Every year for the past three years I have had my graduate students who are teaching at our institution for the first time read Nancy Sommer’s 1993 essay “I Stand Here Writing.” Typically, this means we have just concluded our initial orientations and discussed the stories we and our students bring to the composition classroom, and, as a community of teachers, we are all getting ready to teach the first assignment in our FYC sequence—a narrative essay. The first time I assigned this piece I did so because I thought it was somehow poetic to begin our orientations talking about stories, to be preparing to work with our students on how they might tell their own stories, and to conclude our first seminar class by thinking about Sommer’s stor(ies). As I reread the essay yesterday, however, I realized that part of me needs to read this essay as the semester begins and that while my students may appreciate the piece, I assign it because it speaks to me.
Each time I read the essay I find myself writing in the margins, “so true” and “pay attention” and “yes.” Sommers’ work, with her images of remembering, mothering, teaching, and writing, is simply the best place for me to begin each semester—a reminder to embrace my experiences and the “texts of my life” and to “translate them into ideas.” A reminder to help my students “see themselves as sources, as places from which ideas originate…as Emerson’s transparent eyeball, all that they have read and experienced—the dictionaries of their lives—circulating through them.” A reminder that we all have stories to tell. But it is also a reminder that my writing, the writing I do best, is the writing that comes from my life experiences and the connections and gaps between those experiences.
Of course it is hard to believe that another semester is beginning, that my own children are a year older, that it is the time of year when students arrive at schools and college campuses and bring with them excitement and anxiousness, the known and the unknown. But I know I have many friends who are experiencing very similar moments, so this year, as you begin the first of semester chaos, consider reading “I Stand Here Writing”—even if, like most of us, you have read it before.