After Sabbatical: Beginning Again and Bob Dylan

Ten months of almost weekly chronicling what was my sabbatical felt like the right thing to do.  It had purpose: writing was to keep me on track. Since I had no place to be—no classroom, no archives in Europe or writer’s colony in New England–I would mark time by filling this space.


Things have changed. 

That’s the second half of one of my favorite recent-ish Bob Dylan lines.  Here’s the whole verse from the 2000 tune:

 People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

On that note of acceptance and, in turn, an odd kind of optimism, I am updating this sabbatical blog.

Update: I am not on sabbatical. I am more than halfway through teaching three classes and, more notably, taking one.  So, it’s time to repurpose this writing project.

I will begin again by blogging about my adventures as a student of first-year comp. Most Fridays I can be found in Carman Hall 315 with the other twenty-one students in English 111, the first of two composition courses required at Lehman College. I sit in the far right row, closest to the door, third desk from the front. I take notes on my laptop in a space too tight for me and all my belongings—coffee cup, water bottle, purse, backpack, phone, jacket, sweater, gym bag. My things compete with my fellow students’ stuff: their books and ipads and phones and jackets and pens and arms and legs.  All of us sit at an angle, within sight but slightly out of range of the teacher’s gaze.

Scholarship–that is the reason I am subjecting myself to this strange experience of being a student at this time: mid-career, almost, probably, maybe mid-life. I want to write about what it’s like to  be a beginning writer in these complex times and I want to do that by researching composition classes.

Every week (or most weeks…I’ve been absent a few times) I engage in the practices required of beginning composition students—writing and reading tasks that are both infantalizing and, oddly optimistically, challenging.  Here are the two assignments I’ve completed so far:

–Descriptive Essay (of an influential teacher)

–Analytical Essay (of our experience as college students).

The first assignment inspired the article I am now finishing, “Freshman Composition and the Adjacent Possible.”  The second assignment had to be thesis-driven, an argument, about “anything to do with our experience in college.”  I decided to argue against the  “outcomes” culture of higher education (the move to make college courses adhere to unformed learning goals with assessable criteria). I explained how rubrics and outcomes are focused on what happens at the end of writing.  Most of the interesting thinking in a humanities course comes during the reading and writing and that, I argued “is hard to measure.”

The professor told me, rightly, that I didn’t “stick to that thesis.” I needed to really “figure out” where I stand on the issue.  Many of my classmates seemed to have that same problem–going in and out of conviction.  So I guess my revision will try to discover whether “I used to care but thing have changed” or “Things have changed. So it’s time to care.”

Stay tuned.



About Jessica Yood

I am an Associate Professor of English at Lehman College, The City University of New York (CUNY). Composition and Rhetoric is my primary field and research into the history and emerging role of writing in our contemporary culture continues to broaden my definition of this discipline. Work for my book project takes me into the history of literary criticism in America, complexity theories, the culture wars and the intellectual crises of the 1990s, and the enduring complexity of first-year writing and writers.
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2 Responses to After Sabbatical: Beginning Again and Bob Dylan

  1. Thanks for checking in, Matt–glad to get your perspective.

  2. What a fascinating project, Jessica! Thank you so much for chronicling it here.

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