• Just Visiting

    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.

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Farewell 2019

And thanks to the readers.

December 18, 2019

What a year.

If my count is correct, this will be the 89th post in this space for calendar year 2019. Deducting 10 to 12 or so guest posts, multiplying by a (conservative) word count average of 1,000,[1] and I wrote the equivalent of a book manuscript for “Just Visiting.”

It’s been a personally important year with some meaningful milestones. In February, I started a job at Willow Research that has provided a framework for the next phase of my life. I will always miss teaching full-time, but having spent the better part of a year working as part of a team and being paid a salary commensurate with my ability, qualifications and effort has been rather enjoyable. The company’s focus on servicing nonprofits[2] and professional associations has me doing a lot of work for groups whose missions I can get behind.

It feels good, and as the holidays roll around, I am not curled up in the fetal position following the end-of-semester sprint.

This has also been the year when Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer’s Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing made their way into the world. The reception for both books has been beyond what anyone could have hoped for, which paradoxically makes me wish for more.

For The Writer’s Practice especially, I am hoping for increased course adoption so it can gain the kind of momentum that induces the publisher to get behind it for the long haul. The feedback I have been getting from instructors who have used it is highly encouraging. I knew this approach worked in my own classes, but it appears to be transferable. Modesty very far aside, I think this book can make a difference in the lives of developing writers.

Looking back over the year, my most significant rising concern appears to be the increasing tracking and surveillance of students. For me, this is incompatible with the freedom necessary for students to develop the agency and self-advocacy that are the hallmarks of education and growth. It is a very bad path that a lot of money and momentum is behind, and I believe it should be resisted.

I wrote some, but less than previous years about contingent academic labor. I’ve found myself repeating myself. After reading Herb Childress’s wonderful The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission, I don’t know that I have much left other than to say, “What he said.”

I am in a mournful mood over these issues. I’ve been writing about them here since my very first posts almost eight years ago. Others were at it before that, and yet little progress has been achieved beyond increased awareness. These inequalities now seem baked into the pie. They harm even those on the fortunate side of the tenure divide, and yet the degrading of the profession is so significant that it is as though there’s only enough energy to survive, not resist.

If there is hope, I find it in the possibility of returning to a world where education is viewed as a public good. Debt forgiveness and free college are now serious policy discussions where a mere two years ago, they were pipe dreams. I can’t say I believe they are going to happen, but it is something of a beacon, a recognition that as is, shit’s fucked up and we have to do something about it before it’s too late -- if it isn’t already too late.

Looking back over the year is a reminder of what an enormous privilege it is to have this outlet and how grateful I am to have an audience. The comments by others on many of my posts add significant value to the discourse and are a consistent source for my own ongoing learning.[3]

Thank you to those who have contributed their ideas to this space.

Next year looks to be a promising one, personally. I am more integrated into my new job. I have several exciting speaking engagements booked for the spring. I turn 50 in April, which will be an excuse to take an indulgent vacation. I’ve made a personal vow to place another book-length fiction manuscript with a publisher somehow, somewhere.

But I am also fearful of what 2020 will bring. It is likely to be the most eventful and consequential year of my existence. The explicit re-election strategy of the president of the United States appears to be to rend us apart, hoping the portion he has torn free is sufficient for an Electoral College victory even as he almost certainly will once again lose the popular vote. It’s not clear to me how we survive this with our democratic republic intact.

What a year. I’ll see you all in the next one.


[1]I do tend to go on.

[2]Including educational institutions. Seriously, hit us up. We’re good.

[3]In addition to the occasional great frustration.

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