At the MLA’s annual convention this year, I attended a workshop organized by the Op-Ed Project on public writing. It gave me the courage to submit an opinion piece to the Tulsa World, which appeared last Saturday! Here it is!
Last year I finally got the chance to publish some of my literary translation, in World Literature Today of all places! My translation of my friend and awesome author Nadia Villafuerte’s short story “Chica Cosmo”, “Cosmo Girl” is in the January edition of WLT, along with a translator’s note I wrote about the process called “Crossing Borders.” I hope you enjoy them!
This semester I had the great pleasure of hosting Mexican author Nadia Villafuerte at the University of Oklahoma, with the support of the OU Humanities Forum. We did a bilingual reading of her work, including my translation of “Chica Cosmo” which will be coming out in World Literature Today next month (stay tuned!). My Intro. to Hispanic Literature and Culture students read and discussed the story, and then had the chance to meet Nadia and listen to her speak at the OU Latin Americanist Lunch. Nadia was interviewed on the public radio program World Views and you can hear her interview here (that’s me interpreting).
Sometimes you just have to run screaming from imminent defeat. Other times, you have a deadline looming, and between loading the dishwasher, answering e-mails, and planning fall classes, the precious moments you have to finish that manuscript just seem to vanish into thin air. In either case, a prudent answer could be a retreat.
Everything I know about military retreats comes from Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones; they seem pretty awful, until you get saved by your pals at the last minute. I know a little more about writing retreats, however, because I’ve been on an escapist kick this spring and summer.
I’ve been free from teaching duties since December in order to focus on my book, but even with that incredible boost, things like search committee duties, faculty meetings, and fall syllabus preparation can be very distracting. When it feels like I just can’t seem to sit down and write, I get away from it all and have myself a DIY Writing Retreat. It’s pretty simple. All you really need is dedicated space and time to make your productivity dreams come true.
First, find the space. For me, it’s important to drive away from my city and home. This way I avoid distractions that seem minimal but build up, like running to the dry cleaners or unloading the dishwasher before getting to work. One month I got a coupon from a daily deal site for a night at a state park lodge; another time a relative was going out of town and let me use her house while she was away. In both cases the change in scenery helped immensely.
Second, the time. I’ve tried both 24 and 48 hour blocks. For me, two full nights is a pretty good amount of time for a binge. If I arrive at my retreat one evening, I might get a little writing done before going to sleep. Because I’m spending the second night there too, the entire next day is a glorious, uninterrupted writing day. I like to go for a hike or run the morning of the third day to enjoy the scenery and stretch my legs before heading home.
Finally, dedication. It’s important to have a concrete goal for the retreat and to protect it. Take enough prepared food with you, or order in, so that you don’t get distracted with meal preparation and clean-up. Bring any books or materials you might need so that you can actually finish whatever it is you’re doing. Style guides in particular can be important for final touches on bibliography before submitting.
Any other suggestions for a successful writer’s retreat?
My main goal in participating was to learn more about how to implement gamification and game-based learning in the classroom, and also to help students overcome failure. GOBLIN has delivered and then some. I have lots of ideas, and hope you’ll chime in with more in the comments.
The first step will be to gamify SPAN 3853: Introduction to Hispanic Literature and Culture class. I would like to take elements from team-based learning and ARGs to increase student engagement, collaboration, and autonomy.
The idea would be to have permanent teams for the semester, assigned using a CATME survey. The course will be a semester-long quest. Since it’s a lit course, I am thinking of framing it as a literary treasure hunt. So maybe students would get a secret message from Jorge Luis Borges, the world’s most famous librarian, asking for their help. (Reading his short story, “The Library of Babel” might be a first step.)
Clues might be hidden in books in the library or in the course readings online. I’m hoping to get the librarians on board, and I imagine that won’t be hard. They’ve already developed an awesome location-based app for the Galileo’s World exhibit here at OU.
I am also thinking of borrowing the idea of “deals” from Reality Ends Here. Each student would get a deck of cards with different elements (a task like a video adaptation of a text, a Twine game based on a reading, or a radio drama adaptation of a reading; and different elements like the readings themselves or characters, authors and props) that are worth different numbers of points.
The groups would have to decide which elements to combine and how many projects to complete to maximize their points. At USC weekly winners get prizes like lunch with a famous movie maker. I’m not sure I can offer anything like that, but maybe I can come up with other fun rewards, or link the points to the final grade.
Any ideas for improving this initial framework?
For the past few years I’ve been reading here and there about games in the classroom. The most provocative example I’ve found is Reacting to the Past, a role-playing game designed at Barnard College that has students inhabit historical events. The idea is that the game inspires students to prepare much more thoroughly than they would for a lecture or exam.
I’ve been puzzling over how to implement a similar structure in a literature classroom, but have been so busy keeping afloat with new class preps and writing my book that it’s been a back-burner project. The idea is creeping to a simmer, though, as I’ve been involved in GOBLIN at OU and found a critical mass of gaming enthusiast friends who’ve helped me to think it through.
I came across an especially exciting model today: the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ “Reality Ends Here” game. The way it gives students autonomy to decide what deals they’ll do, encourages collaboration, and also avoids imposing the game but rather lets students play of their own volition are really exciting elements.
Maybe an Introduction to Hispanic Literature and Culture course could give mega points to a group of students that produces a radio drama version of a short story, or a few points for updating a Wikipedia article on a literary movement.
Any ideas you might have are very welcome in the comments.
I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately. I’ve implemented Specifications Grading in Intro to Hispanic Literary Texts, Spanish Conversation, and Composition in Spanish courses over the past two semesters, with mostly positive results.
The basic idea is that assignments have very clear requirements, are graded pass/fail, and that failure is mitigated through tokens students can trade in to excuse or make up a failed assignment. Students seem to either love it or hate it with no middle ground, but either way I have seen much higher quality of work and engagement.
My own failure in implementing this system has been in addressing student failure in a positive way. Even though students have the chance to make up work, and I encourage them by reminding them that failure is a part of learning, they still show signs of deep frustration at the word “failure.”
Next semester I’ll take Eric Burger’s advice and teach failure by building failure assessment into the class. An assignment like Burger’s terrible first draft or this one–a required reflection on a particular failure, how it was mitigated–might normalize the idea of failure and empower students to see the learning value in failing.