Revolution Lullabye

September 7, 2012

Heard, Cultivating Sensibility in Writing Program Administration

Heard, Matthew. “Cultivating Sensibility in Writing Program Administration. WPA 35.2 (Spring 2012): 38-54.

Heard argues for WPAs to adopt a theoretical posture and ethos of sensibility, which he defines as a constant, embodied attuneness and attention to the constraints that shape the decisions they make and the subsequent consequences of their decisions. Heard maintains that if WPAs cultivate sensibility, it can help them understand the ways writing shapes their local decisions and practices. In addition, Heard contends that writing program administrators take a theoretical lead in the field, helping composition studies as a whole develop a writing sensibility.

Heard draws his argument about writing as “a living habit of being” from philosopher Carlo Sini (The Ethics of Writing.) Heard believes that writing helps us be more human, and this larger consequence of writing – as part of a thoughtful, deep life – needs to be incorporated into our pedagogy and scholarship. Writing helps us, he argues, be attune to the values and practices that we take on and their effects in our lives.

Notable Notes

writing instruction isn’t just about learning how to communicate to others

administrative advantage of this approach- be in the moment, attentive to the local

cultivate sensibility through recognition and naming, self-advocacy, public intervention

argues for changing TA training to reflect ethos of writing, attentiveness, local constraints

Quotable Quotes

“As ethos, writing becomes a force of being that not only shapes our communicative abilities, but also more profoundly impacts the way we see the world, interrelate with others, and find personal and social meaning.” (41)

Sensibility can “position WPAs to attune more consciously to the ways that our material, political, and other constraints affect the ways that the ethos of writing is put into practice through us and around us” (43)

“Instructors and students need to be able to see their study of writing as part of something bigger – part of how they learn to live and not simply how they learn to communicate more effectively” (50).


January 12, 2009

Alexander, Ishikawa, & Silverstein, A Pattern Language

Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

This architectural guide is the second book of a larger work that attempts to define a theory and language for constructing spaces that allow for optimal human happiness and well-being. Alexander et al wrote this book in response to the increasingly unpoetic architectural decisions of the mid-twentieth century, which resulted in large, sprawling buildings and cities that had no elegance or life. The authors present 253 patterns, design problems and their solutions, in the book’s three different sections: towns, buildings, and construction. “Towns” describes how larger, global spaces of cities, countryside, communities, and neighborhoods can be organized; “Buildings” details the attributes that should be considered when constructing spaces and places of work, life, and recreation; “Construction” explains the type of materials and structures that should be used in buildings. Alexander’s patterns contain similiar themes that on the surface might seem contradictorary: harmonious but heterogeneous, complicated and compressed but simple and open. All the patterns are shaped around the rhythm of human life and call for balance, diversity, and specific boundaries. The patterns are further organized by asterisk marks: those that are followed by two are patterns that Alexander believes are universally deep, true, and sound; those with one he is less sure of their universaility, and those with none suggest at patterns that seems to make sense but is not engrained in the soul of human existence. These patterns are not supposed to be the foundation of some master society plan; rather, a society based on this pattern language can only emerge organically from the bottom up, as each individual designer follows the patterns to design their own space, big or small (3).

Quotable Quotes

“No pattern is an isolated entity” – a whole theme about the problem of isolation (of old people, of homes, of workplaces, of shopping areas, of little kid sleeping areas. Human beings, it seems, should be in communication with each other and interact with one another. Human life is a network.)

“This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing, you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it” (xiii).

“Many of the patterns here are archetypal – so deep, so deeply rooted in the nature of tihngs, that it seems likely that they will be a part of human nature, and human action, as much in five hundred years, as they are today” (xvii)

It is a language “which can make people feel alive and human” (xvii)

Compressing patterns is “the only way of using a pattern language to make buildings which are poems” (xliv)

“The suburb is an obsolete and contradictory form of human settlement” (30).

“The full cycle of life [needs to be] represented and balanced in each community” (145).

“People need an identifiable spatial unit to belong to” (81)

“No one stage in the life cycle is self-sufficient” (189)

Notable Notes

Each of the patterns works in concert with the others. They are organized by general magnitude -the large ones are completed by the smaller ones, the smaller ones compliment the larger ones. (xii)

There are many pattern languages; every society and culture will form its own

It is a network: create structure, embellish structures, embellish embellishments.

The goal is to make a space that resonates a poem: put together the patterns so they are dense, overlapping, and compressed, so that the space becomes meaningful, illuminated, economical, and profound.

Importance of the life cycle and interaction with all people: the old, the young, men, women

Patterns like child caves, four-story limit, row houses, still water, grave sites, roof garden, old age cottage, fruit trees, etc.

January 3, 2009

Csikszentmihaly, Flow

Csikszentmihaly, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

Csikszentmihaly explains the principles a person must follow in order to achieve flow, the optimal experience which leads to true happiness. His theory of flow is based on the data collected by his team of researchers through the University of Chicago, who interviewed experts in diverse fields (surgeons, dancers, philosophers, mountain climbers, musicians), and gathered personal testaments from hundreds of other ordinary people around the world through a method called experience sampling, where a person wears a pager for a week and writes down their feelings and thoughts each time the pager goes off (eight randomized times a day.) His concept of flow and optimal experience builds on the theories developed by other scholars in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and is used by those in fields as varied as occupational therapy, education, design, and criminal justice.

Csikszentmihaly’s theory of optimal experience is grounded in the belief that an individual must control their own consciousness (their perception and reaction to reality) in order to achieve happiness. The universe cannot be controlled or predicted; therefore, instead of only reacting to it as a passive responder, a person who wants to achieve flow must confront the challenges life brings and find a way to make meaning out of them. That way of meaning must be intrinsically developed through a set of personal goals and purposes, for societal goals and the “shields of culture” society develops in response to the chronic frustration humans face in nature can fall apart, leading to further disillusion and anxiety. What people can control is their attention: what bits of information they choose to focus on and pay attention to.

Happiness, Csikszentmihaly argues, is achieved through participation in autotelic activities, defined as “a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward” (67). Autotelic activities have several characteristics: they are challenging activities that require skills, they occur during the merging of action and awareness, they have clear goals and feedback, they require complete concentration on the task at hand, they give the person a sense of non-threatened control, they allow the person to experience a loss of self-consciousness as the person becomes one with the activity, and they often involve a transformation of time (time slows down or speeds up.) The purpose of life, Csikszentmihaly argues, is to create a systematic pattern of optimal experiences, which can be achieved by setting goals, becoming immersed in activities that you care about, paying attention to what happens around you, and enjoying the immediate experiences of life. In the book, Csikszentmihaly shows how people can experience flow in physical activities, symbolic activities, work, relationships, and during times of extreme stress and tragedy.

Quotable Quotes

“Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their life, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy” (2).

Flow: “The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (4).

“We create ourselves by how we invest this energy” – psychic energy, attention (33)

“Cultures are defensive constructions against chaos, designed to reduce the impact of randomness on experience” (81) Cultures create goals and rules about how people should order attention.

“People without an internalized symbolic system can all too easily become captives of the media. They are easily manipulated by demagogues, pacified by entertainers, and exploited by anyone who has something to sell” (128).

“Taking up each new challenge not as something to be repressed or avoided, but as an opportunity for learning and improving skills” (172)

“Learning how to use time alone, instead of escaping from it” (171)

Notable Notes

Csikszentmihaly’s notes are contained in the back of the book, with references to the literature behind his claims for each chapter. The notes are extensive and are a condensed scholarly-referenced version of the book.

Optimal experience, flow, attention are not passive – they call on people to participate in life.

Csikszentmihaly believes that religion is not the answer for finding true happiness because it is a construct of culture, not an individually-determined creation. Old methods of liberation (from societal controls) don’t always work in different historical contexts (example: yoga in modern-day California) because the needs and purposes of people are different.

Consciousness = “intentionally ordered information” (26) because lots of information enters our brain (7 bits at a time, 40 bits a second), but we have to choose what we pay attention to and make part of our consciousness, our version of reality.

Plane of happiness: boredom — flow — anxiety/frustration

Autotelic families instill clarity, centering, choice, commitment, and challenge to their children.

The autotelic personality is created both individually and by a society that allows autotelic individuals to function and work.

History is important and enjoyable because it exercises memory. The ability to memorize allows for self, internal stimulation because the mind “is stoked with patterns of information” – an independent, autonomous mind (124).

Autotelic jobs are independent, skill-driven, challenging, and constructed like games.

People who get through ordeals well have dissipative structures that can recycle waste into order and energy: unselfconscious self-assurance, can focus attention on the world rather than themselves, and are open to discover new solutions and alternatives. (201-202)

Making all of life have meaning involves finding purpose, choosing a path of resolve, and moving in harmony with the world.

Create a free website or blog at