Amy Nichols
“Composing Relationships and Experiences”



[video of Amy driving]

I'm writing a paper about community engagement right now--how the work of rhetoric and composition intersects with broader publics outside the university.

[screencast of typing on screen, multiple windows open]

And it's reminding me how little of my composing process is actually individually constructed, either materially or mentally.

The idea that composing is a networked, communal activity is by no means original. And yet, communal composing processes still don't seem to get quite as much attention as individual ones in scholarship.

[video of hands writing with pen in notebook]

As I compose, I am myself being composed by my connections to others and by my experiences of the world. What Paul Prior would call the "laminated chronotopes" that make up who I am and what I want to achieve.

[video of hands writing with pen in notebook on left; video of baby playing with balloon on right]

See, I could pretend that this is all there is to my composing process. That it's just a set of disembodied hands typing things that come out of my brain.

[video of Amy reading a book, making notes with a pencil in the margins; video of man chopping vegetables in kitchen on right]

But the truth is that my composing is constructed on the backs of others. On the daily, hourly sacrifices made by my husband, my family, my friends. Sacrifices of time and resources that are deeply networked. That reach into the things that I write about and change who I am and what I want my writing to do in the world.

The material realities of my individual composing process right now are built around long days and nights spent typing. Around Sundays spent cooking, cleaning, and talking with my family to try and maintain some balance in my schedule. On getting up early on Sundays to write in coffee shops while my husband gets our son ready for church.

[video of Amy sitting on couch, folding laundry]

Around getting my son and myself ready in the morning during the week. Dropping him off and spending nine uninterrupted hours on campus, mentoring, teaching, and discussing ideas to get home at night and figure out what I'm going to write.

[video of Amy eating sandwich, with baby on her lap on left; video of man sitting on couch, typing on laptop on right]

And make no mistake: I love this life. My husband and I chose, together, to have a son and to maintain relationships with my nuclear and extended family--and to devote our lives to teaching, writing, and learning.

[video of people sitting in cafe talking with one another, with laptops open in front of them]

And we're gifted for that work. We really want to help people. But I think it would be a mistake to think that I'm the only one who goes into my composing process. My brain. My pen. My keyboard. In fact, there are so many people involved in my writing now that I have trouble naming them all.

[video of Amy driving, pulling up to driveway]

Sometimes I drive all the way back home so my mom can watch my son while I type. And then we get time to talk, to catch up, to go for walks.

A wonderful lady I know from my community group cares for both my son and her own children while I go to campus. My on-campus friends are willing to take video footage of me eating sandwiches, or let me do my laundry at their house when our dryer breaks.

[video of man and woman in kitchen, watching baby crawl across the floor]

Workplace colleagues have offered me space to pump milk. My husband watches our son for extra hours so I can get my writing done.

[video of man holding baby]

This year, more than ever before, I've realized that community--the people and experiences that compose me--make up a huge part of what I do both in the field and in my personal life.

[video of Amy standing and typing at a table while holding baby in a carrier]

I won't pretend that the latest exciting theoretical development can take the place of getting a full night's sleep for four years, or that I never get frustrated by the dual privileges of raising a child and getting a PhD.

[video of two people walking in a field]

But what this year has made me realize is that my writing is built on moments with others--raking leaves, talking with my husband, sharing stories with the family and friends that surround me, watching my son learn about how objects roll.

It's moments like these where I feel I have the most to write--and the most reason to write.

[video of students sitting in a classroom, talking and working on laptops]

What would I compose without the experiences and relationships that compose me?

I love my place in academia. I love every corner of it. I love that we explore those who are excluded by the academy, that we privilege the writing of many voices, and that we love the written composed word.

[video of students sitting in a classroom, talking and working on laptops]

[screencast of typing on screen, multiple windows open]

But so much of what I write is built out of a sense of community--not only in the academy, but outside it as well. The idea that my scholarship might live and work for the good of everyone around me. The very things that brought me here to this field are also the things that make me a whole person. All these experiences, then, all these relationships, are the things that create what I compose.

[text on screen: Many thanks to the friends, family, and colleagues who agreed to appear in this video.