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14
Mar 16

Digital Griots and the Scratch of the Slash

Presenting a plethora of beautiful (and beautifully written – the two, it seems, go together fluidly here) images and analyses of Black rhetorical excellence, Adam Banks uses Digital Griots to craft and perform several exigent and fleshy calls for a re-vision of both African American literacy studies and digital humanities. An intimate piece of all of these calls is Banks’ prioritization of spaces that refuse to suffocate Blackness (the call itself is performed as a survival technology of sorts in all the texts we’ve read for this term thus far. No coincidence that these calls to Stop Shooting Us aren’t generally presented – quite the opposite – in composition classrooms dominated by whiteness).

In attempt at homage to both Banks’ rhythmic and fluid writing and to my colleague Seth Grave’s technologically poetic introduction to Banks’ text by remixing his notes of the text, the rest of this post will attempt to (perhaps poetically, or perhaps simply badly) remix Banks’ concerns and arguments with attention to constructions and affective experiences of dis/ability in composition classrooms. Queerness and womanness will, too, inflect this remix, because though all of these identities wove themselves in and out of Digital Griots, their more explicit, more persistent, presence can perhaps thicken the already bodily readings Banks graces us with.

(My whiteness, of course, will inflect all of these readings, so they must, by nature, be read as incomplete, as even, perhaps, appropriative with the hope that they will be themselves remixed, re-visioned, through frameworks of color that I do not inhabit.)

Dis/ability

Dis

/

ability

Dis/ability

Dis(s)

ertation,

dis(s)

respect

My students ooohing and exclaiming (pro-claiming) when someone throws shade

glancing at me furtively to see if my whitegirlprofessorness will be mad that they dared raise their voices in something other than

A voice that sounds like mine

Dis(s)

Is bad, diss your friend when they’re not around, without saying it, suck your teeth and

roll your eyes when that white kid be talkin some shit about people need to stop playing the race card,

microsoft word dissin me when it insists on adding ‘g’s to the end of words, when I type out a quote from Banks, some of his most beautiful writing, his rhythmic end to his fabulous book, Word automatically adding ‘g’s to the Words, Banks tellin us we need to be

“building assignments that invite students not only to work across modalities but also to link those multiple modalities, individual assignments, and assignment cycles and in critical examination of the power relations and material conditions inscribed in technological tools, networks, and discourses. Practically, it means working to increase meaningful, transformative access to digital technologies for people on their own terms. It means mix, remix, mixtape. Access and transformation. Healing, celebration, self-examination, and critique. Community. Flow, layering, rupture. Innovation, vision, quality, tradition. Afrodigitzed. Word.”

WORD doesn’t lose its techno-mind until the end, until transformative (UNDERLINE IN RED SQUIGGLES), mixtape (THAT’S NOT A REAL THING, PUT A BLOODY ZIGZAG UNDER IT), and then that sea of green,

all that green because when Banks starts writin rather than

Writing

Word won’t have it. Word shuts that shit down.

or tries to,

with its squiggly underlines,

with its digital policing that “NEUTRALLY” tell my students they’re wrong even when their whitegirlteacher, surprise surprise, tells them it’s cool, write how you wanna write, write how you wanna sound, write how you want to communicate.

Except how you want to communicate is determined by…

Allthethings.

sometimes I have students who can’t speak above a whisper,

Because if they do, they’ll have to shout.

oftentimes, though I am not dis/abled in the same way as these students may be, my bipolarness makes me feel that way, makes me

Perform

That way.

my students, I think, just think I’m energetic, enthusiastic.

I am allowed my energy, my enthusiasm.

I am a youngwhitegirlteacher.

I can speakwritetalkbouncearoundbesilentbelowkeybeLOUDbeactivebeinjuredcommunicate

However I want, need, need to want.

I have the authority.

most of my CUNY students, in one way or another, or others,

do not.

because anyway,

Word says no. Word

disses

people.

Wrong to write “fragments.” Add your ‘g’s to everything.

Oooooooh! DISS!

so it’s hard to say yes.

dis/respect, dis/tasteful, dis/tant (sometimes the words don’t split

E

v

e

n

l

y

)

/

I can’t think of a slash without thinking of slash fanfiction, without thinking of femslash, without thinking of the late-night hours as a teenager, logging onto DIAL-UP (that scratch, scratchscreetchscratch sound like salvation’s on its way, as long as no one else in the apartment hears it), furtively copy-pasting all the lesbian shit I could find (on Star Trek: Voyager, mostly; this was before I knew about The L Word, before I knew… anything), throwing it on a Word Perfect doc so it would look like homework, deleting the words that gave me life – that gave me orgasms – as I read.

Slash.

slash between dis and ability because it scratches the word

it is the scratch(ing) (v. and n.) of the knowledge that the word

is supposed to hold

Slash between dis and ability because Banks wants us to call attention to the simultaneous independent and dependent integrations of DJing as writing, of writing as DJing, of

Knowing tradition, wrapping it around you like a

shawl

(I can’t not think of Meredith Grey’s widow shawl)

immersed in tradition and knowing, because of history, because of affirmations of culture, because

“the learners’ identities are not under constant threat or outright attack; instead, the space [of DJing] is one where their humanity and ability are taken for granted, even while the expectations of rhetorical excellence and agility are always high. Furthermore, there is room for a balance between individual identity and participation in broader communities”

Unlike in classrooms.

unlike in classrooms.

Unlike in classrooms, where you learn a tradition that is not

yours, that, in fact,

seeks constantly to destroy yours,

so how can you switch it up, how can you remix, how can you scratchwithoutwoundingyourself

With the edges of the

slash

/

that allows us to connect

Dis

and

ability

without claiming

one or the other, but

both.

Ability

skill, unskill, one of my students said “they think we’re uneducated”, “they think it means we’re not intelligent”

“They” being me, people with bodies like mine, white supremacy, which is the

shawl I can’t get rid of, but will never suffocate me

Unintelligent for speaking different tongues, for laying down different rhymes

(different from the dominant)

Unintelligent, slow, disabled without the

/

“retarded” without the

“”

independence and dependence,

so strongly a part of DJing, community and individual contribution melding, melding,

Shaping each other.

like my best friend on the couch who needs me to get up and

adjust his pillows

and empty his blood-bile drains

because his body’s been cut open, he is

temporarily

dis/abled,

independence and dependence in a loop, another

/

In/dependence, inside dependence, what might digital griots be like

when people can’t physically hear, when people can’t be in clubs because of

flashing lights or toomanypeopleImightstarthyperventilating

What then of in/dependence

when dis/ability is equated with POC students

because whiteness determines smartness and smartness

determines tracking, determines ability, determines

What is acceptable to put on your

résumé.

Resume.

when affective whiteness makes the rules

I am allowed my outbursts, I am allowed to be extra

but my students of color are not

(they know, of course)

because for them to be extra is for them to be excess(ed),

to be inappropriate, to be

Threatening, and therefore to be segregated,

to be

They be

Marked.

as disabled (no /)

and what of students who do identify

with dis/abilities, how might

dis/abled digitization work with POC digitization to

Disrupt

white digitization?

a key seems to lie in how affective whiteness

dictates

ability, dictates

Access.

what if access is a process, is socialized, is understood as

continual navigations

Negotiations (I keep thinking of Clexa on The 100 and those damn fanfictions

about

lesbian sex with THAT THRONE)

Access is not to be achieved

not to be acquired

because access to tech, to digitization,

Is more than having classrooms equipped with

computers

(Dial-Up tone, google, wipe sweat.

copy, open Word Perfect, paste,

Repeat.

Delete as I read.

Cum.

Repeat as needed.

Repeat as permitted [though none of it is

Permitted.]

Fanfiction as survival technology. Because they dis/able

trauma – AND WITH QUEER SEX – so much better than

white straight cis able-passing men ever do.

Dial-Up tone, google, wipe sweat.

copy, open Word Perfect, paste,

Repeat.

Delete as I read.

Cum.

Repeat as needed.

Repeat as

)


09
Feb 16

A Scholarship and A New Writing Journey

My girlfriend tends to send me along any and all writing-related opportunities and articles she finds (she finds many, being a writer/editor herself). A few weeks ago, she sent me a link to apply for a directed scholarship for taking an online course on writing middle grade literature. The link came with one word: “apply!”

I texted her back, biting the inside of my cheek as I do when new things crop up. “Thanks babe, this looks cool, but I do YA, not MG.”

An iphone-style ellipsis in a speech bubble, showing that the person you're texting is currently typing. Image from telegraph.co.uk

An iphone-style ellipsis in a speech bubble, showing that the person you’re texting is currently typing. Image from telegraph.co.uk

“Apply anyway.”

So I did, and I’ve just received an Andrea Davis Pinkney Merit Scholarship from the Children’s Book Academy. The scholarship enables me to take their 4-week online intensive on writing middle grade lit.

So, for the next few weeks (before the course begins), I will be ceaselessly editing and re-writing bits of my YA manuscript; during the course month, I will continue editing YA, while writing a new MG novel.

Because I agree wholeheartedly with the beautiful words and wondrously radical sentiments of Daniel José Older that we (especially those of us who are not straight white cis non-dis/abled middle class men) do not need to write every day, and that we certainly need to endeavor not to shame ourselves for living our lives.

But sometimes — sometimes, when the proverbial wind is right and I’m feeling very healthy — I’m going to apply anyway, and see what I can create from it.


03
Feb 16

Fictional Journeys, Non-Fictional Career

Welcome to the creatively-oriented section of this website! As I teach freshmen writing, fiction and creative nonfiction writing keeps emerging as a vital lifeblood of learning. In my life, too (not to be extracted from my teaching life), creative writing sustains me just as much as flipping truck tires at the gym and tossing together new vegan recipes for a sometimes skeptical, but always supportive, girlfriend.

This mini-blog will document my experiences with fiction writing while in graduate school and teaching; it will also serve as a space to explore creative writing processes as I polish my first novel, a queer YA fantasy.


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