think that last one is fair, anyway.  He’s trying to make up his mind about things like whether to believe a ghost and whether to kill his uncle.  These are not decisions to be made quickly.)  He’s also very funny in a reckless sort of way, a devoted son with conflicted but deep feelings about his dead father and his living mother, and a pretty deft swordsman.  He’s got a razor-sharp intellect, but that’s not his defining characteristic.

By the way, the main reason I’m thinking about Hamlet right now is that a friend and I tried to figure out his Myers-Briggs type today.  We settled on INFP.  I would date that.

2. The Deathless Man from Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht.  My book club recently read this 2011 magical realist novel.  The deathless man is this guy who shows up from time to time and basically fulfills the function of Brad Pitt’s character in Meet Joe Black, without the social awkwardness.  I fell in love with him early in the novel, when he was described as having large eyes, a feature I find very attractive.  (For a visual, look up a picture of JJ Feild RIGHT NOW.)  He continued to win me with his polite, calm, and occasionally gently sardonic manner, and then he totally stole my heart near the end when he ordered this fantastically sumptuous meal at a hotel in order to make a dying waiter happy, but clearly enjoyed it for what it was, not just for the good deed angle.  I like a man who likes to eat good food.

3. Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities.  I guess it’s a cliché to fall in love with the guy who says, “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done.”  If so, I’m happy to be a cliché.  This is our current book club selection, and I’m about 100 pages in and remembering how much I love this man who sacrifices himself (in so many ways throughout the novel, not just at the end) without being an insufferable martyr, who is bitter without being cruel, and who loves long and hopelessly without being a sentimental sap.*  I’ve long noticed a similarity in stories between Sydney Carton and Severus Snape, but Carton is a more pleasant character because he doesn’t take himself so seriously.  (Note that this is a theme for me.)

While we’re on this topic: There hasn’t been a good Tale of Two Cities movie in a long time, so I’m taking suggestions for two actors who look similar enough to play Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay.  You can’t have the same actor play them, because then you’d have this weird fantasy doppelganger thing, which would take the focus off what’s really going on.  Please leave me your suggestions, along with your own literary crushes, in the comments.

*Which he could have easily become if Dickens hadn’t restrained himself.  I love Charles Dickens very much, but I’m willing to admit that he sometimes warms my heart so much I want to throw up.