This is a post about the act of writing, the very process, and how much this process concerns authority. As I continue to edit the final touches of my dissertation, I am only reading scholarly books about Early Modern Englishwomen writers like the above, Margaret Cavendish, Mary Astell, and Aphra Behn as well as Rogue studies books (Long Meg of Westminster, Mary Carleton, Mary Frith) and books on English society between 1470 and 1720.
I have read these books and have taken notes for the past three years, at least. My notes are lengthy and detailed and now are fifty-five pages in length. I would say that I am an intermediate scholar and can lecture for a while on the topic of how a handful of Englishwomen writers entered into a patriarchally strict world of text. Their unique entrance into this world is my focus.
As I become a scholar, it’s paramount to keep my momentum through feeling like an authority. In order to feel this authority, I need both encouragement and focused, formal feedback. As I have focused on formal tools for this blog, I would require the same from more advanced scholars.
This post serves as a reminder that as I am the student, so am I the teacher. As I experience this very vulnerable space of creating text, I keep this space in mind as I give feedback to my own students. Praise what works and why. The “why” of what works gives the student writer a view into her/his/their own psyche. When she/he/they learns why what they wrote is clear, succinct and understandable, then she/he/they can do more of that act. However, if I were to first focus on what doesn’t work, and even attach a judgement to it – this is folly. Telling a student that their work isn’t good NEVER helps. In fact, an emerging, first-time student who has spent a life combating subsistence level stress, trauma, and forces of the world that undermine that very vulnerable psyche, has walked through fire to arrive at this privileged space of learning. They have finally arrived only to be told that what they wrote was bad. Those undermining forces from the past come up from the graves of their debtor prison ancestors, their peasant and ever struggling dead come for them with a plaque that says: failure.
This sounds dramatic, but it isn’t. I was and am this first-time student. This process of becoming an authority, one who is open to the wonders of learning and knowledge, can be flattened in an instant.
I am grateful to my committee for taking the time to give me formal feedback and have always recognized the gift of it to all of my students. Now more than ever, after the support I have received, I recognize how important it is to continue to gift students the authority of writing, to adorn them with oodles of confidence so that once they hit small snags in the creative process, the hurdles remain small and students can rely on their wealth of confidence and authority for momentum to get past them.
Teachers are not gatekeepers. We are the informed cheerers. Wrap students in knowledge and support through formal feedback. When they enter into this privileged learning space, recognize the privilege, always – and allow them to take up the mantle of authority. Encouragement goes so much further than pulling the rug. When I have confidence before I ever turn on my monitor, I am the authority and I don’t have to fight through those rising, blue/gray hands of dead ancestors who have endeavored to pull me down my entire life.
(And yes – a great, great, great grandfather, Cassius Kinsey, was in debtor’s prison in Georgia, a fault with repercussions that affect me today.)