Sunday, September 25, 2016

Life with Bailey

This afternoon, I took Bailey to the ski area for a hike. We go there several times a week during the spring, summer, and fall. There's a trail race at Black Mountain tomorrow, so I figured the 15 or 20 cars in the parking lot belonged to race volunteers. Because Bailey's somewhat clumsy with his greetings, I led him away from the lodge and up through the cross-country ski stadium to the alpine slopes. As always, I put my head down and started motoring up the mountain. Within seconds I heard "HEY!" I looked up and then to the right. A wedding party… the bride in a white flowing dress, her attendants in a subtle color I can’t quite name, the groomsmen in their shiny tuxedoes, and, romping amongst them all, a big smiling mountain dog welcoming everyone to his mountain.

My mother raised five kids, and she used the word “mortified” a good deal with us. Now, I know the word’s true meaning.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sabbatical Hiking

Over the first 2 weeks of my sabbatical, I've enjoyed sustained writing time in the morning and hikes on most afternoons. I've even done a bit of painting and mowed the lawn; I also dropped out of a couple of speeches and travel opportunities in hopes that I can find my writer self again. I'm still a bit jittery about time and keep waiting for some outside assignment from the University.  So far, my friends at UMaine have respected my time away.

Recently, I hiked Black Mountain to take pictures of the new trails. These photos and the link to my complete Facebook page album will give an idea of the mountain's expansion.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Aunt Connie & her Luke

This morning my friend and neighbor Connie came by with her grandson, Luke. Talk about a cute couple. I picture the years ahead when Luke calls out, "We're going to Memere's!" Such things to be. 

Connie & Luke

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Seminar in Poetry Writing

How lucky am I to spend time with dedicated poet-teachers? That's right: very. We read and wrote, revised and revised some more. What's most fun about teaching a seminar such as this one? The variety of themes and ideas that surface from the poets involved.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My 25th Anniversary of Bread Loaf, Dixie Goswami, and James Britton

In some ways it's like yesterday, sitting in the barn classroom at Middleburg College's Bread Loaf School of English. I remember starting grad school in 1991 and being assigned The Word for Teaching is Learning: Essays for James Britton (Lightfoot & Martin, Eds.). I sat on the side porch of my Rumford home reading this dense academic text. The introduction by Nancy Martin, Mr. Britton's long-time colleague, had me feeling both scholarly and profoundly uninformed. Vygotsky, Courtney Cazden, Peter Medway... "teacher as listener," "the learner's view of the real world matters," "being told is the opposite of finding out": these people and ideas got my mind whirling. It hasn't stopped.

At 83 years old, Mr. Britton taught our class "Coming to Know Your Classroom" with Dixie Goswami, a Clemson University writing teacher and public school advocate. This would be Mr. Britton's last class in America. He died two years later.

I'm sure I'll write more about Mr. Britton and Dixie. For now, I'm sharing a chapter from "The Word" written by Courtney Cazden, a Harvard professor who spoke to us on The Mountain. This chapter goes to a colleague here at UMaine who's working on a similar project connected with Vygotsy's ZPD. From her talk, Cazden made me think in new ways about revision; in this chapter, "Social Interaction as Scaffold," she asks us to think about learning and teaching, students and teachers. 


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Using a Matrix for Large Writing Projects

One of the battles I face with larger projects like books or research articles is managing the mass amount of data that I collect. I've always kept handwritten lists, and as I go through the stages of
the project, I check off items from the list. Not very high tech, I'll admit, but the system worked for me.

This past year I've been writing a second edition to my book, A Guide to Creating Student-Staffed Writing Centers, Grades 6-12 (Peter Lang/USA, 2006). So much has changed in the high school writing center field over the past decade that revising felt a lot more like composing a new book. In actuality, and in hindsight, a full rewrite would have been the way to go. We live and learn even after 35+ years of writing.

The Writer's Matrix: For ideas I pondered for the book, I made an entry on the matrix. Yes, it's just a list, of course, but because I put the material in Word, I could search it. Again, simple enough, but a new way for me to stay organized. Below, I'll paste a few shots of the matrix I developed.

My advice? When you begin planning a project, create a matrix and list ideas. You may revise the ideas or add to them, but keep them handy. When the entire project is drafted, go back through each idea listed and search your full manuscript to make sure you at least considered or wrote about the idea. Reviewing the matrix and searching your final manuscript also helps you avoid duplicating information in your project. Again, all quite obvious, but an organizational tool that I'll use from now on. Old Dog Redux & Remix. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Grandfather's book on advertising

Me and Grandpa's book 
This book has been sitting on my bookcase for 20-plus years. I don't think I've even opened it up. But the other day, out of respect for Grandpa Burt and this hard-covered book, I decided to read the opening.  What a delight.

As an associate professor of advertising at Boston University and an account executive with Albert Frank-Guenther Law, Grandpa Burt had a solid background to pen Successful Advertisements... and How to Write Them by F. Allen Burt (Harper & Brothers, 1940). His self-effacing approach to the opening sections made me smile. He wrote,
Advertising is still, and probably always will be, an inexact science. There are not inflexible rules. The best we can do is to follow ideas and methods that are proving successful today. Styles in advertising change as do styles in ladies' hats and dresses. What was resultful five years ago may be a dud today. (ix)
He also shared the following imperative for merchandising: "Buy the right goods, at the right cost, for the right store, and advertise them in the right way, at the right time, for the right price, to the right people, through the right media, and your books will show a profit" (ix).

In the preface, my grandfather chronicles his own experience as an ad man and writer over 20 years. He does this in three and a half pages. At points, he relies on other writers to unpack his thinking. One quotation I've heard before:
Flaubert, the great French story writer, gave this sound advice to Guy de Maupassant: "Look at an object till you see in it everything everybody else sees in it, and then continue to look at it till you see what no one else sees." (x - xi)
He explained his path to the advertising business beginning with his work as a newspaper reporter. From there, he moved on to publicity work for a number of charities and "business houses, covering the gamut from financial news to advance build-ups for an opera star." In the latter portion of the preface, he shared the specifics of his journey:
I learned to write letters that would sell goods. This opened to me the mail-order and direct-mail fields. I became the apprentice of "cost per inquiry" and "cost per order," and found them apt teachers. My letters, folders, and catalogues have sold, among a variety of products, work shoes to farmers, golf pencils by the hundreds of thousands to clubs, and $4000 motorboats to selected prospects. 
Then followed seven years of retail store advertising which taught me to make sales over the counter, and advertising for a factory, which introduced me to sales promotion, trade magazine and national consumer advertising, and to research.
Finally, adding this experience together, I became vice-president in charge of research of a 4A advertising agency, and have now served an assortment of clients over a dozen years of agency experience. 
This work would have been from c. 1906 through the 1920s. To give a bit of personal background, in the 1920s, Allen and Leila Burt drove up from Boston to visit Weld, Maine. Family lore has it that they stayed at the Kawanhee Inn. Back then, their friends summered on The Cape. But my grandparents decided to purchase property on a lake in rural Maine, an 8-hour drive north on rocky roads. I wondered while writing this whether my grandfather pulled a grand sales job on my grandmother to get her to agree to rural Maine.  However they ended up here, we're glad they did.

For as long as I knew him, my grandfather always wore a bow tie. But at camp, on especially hot days, he'd take off the tie and roll up the sleeves on his bleached-white shirt. A proper Bostonian, to be sure–yet, he summered in Weld, Maine, and over the years had camps built for his three daughters.

A Weld Sunset from Burt's Point c. 2015
Just off the one-mile-long gravel road that leads to Burt's Point and our camp, my grandparents placed a clay tennis court. I'm not sure whether they built the court or whether they hired out the work. No matter.  I wrote this poem about the courts and my grandparents back in the late 1970s. "The Clay Court" appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram and then in my chapbook, Entering Weld (1981) 


You can almost see them
While driving the dirt road,
Though trees have grown
and wildflowers row the baseline.
A flowing skirt, ankle length,
And a wide-brimmed bonnet--
And he in the proper
White pants.
True Bostonians, they were,
(Though they ignored the Cape)
Gingerly wielding their
Snowshoe rackets in the fields
Near Webb.
Backcourt lob, crosscourt winner...
"Five–love, my dear, five–love." 

What a great find this advertising book has been. Maybe I'll pass it along to my nephew, Denny, who is in business at Cisco Systems. He doesn't work in advertising, per se, but he sure knows its importance.

Thanks, Grandpa. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

NPR/MPBN: Writing Boosts Performance of Maine’s Student-Athletes

Two of my graduate students, several high school student-athletes, and I were interviewed by Dr. Dave Boardman of Maine Public Broadcasting. The five-minute radio show does a good deal of work highlighting the benefits of having athletes write. Take a listen to "Writing Boosts Performance of Maine’s Student-Athletes."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Player of the Year Uses Notebook to Advance

2015 NCAA Player of the Year
In an interview on the Golf Channel, Stanford player Maverick McNealy shared how he used his notebook to analyze his play. He sounds a good deal like Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin when she spoke about her notebook. The video may be found here.   

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Full Professor

In August 2014, I wrote about the work involved in becoming a "full professor" (Click here to read that post.) My bid in 2014 fell short because of procedural issues (i.e., I followed the application requirements of an out-dated form). Could this mistake have been remedied at the time? Yes, but things happen in big institutions. Enough said.

Click to enlarge
On Friday, I receive a letter from President Susan Hunter of UMaine. It's one of a series of letters a candidate receives along the journey to full professor, associate professor with tenure, or assistant professor with a continuing contract (these letters come yearly). The first letter I received came from a Peer Committee of full professors in the college. On this level, the committee reviews a candidate's papers. My papers included the following: 

–7-page cover letter,
–16-page CV,
–65-page application packet--this application includes 3 external review letters from professors outside of the university who write about my career work, a chart that includes my teaching evaluations, and documentation of grants awarded, public service, publications, and other activities that document the tripartite mission of a professor (i.e., service, scholarship, and teaching).   
–Copies of most of my publications throughout my career. 

I've had to submit similar documentation throughout my 13-year career at UMaine, so pulling this work together isn't as massive as it sounds. I suppose the first time I did the application work during the summer of 2014, it took me about 30-40 hours. Then, following the new form, I worked another 30 hours. As my friends will attest, I'm a bit persnickety about my letters and paperwork, so I do a lot of revising... probably way too much. But that's me and at 62 years old, I'm not changing anytime soon.   

I don't mean to sound like I'm whining about this work. However, I do believe there are more economical ways to record this work like using the yearly reports we faculty member compose and submit electronically every single year. But, I'm not in charge and I follow the prescribed rules. 

Full Professor status allows a faculty member to have a lot of choice within the institution. We focus more deeply on our research agenda and feel more free to say "no" to certain tasks. I look at it this way: UMaine has invested a lot of money in me since 2003. I now have a national reputation as a leader in 2  distinct areas of literacy: high school writing centers and how writing helps athletes learn. I also have a certain prominence in the area of writing and the teaching of writing. Because of my place in the literacy world (I hope this doesn't sound too heady), at this stage in my career I should be able to follow my own ideas and focus in ways that will further promote what UMaine has supported me in achieving.    

The promotion, my final one in my academic life, will come with some kind of raise in salary. I also hope and plan to take a full-year sabbatical to kick off the final few years of my work at UMaine by studying, reading, and writing. 

Finally, of course, I've had fun thinking about what my mom and sister would have thought about this appointment. My grandfather, an adjunct professor of business at several Boston colleges, would have enjoyed knowing his grandson had finished up as a "full." 

That's it from 728 Prospect. Time to take William to the ski area.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Future English teachers

2015 English Teacher Candidates
Click photo to enlarge. 
I finished up my Teaching Writing class this past Tuesday with the teacher candidates presenting a  series of writing workshops. Naturally, we took a class picture and I snapped a couple of candids. And so off they go. Some will student teach, others will continue with classes until their student teaching in the fall of next year. Each of these folks--Levi, Matt, Maddy, Darryl, Danielle, Emily, Chris, and Amanda--will find a school and a classroom to call home over the next few years. Some may choose other careers, like Levi who's eyeing graduate work in student affairs, but a background in teaching will never hurt no matter where they end up. I still struggle to believe that we teach people to become teachers by keeping them tied to a university classroom as students. I think each public school should be required to mentor teacher candidates and that each teacher in the school should play a role. That kind of work for practicing teachers could be tied to their graduate work. But this work at the university level I'll leave to new professors. For now, I'll simply wish these young people all the best and godspeed.

Are you really taking our photo? 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


"We read to learn how to write." 

Written on Facebook last March... Avoiding my taxes and book revisions, I roamed my house this early morning taking photos of the stacks, rows, piles, and clumps of books that line my tables, shelves, desks, and piano. Some of the books I've read; some I haven't. Some are hand-me-downs from my grandfather, F. Allen Burt; others are in storage for Ken, my brother-in-law, a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile. A select few come from my graduate school studies--those books have been read multiple times, the pages are dog-eared, sticky-noted, Post-It'd, and scribbled on. I feel smart when I see those books, except when I remember how often I sat staring at the dense writing, reading it over and over again, puzzled, left wondering.  

Hundreds of my books come from my old high school English classroom, Room 109 of Mountain Valley High School. There, my students and I collected 2500+ books for our classroom library. In fact, my students got extra credit once a quarter for donating a book! (Yes, I could be bought, but only with books.) In Room 109, we had every-anything in our stacks, from "The Basketball Diaries" and "When Someone You Know Is Gay" to "How Cars Work" and a book on forensics with a full-blown autopsy report and detailed photographs. 

John Steinbeck said, "I guess there are never enough books." This morning, I’d agree. Time to get to work. The full album of my books may be accessed by clicking on this sentence

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Advice to writers

I've taught writing for a very long time and have shared the classroom with a number of students who spin fabulous lines or stories during a short writing exercise in class. These are students who could find a place in the writing world, students whose writing makes me envious. I love the way they use words and evoke emotions. Perhaps most of all, their voices ring clear. I admire the ease with which these writers craft a journal entry or an in-class story. However, once class ends and they're on their own, many of these writers tend to falter and stop writing. My gut says these would-be writers don't trust the process and as a result find it hard to commit to the day-to-day of a writer's life. As writers, we don't publish our work after a 10- to 15-minute writing activity. Usually, our writing projects wear on for months or years, and we don't get much in the way of feedback except from our editors. Their words of encouragement mean the world to us and keep us moving forward. My best advice to students who wish to write has always been, "Trust the process: keep putting words on paper and revise revise revise." Perhaps Bonnie Friedman in Writing Past Dark takes my words even further:

Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences.
They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover
what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, 
and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.   

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Monnie's book

Most writers have those go-to books that stimulate writing and prompt ideas. Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse is one of those books for me and for most of the students I've taught. Monnie's prompts force writers to twist their understandings and think more creatively. Here are three examples:

–Write about a noise–or a silence–that won't go away.

– Until _________________, nothing notable had happened in the town of Madison since the year of its founding. (Now, keep on writing.)

–Use the following verbs in any way you wish:
          racket  snug  green  spoon  boggle  snake
They're not all verbs, you say?
"Jeremy is racketing across the lawn as we speak."
"Can you hear earthworms snugging out of the ground as the sun greens the trees?"

                    –Verbs are sometimes a matter of opinion.

A used copy of The Pocket Muse can be purchased for pennies. My advice... invest.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Grandpa's Book: The Story of Mount Washington (41/60)

The Story of Mount Washington
by F. Allen Burt
My grandfather, F. Allen Burt, wrote the history of Mount Washington back in the late 1950s. Published in 1960, The Story of Mount Washington, shares a wealth of history, science, and stories of this venerable mountain. Much of the book comes from the archives of my grandfather's father and grandfather who published a newspaper on the top of the mountain from the 1870s to early 1900s.

I convinced myself some years ago that I had read this book as a young man. But I'm certain now that I only spot read various sections. But now I will.

I doubt many from my family have read this book. It's curious how that happens. I've noticed it in my own career: family members haven't read my books or articles. I wonder if it has something to do with the way we view authors as–would it be–other-worldly. Or perhaps it's more like, "Well, that's my brother or grandfather or aunt... what does she have to say me?"

No matter. It's time to read Grandpa.