PS: Great Goodbyes!
Reviewed by Will Hochman, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, CT (email@example.com)
It seems most apropos to end this year’s review with my story of saying goodbye to Tampa and, after 25 years of attendance, our best CCCC yet, partially because of what happened when I was leaving the Marriott on Saturday! (That sentence may sound like empty rhetoric, but I’m saying that from my heart.)
But before I get to the ego story, I want to celebrate our fifteenth and best year of reviewing the Convention of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Andrea Beaudin, the third publisher and editor deluxe of this text humbles me by letting me have a final word because every word here is the flowering of her organization, design, and word-dancing skills.
Just as I assert Andrea Beaudin’s acumen here (more reviews from more reviewers covering the conference experiences from more intellectual and experiential points of view), I think Joyce Locke Carter led an amazing group of colleagues dedicated to improving and innovating our conference. Posters, Ignite Nights, more tech access and a variety of hangout spaces gave the conference more credence than ever as a gathering able to both humanize and digitize our lives.
So imagine the glow and grin on my last day in Florida. I started the morning with “Farewell to Florida” by Wallace Stevens. I had Native Tongue by Carl Hiaasen in paperback for the plane. But I am a very nervous flyer. Returning home from one CCCC many years ago, I was saved by a fortunate slice of flying fate because the airlines seated me next to one of my writing program administrator colleagues, Darsie Bowden. She convinced the flight attendants that I probably wasn’t crazy and dangerous, and then she held my hand. To quiet my shaking and sweating, she told me about her daughter, horses, and anything that made me imagine I was somewhere else.
I never forgot that act of kindness and still try to pay it forward, though not on planes.
Long before I met Darsie, I learned to depend on the kindness of strangers because that’s how I make friends. At the end of this year’s conference party, Darsie saw me waiting outside and she told me about writing about my little breakdown. It was as if what happened a decade ago was last week. When she turned to leave, I swear I caught a glimpse of her angel wings. This colleague and conference friend made me feel like we’re still holding hands. And she’s not the only one. Whether new to the conference and encountering a surfeit of inspirational ideas or attending for decades, our friendships feel both momentary and timeless.
I wish I could write all the love stories I had, but this year’s particular goodbye scene of the conference took place in the Marriott Hotel traffic circle on Saturday. I saw an airport shuttle and wondered if I could hop on but the driver thought it was full. Someone else, a young mother, Bre Garrett had the same idea just after I asked. My age (past Social Security retirement) and experience with traveling made this a familiar scene, so I proposed a cab share instead. I think Bre was surprised—maybe she didn’t think I would want to travel along with a young infant, stroller, husband, and lots of baggage—but her husband, Jordan Yee, was game.
After the couple agreed to split a cab with a stranger, I had to ask the young mother if her child was sick. I know that sounds obnoxious, but I’m on immunosuppressant therapy and have had to learn to be more polite and careful with strangers. This discourse is never easy and usually a little awkward. Most people understand but need to ask questions. People with disabilities know what I mean. I don’t mind the questions, but I don’t like them either and prefer to talk about almost anything else. Bre understood before I could explain; I saw it in her eyes before she spoke. Jordan nodded and both parents generously assured me the child was fine. The doorman made sure we were comfy in a van instead of a regular taxi and even refused our double tip. I’m sorry I forgot his name, because so many kind people helping us need to be remembered. I wish I could tip the whole hotel and convention staff with more than a tip of my cap.
So here I am in the front seat being surprised that Bre remembered my attending her first CCCC session presentation. I didn’t remember it well. A lot of kind folks recognized me for little things in ways that I felt were oversized, but it felt great to leave this conference more satisfied and happy with our community than ever before. I won’t go in to all the gratification I got via our young minds blossoming—teachers already know how it feels when some of our best ideas are reified. But I'm in my last decade of teaching so reflecting about what I’ve meant to others comes naturally.
I’ve been on sabbatical this year and wondering if this egotistic, old, bald, white, male professor should retire. But instead, I realized I want to continue to teach, despite passing the age for Social Security. At the same time, this conference helped me increase my awareness that it’s soon time for me to step aside to better support our new generation of compositionists. As evidence, consider how much the CCCC session reviews grew with my initial step-aside when Chris Dean took it over, and now with Andrea Beaudin leading these reviews, both Chris and I get to enjoy the glow that goes with nurturing.
There was something about the child’s eyes in the backseat of the cab that had me twisted around in the front seat. I love kids—their innocence and easy joy gets me smiling like a simpleton. However, instead of goo goo, and even the typical professional blah, blah, blah, Bre started talking shop and connecting our conference experiences. We didn’t stop talking shop, and it was all I could do not to cancel my flight just to keep our conversation going. We were happy to blend our different impressions to find interesting common ground (pun intended).
She fielded my barbs, jabs, jokes, and complex sentences with rejoinders that felt like rocket fuel for our thinking. The conference in us just wanted more even though it was done. Imagine two next-door-neighbor kids playing catch for the first time and not wanting to let nightfall stop them. I’m awfully opinionated and haphazardly poetic—enough, I think, not to take my academic self too seriously—but I can say jerky things to strangers that I regret years later. Somehow, she made me drop that filter. Bre’s tenor and moxie were a perfect match for us to talk nonstop, gabbing way past cordial and surface discourse to the heart and point of common insights, analyses, and experiences. Besides, Bre let me rage against the term multimodal. I think some of our terms make good ideas sound like we’re talking jargon to ourselves—and Bre’s concerns about audience access made for frequent head nodding.
But best of all, when I started raging against paper reading at our conference, her eyes widened. She let Jordan focus on Eilley, the beautiful baby, while I twisted to listen to Bre’s session description. I loved the artful approach she used to putting her composition and rhetoric ideas in play.
I’m pretty sure the three people attending her session thought so too, but as I listened to this powerful compositionist bring her art and wisdom into focus, I couldn’t help thinking that her ideas deserve a bigger audience. After a few minutes, I wished I could have transported my session attendees to her because I was learning so much. Each time I spoke, she confirmed a hint of truth in what I said, then she made it better with her own context and cool insights. I always want to be young again, and I experienced a connection that made youth, age, and ego in our profession finally make some sense to me. It doesn’t matter what we say or write nearly as much as what our listeners and readers do to go further.
As I offloaded my luggage, Bre and I agreed to build a session together. The intensity of our talking overwhelmingly made it clear to both of us that our differences in distance, age, place, experience, and even family life allowed for something more than connection. Our talking synthesized our conference experiences, our professional lives, and ourselves. Maybe we both read our chance meeting as an omen from fate or maybe it was just time to connect and give the conference one last, best try.
Our taxi cab ride would be a nice conference-kiss goodbye, but we both confessed in email that it was one of the best talks our conference gave us. And, as you imagine, I latch onto the kindness of strangers to overcome my flying fears. Bre was too smart and interesting to focus on anything but her ideas and beautiful family. I continued to soak in Bre’s inspiration on my flight to LaGuardia, and by the time I landed, I realized I not only avoided more panic attacks, but also managed to write an idea for a proposal draft for a 2016 CCCC session. I would finish Hiaasen’sNative Tongue later because, thanks to Bre Garrett, I landed with the seeds of a pre-conference workshop where we would workshop conference presentations.
On the ride to Connecticut, I felt pretty fantastic. I had a great conference and the earliest start on the next one I’ve ever had. Missing my wife and dog would soon be over and I was glad to be close to home even if my head was still flying somewhere between Tampa and Houston. Somewhere on the Cross-Bronx Expressway in New York City, the radio played a version of “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell that I never heard before. (I loved her music as an undergraduate when I had long hair and everyone called me “Willy.”) This newer version, sung three decades later, was a stunning reversal of the song itself. Slower and with her aged-like-fine-wine-voice, Ms. Mitchell flips the song into a much different feeling. I was slammed with this new version’s sense of regret and wisdom instead of the naive future and up-beat potential in the song’s first recording. And if you’re thinking how a pop-star reference hardly matters, you’re overlooking the fact that Ms. Mitchell is a singer whose painting and writing success demonstrate multimodal composing at its best. She walks our talk, the intellectual in me defensively squeals, but I still love my youth and her voice loved me through it in ways that made past and present alive in the same music decades apart.
Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides Now” made me cry at 75 miles an hour, if you really want to know, because I am a survivor. Each day is gravy—and recently I’ve been given medical reasons to expect a longer life—but those tears were even more about realizing how necessary it is to do more to help our younger generation of scholars. I heard the age and regret in Mitchell’s voice and it taught me more clearly than ever that the way to avoid my sense of regret (and maybe our field’s sense of regret) is to see our youth more clearly. We can do more to get them in focus. If we want real change, the best professional action we can engage is to learn how to make way for younger, better thinkers. Imagine how cool our field could sound if we become the antidote to aging professionalism!
We need younger scholars to take the reins. They are our best hope to enable innovation and improvement in our profession, more than some of us might want to admit. We are trying to make the argument for generational shifting truer here in our review. Many of our reviewers found early space here for their critical and creative thinking about our field as new attendees, graduate students, scholars, teachers, and writers seeking publication…and many of our reviewers return to this old writing space as a way to collect and share this foci and edit the reports of others. The point is that we want to engender important ideas and directions emerging from the conference, and only a large, collaborative text such as this can ensure that we do a good job. With Andrea’s innovation, energy, and hard work, we will sustain writing that ignites the best conversations that bring us together. I cannot thank, admire, or respect her and our great team of editors and reviewers enough, but I love trying.