Idea, Intention, and Fear
In lieu of an ongoing professional-development activity, I would like to discuss my creation ‘The Box’—its original intentions and inspirations, how it has evolved thus far, and what the impediments are to its success. These impediments, of which I find most insightful, will speak to the greater fears of writing center tutors.
I remember looking around the back lounge-area of the LPC writing center when I was struck by the revelation that I had not read any of my fellow tutors’ work. It was then that I realized that only under special circumstances, such as the WRD 395 class, personal request, or a writing-center focused conference, was this work even available to me. This revelation led to more important questions: what did my fellow tutors write about, how I would characterize their literary voices, what inspired them, and what were their methods of argument? Most importantly, as far as writing manifests itself as our primary mode of expression, who were these people? How did they go about typing pieces of their identities, as codes, upon the page?
I realized that I was asking questions which I was not rightly entitled to know the answers to. Identities, and the personal modes of expression that both form and voice them, are not mine to demand to know or have. But nonetheless, shouldn’t the opportunity exist in the event that my curiosity was not one of a kind. Also, after my revelation, a nagging and unignorable sense of hypocrisy took root within me. This sense grew as I watched myself, alongside my fellow tutors, offer our instructions up to those that came to the writing center seeking our help. What prevented us, as tutors, from showing our work to each other when were more than ready to see the work of others, people we had never met, people with like fears and anxieties. When tutors spoke about the general unwillingness of writer’s to visit the center, seeing it as a prison of remedial punishment, a note of that hypocrisy called out from the bell tower of my mind. Were we any different? Could we give help, and meanwhile be just as reluctant to receive it as those students that condemned our institution to obscurity with their unwillingness to participate. As the proverb goes, “the best teacher is one who is not afraid to become the student.”
I created The Box as an answer to this self-perceived hypocrisy, but I couldn’t anticipate its flaws, and it took much time for me to grasp the reasoning behind them. In my naivety, I saw The Box as a necessary outlet to unload a weight accumulating on the other side of the ‘teacher-student’ dichotomy. With such regular and inescapable opportunities to play the role of ‘teacher,’ I predicated that tutors would jump at the chance to sit on the other side of the table, so to speak. But The Box was not conceived as a capitalistic enterprise with quantifiable rewards. Its rewards were invisible and based purely upon the assumption of learning by osmosis. Tutors would not submit their work to The Box with the intention of having it edited, revised, judged, critiqued, or reviewed; rather, they would submit their work to The Box as a contribution to a vault of literature that tutors could access in their free time to both get to know their co-workers literature and improve their own understanding of argument through the invisible absorption of the ideas, voices, and styles implicit within that literature. A Contribution to The Box is not so much a benefit to the submitter as it is a benefit to those who explore its contents and read that contribution. In this sense, there is more incentive to withdrawal from The Boxthan to submit to it; however, as I will examine, both acts are counter-intuitive to the greater ideology of the writing center.
Getting tutors to submit to The Box was a slow and very hands-on process. I individually approached ever tutor that I knew, following my initial email introducing The Box, and lightly agitated them to submit. Those encounters yielded a wide variety of initial excuses and follow-up excuses, often inconsistent with the original. The general consensus suggested that many tutors had not read the email about The Box, and thus, did not understand its purpose. Nevertheless, I remained unassuming about these excuses, taking them at face value and addressing them accordingly.
When tutors expressed that they didn’t have the time to write something for The Box, I told them that The Box was a receptacle intended for work that was initially written for another purpose, such as a class assignment. When tutors countered that they didn’t have any recent work to submit, because they were working in non-literary fields lately, I encouraged them to submit work written from previous classes, quarters, and even years. If all else failed, I encouraged them to submit non school-related projects. I told them that The Box had no temporal cut-off, and welcomed works written from any time, provided they were of the author’s own creation.
When tutors confessed that they didn’t want to be judged by their fellow co-workers, I encouraged them to submit anonymously, emphasizing the many ways that tutors can benefit from reading work, regardless of the author’s identity. When tutors replied that they didn’t currently have any work in need of revision, I reminded them that this wasn’t the intention of The Box. When tutors replied that they hadn’t yet written that ‘golden piece’ that they want to represent them, I responded that such pieces do not harmonize with the philosophy of The Box. The Box benefits more from a standard representation of your material, rather than an unnatural, albeit exceptional, perfectionist piece. The latter will not accurately portray a writer’s typical work. Lastly, when tutors confessed that they didn’t write very interesting material, I told them that this wasn’t for them to decide. One writer’s trash is another writer’s treasure.
I covered every base. For every possible excuse, I developed a counter-point to combat it. I wasn’t letting any writer off the hook easily. I followed a trail of excuses to two inevitable ends: one of annoyance at my prying followed by the attitude that I no longer existed, and therefore, need not be answered, and second of a tacit, yet perhaps forced, promise that the writer would submit something as soon as possible. As time passed, 90% of these promises went unfulfilled, and I began to question what deterrents unwittingly resided beneath those professed surface excuses. I had battled them so naively and unassumingly, without ever thinking that they served to mask a deeper fear. The following is my speculative exploration of that fear.
A writing center tutor, by definition, is someone who is expected to be well-versed in the skill of writing. According to popular stereotype, the tutor is supposed to profess esoteric and exceptional knowledge about the art of crafting literature. They are to represent a sort of ideal in the writing world, something to be strived for. Thus, the fear stems from the idea that The Box it a threat to one’s existence within this stereotype. It provides a means of exposing tutors as failures to meet this expectation, prove themselves as writers, and deserve the position which they fill. It puts one’s own work under the spotlight of his or her coworkers, people who are perceived as literary experts in their own right, and by association to the writing center.
The Box is an antagonist to this fear. As it evolved from a personal sense of hypocrisy, it also threatens to expose tutors as hypocrites to themselves. Tutors are afraid that their submissions to The Box will become affidavits in their hypothetical indictment at the writing center. As such, they will be sealing their own fate with each submission. The feat covers itself with all of the above-discussed excuses, but there is an additional reason The Box struggles to succeed. Tutors are constantly busy at the writing center, and the prevailing notion is that all downtime must be maximized with quantifiable product—tutor logs, work on the portfolio, work on additional UCWBL projects, and lastly, homework. In this system, The Box is greatly de-prioritized because it offers no quantifiable incentive for participation. Although it takes no time to submit a previously-written work to The Box, it takes time to withdrawal and read, and why contribute to an enterprise that you are unavailable to enjoy yourself?
The Box is not a failed project. After much personal campaigning, it has collected a sizable stack of materials, albeit from only a small number of writers. It features a couple fiction chapters, several non-fiction essays, some epigrams, poetry, a film review, and a miscellaneous piece—a diverse range of projects written by half a dozen tutors. I have read all the work and I vow to read anything that is submitted in the future; yet, I refuse to combat deterrents to The Box by continuing my very-direct method of campaigning. The Box must learn to advertise itself. And I cannot provide incentives to The Box without sabotaging all that is wonderful about it. It is more than just a receptacle for our work. It is a testament against the idea that the sharing of writing happens on one side of the lounge-area only. It is an effort to better understand those who work at the center—the things that motivate and inspire them, and the things that contribute to their identity in the literary world. It is an effort to take advantage of a very unique situation in the academic world. Whereas the author’s of the texts we are prescribed in class are often inaccessible and far away, the contributors to The Box are sitting right next to us, perhaps even waiting for someone to engage them about their work. Lastly, The Box is a case for the idea that, if you invest your time in someone’s work, without an incentive to guide you, you will grow from the experience nonetheless.
 The relevant materials of The Box are available for anyone to see at the LPC tutoring lounge in what is now labeled “The Drawer”.