Finally blogging about Maria Cotera…

… and I’ll explain why. I listened to the podcast of the interview back in February, and never found the time to write my post. I listened to the podcast again a few weeks ago when I sat down to write the blog post and realized I didn’t remember enough of what I listened to. Listening to it a second time actually turned out to be incredibly beneficial, because while I was recalling my initial thoughts on the podcast, I was also gaining more insight into Cotera’s responses.

So here we are today, actually writing the blog post. As the semester came to a close, I knew I could not simply avoid this post. I am not posting because I need more points in my gamification grid. I’m posting because although I have procrastinated to no end, I wanted to reflect on Cotera’s interview and how I relate to it as a writer and most importantly, as a student.  Well, although my memory is normally quite keen, I found myself needing a little refresher on the interview, so today I pulled up the podcast for a third time. Hearing the interview for a third time really allowed me to figure out which parts of the interview stood out and resonated most within me. These were the parts I recalled most significantly from each of the previous listenings.

Admittedly, I’m a pretty horrible female in terms of enjoying feminist discussions. I was a little skeptical of listening to a women’s studies professor and when she focused briefly on the Chicana feminist movement, I was worried the conversation would become a lecture. However, moving past the political side of it, the way Cotera described the endless boundaries of what it means to be a writer truly intrigued me. I was particularly drawn to her description of a real writer as someone holed up with a tweed jacket furiously cranking out words. I find it fascinating that while she holds onto that description, she also acknowledges that a large portion of her current writing is more based around writing many smaller projects, such as proposals for her teaching.

On that note, I’ve been thinking a lot about how she tried to teach a class where she eliminated the standard essay/paper format, and instead allowed the students to post on a blog. It’s interesting how some students still follow that intro, body, conclusion format that was drilled into all of us throughout grade school. With so many new mediums of writing, especially digital forms, I enjoy hearing about how different professors handle the shift away from the traditional essay. I know many professors ignore the possibilities of new media, so I think it helps that Cotera is a writer herself, and understands that great writing can happen in a variety of forms (even Tweeting). This especially holds true for scholarly writing as she mentioned. The way Cotera noted that no one writes a huge scholarly piece without having some major passion or opinion on the topic validated our in class discussion on how scholarly writing often avoids personal pronouns or any blatantly stated opinions. Reflecting back on it, I do think I would enjoy reading more personal scholarly pieces, but would also be skeptical to break away from the tradition of reading these types of work with an unquestioning eye based on the formal presentation of impersonal material. It would make me question authority to some extent, even if completely unjustified.

All in all, I’m glad I ultimately listened to Cotera’s interview (all three times). It allowed me to compare my own thoughts on writing and writers in general to someone who has actually experienced success and growth within the field. I actually looked at taking a course with Cotera for the upcoming semester, but unfortunately a 400 level AMCULT class did not seem like my idea of enjoyable.

Writer to Writer

nativespeakers

Having just listened to Maria Cotera speak in the Word 2 Word podcast, I am realizing that a) I’ve been missing out on a truly inspirational and informative genre and b) even professional writers struggle to define what writing is – both to them personally and as a broader explanation as well. I want to touch on several things she said.

I’ve never specifically sought out writing done by women (or men) of color. Not because I was actively avoiding the genre, but because I never even thought to consider it. I’ve mostly just read what’s in front of me – not paying special concern to one particular type of genre. I peruse bestseller lists, yes, but oftentimes there is little to no variation between those books. Listening to Maria Cotera speak made me realize that even though I may not be a woman writer of color, the opportunity to learn from this disparate perspective is one I cannot pass up.

Additionally, I found it particularly inspiring to me personally when she talked about even writers having trouble defining the term writer. She herself had to change the way she thought about writing. She stated that, for a long time, she thought of writing as sitting down every morning writing for five hours “upstairs in your tweed jacket with elbow patches.” She couldn’t let go of her formal and rigid definition of a writer as someone who writes with a focus on being prolific rather than poetic. As she grew as a writer, however, she realized that writing comes in all forms. She stated that she even considers Twitter to be writing, calling it “critically and theoretically informed.” I’ve been talking this entire semester about the struggle I’ve felt in trying to define the word writer and what it means to me – perhaps I need to quit forcing my definition and instead let it come to me as I grow, like Cotera did.

She opened by telling a story of the first time she remembers witnessing writing. Her mother had brought her to a McDonald’s so that she could work on a book while Maria played in the playscape. She talked about her mother writing in longhand a book that she eventually self-published, and brought up a Virginia Wolfe quote about each woman writer needing a room of her own. I can see the truth in this – in both a literal and figurative sense. Literally, yes, each woman needs a space away from her everyday life in order to write peacefully and without distraction. Analyzing this quote figuratively, however, brings to mind the meaning that I think Wolfe wanted to convey – that each woman writer needs a space of her own in the broader field of writing. I interpreted this as each woman needing to carve out a space for herself in the world, a space that allows her to feel safe with what she is writing, to be confident in it, and to avoid the worry that may come from putting such personal testimony out into the public sphere.

All in all, I thought Maria Cotera was a unique, hilarious, and absolutely intriguing voice – and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to listen to her speak, even if it was through the headphones on my computer.

 

A Room of Your Own

I was very moved by Maria Cotera’s interview on Writer To Writer.  I was disappointed to have to miss the event in person, but am so glad I got to listen to the podcast.

There were many part’s of Maria’s story that I really learned from and enjoyed.  I loved the way she addressed the changing modes of writing, and that in response we must change the way we think about writing.  The hottest writing is happening online through modes like twitter and blogging.  It was helpful to hear how much she loved blogging, since we’ve been doing so much blogging recently.  She explained that it forces you to write for a large audience and to write often.  In addition, she emphasized the fact that in blogging, you’re not writing for an audience of specialists.  So, you can accept that you’re in a transitional process and let your fear of the public reading your writing fade.  This was important for me to hear.

My favorite part was Maria’s story of the first time she witnessed writing.  The image of a Chicana feminist woman taking her children to McDonalds to play on the play space while she wrote books by hand stuck with me long after listening to the podcast.  I found it remarkable that her mother wrote without gaining any fame or remuneration.  She was self published and created her own knowledge, believing in the importance of her voice and cause even without reassurance from anyone else.  Upon hearing her tell this story, I realized that I had never really thought about the first time I witnessed writing.  I wondered why this isn’t something we talk about more.  Surely, for all of us who love to write, that first exposure to writing left a mark on us and, perhaps without our knowledge, planted a seed that eventually grew into a passion for stringing together words into a piece of art.

For me, my first exposure to writing was through my dad.  As a little girl, I had a lot of trouble falling asleep after the September 11 terrorist attacks.  I think I realized for the first time that we aren’t indestructible.  I became afraid of what could happen to me and the ones I loved, and couldn’t sleep most nights.  So, my dad began telling me stories about a little boy named Friedrich, a painter who saw and painted the best in people…sometimes things even they couldn’t see in themselves.  I was mesmerized by his stories, by the way his words created characters and thrilling suspense and endings that made your heart swell with hope and joy.  As his captive and insomniatic audience, I watched his process of writing and felt its power.  Perhaps that’s what gave me such a love for words and writing.

Maria used a quote of Virginia Woolf’s that I loved: “A woman must have a room of her own if she wishes to write.”  Maria talked about how that room is not only literal, but also metaphorical.  How do we find time and space in our lives to write?  How, in a time of endless demands and pressures, do we find room to write for our own joy?

Again, I thought of my dad.  His literal room was a bit unconventional.  I remember sitting on our front porch, looking out over the outline of the Blue Ridge mountains fading into the smoky dusk’s light.  He would smoke a pipe and write notes in a leather notebook.  He has the perfect literal room to write.  Yet, he doesn’t have the metaphorical room.  Yet, he talks now of how he always wanted to be a writer but never had the time to truly do it.  With working enough to send a kid to a $56,000 a year university and another to a state university, it’s not hard for me to understand why he doesn’t have time to write.  But, my hope for him, reignited by Maria’s story about her mother, is that he can find a metaphorical room as spacious and peace-filled as his literal room.  After hearing Maria’s words, I hope we can all find that rom.

 

Reflections on Maria Cotera

I had the pleasure of attending the interview of Maria Cotera, a professor of American Culture and Women’s Studies, in which she discussed her writing process and offered advice to young writers. When asked how she became interested in writing, she spoke mostly of her mother. Watching her mother write provided the first sparks of inspiration in which eventually provided the motivation to write her own stories. Upon hearing this, I immediately reflected on my own reasons for writing. I felt so small. I’ve never had someone to inspire me to write or to look up to in admiration. There have definitely been writers that I’d like to emulate, but this was never the reason that I wrote. My own motivations are more selfish, lying more toward ego as the reason.

Thinking more about this, though, made me think that perhaps it doesn’t matter what our reasons are. Not everyone can have a superhero to show them who they want to be. All that matters is that we write.

One of the main pieces of advice to young writers that Ms. Cotera offered was to write about something that we’re passionate about. No doubt, the words come easier when we want to be saying them, and we can be so much more persuasive when we really believe in what we’re arguing. Perhaps this passion outweighs the need for a grand reason to write. Or, better yet, perhaps this passion is the reason to write. Do we really need someone or something to inspire us to be writers? I think not. I think the passion behind what we write is the reason that every writer writes, and that a person can provide the spark to ignite said passion. For Cotera, it was her mother.

Another piece of advice that Cotera gave was to keep blogging. This particularly piqued my interest. While blogging is an immediate form of writing that allows people to communicate on things that matter, I am surprised that so many professors and writers are fully behind the concept. Of course blogging encourages creativity and intelligent conversation, but it seems to me that it discourages much of the revision process that so many teachers have pounded into my brain as the most important part of writing. Blog posts are fast. Mine get read over maybe once or twice, which is kind of scary, but I never revise as harshly as I would an essay or other assignment. There just simply isn’t enough time. Though I am but a beginner in the blog world, I am finding that the whole process forces me to really think about how I feel on specific topics and it’s a great way to find out who I really am.

This interview made me think about the reasons behind writing and what the best way to approach it. Her advice to young writers like myself is invaluable, and I will take it into account when writing my own pieces. I hope to be able to incorporate the passion that she says should be found behind any sort of writing.

Maria Cotera takes on Literati Bookstore

At Sweetland’s Word Squared: Writer to Writer, I heard Maria Cotera, a professor in Women’s Studies, American Culture, and Latino Studies, speak about her own writing practices and beginning of writing. The event was held at Literati Bookstore, and I thought it was the perfect place to have it. It was definitely fitting to have an event about writing at the bookstore, but the small, close knit environment made me feel closer to Professor Cotera as a writer, even though she is a lot more published than me.

Professor Cotera started off with the spark of what started her interest in writing. For her, it was her mother. By sharing this experience, it made me realize that most people have this inspiration and certain moment that made them realize that they like writing. Like her, the thing that made me realize I liked writing was also someone in my life.

I liked the point that she mentioned about how she likes giving voices to subjects that don’t have any which is why she chooses to write about historical things. This further shows how writing can be empowering and beneficial to not only the writer, but people outside of that who may not have had a voice in the past. Writing can be seen as a solitary and sometimes selfish act, but by writing about people in history she is able to empower them because certain people or groups were overlooked.

The one thing that I felt kept coming up was the importance of finding a passion in something, so it can be reflected in writing. The passion is usually developed from own experiences just as how Cotera spent time working in a Chicano foundation. When people find that passion, I can see it and feel it when I read it. The piece becomes more lively and genuine, and that is when the best writing pieces are delivered. Like she said, people have to be invested in the piece which I can think can be hard to do if it is an assignment that you do not care about at all. In order to remedy that, I think students need to find something in a broad topic that they are interested in and write about that. It might take a little effort in researching that topic of interest, but it will pay off when the words just flow on the page during the drafting process.

There was one point when she mentioned there were academics who did creative writing. This shocked me a little because I can’t imagine Ph.D. candidates or professors dabbling in poetry or fiction. Most research papers are dry (sorry, it can be) and written in a very academic prose, but I am sure that these writers are not one dimensional and like other aspects of writing as well. The thought just never occurred to me. Maybe the reason most students find research papers to be dry is because people are not present in their writing, as Professor Cotera says. It is true because I have seen abstracts that say “This dissertation will argue…” and like Professor Cotera says, a dissertation can’t argue anything because it’s not alive! The problem is that in research papers or dissertations, it is against to norm to bring yourself in the paper, so this has to do with what is generally accepted. I would say that this is something that is hard to change.

Maria Cotera speaking as an experienced and published author reminds me that she is similar to the rest of established writers and aspiring writers. There was that inspiration that ignited in her head and the passion that she found. I think people who have writer’s block should search for that passion and dive into the crevices of their mind. Writers all start somewhere and sometime, so why not look for that passion now?

Reflecting on Maria Cotera #RayRay

It was a wonderful experience to hear Maria Cotera speak this week at Literati book store.  Maria is a professor of American Culture and Women’s studies here at the University of Michigan.  She has had so many interesting experiences and has worked on a variety of different research projects in the women’s studies fields. Specifically, she has focused on Chicana feminism due to her Mother’s work in that area.

The main lesson that I took away from Maria was to write about something that you have a passion for.  Almost all of her work has been in within areas that she is extremely passionate about learning about and sharing with others.  She argued that if you are writing about something that you are passionate about, it doesn’t even feel like work. I also found it very interesting when she said that for her, writing is primarily a communicative device.  She said the majority of writing she does in her life is for the purpose of communicating messages that she finds important and wants to share with others.  This made me really reflect on the reasons why I write and what messages I am most passionate about communicating and sharing with others.

Overall, it was a pleasure to have the chance to listen to Maria speak, and I am so glad I was able to attend!

The Passion Behind the Voice

I’ll admit, the cold weather did try its best to steer me from going, but I had never gone to the literati book store, and I was interested in what a professor would have to say about writing. So I doubled up all my winter gear and made way for the cold. I have to say, the trip was worth it. Not only did I get a chance to see a really cool bookstore, but I also got to listen to the refreshing words of Maria Cotera, a professor in the Women’s Studies department.

One thing seemed to stand out among others.

Image taken from www.michigirls.com
Image taken from www.michigirls.com

As Cotera spoke about her mother’s influence as a writer who “wrote on the margins of knowledge”, she described how her mother would write in McDonald’s while her children played. She attributed her mother’s dedication to her passion. Even despite the fact that her writing was supported by grants in a “bootstrap” way, she continued on to write two books…BY HAND. Cotera said that this was what drove her to write as well. She was always looking for “a story that hadn’t been told”. This was what led her to search for undiscovered transcripts of a Latina author who had been forgotten over time.

For Cotera, writing is more about a communicative art, as an avenue to tell the untold, forgotten stories of the past. She writes whenever she can, unlike the white ivory tower image of writing in a special room, and although she agrees that academic writing can be boring, she says it shouldn’t be. If there is passion, it should seep into the writing and make it through to the reader.

As I was listening to Maria Cotera, this whole passion seeping in through my writing really spoke to me. Many times, I think of writing as that white ivory tower experience. And when I don’t write in that situation, I almost feel cheated, or like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Many of my writing desires stem from wanting to tell stories that I’ve come up in my head. While the telling stories part is similar, it’s different from Cotera because she is focused on real stories that have been buried in the past. To me, that sounded fascinating, almost like following a treasure map for untold aspects of the human life. To be honest, it made my reason for writing stories sound kind of selfish. But it also made me wonder what it would be like to be that passionate and driven about my writing, or writing for a purpose beyond myself.

I always tend to write random stories “for the sake of writing” because as long as I’m writing, I should be getting better, or so I think. But this probably explains why I get so easily distracted when I’m writing, or why I am prone to giving up on what I’m writing. Maybe if I were to find or create a story that I was so passionate about that it was gnawing at my conscience daily, then I would be able to make it through and finish a project. Professor Cotera reminded me that I can’t just write mindlessly. I have to write passionately. Until then, I have to find a story that really captivates me.

Maria Cotera Insight

I really enjoyed being able to listen to Maria speak yesterday. Maria teaches American Culture and Women’s Studies here at the University of Michigan.  She is a women’s activist, a subject that she is very passionate about.  Working towards something that you are passionate about is the biggest connection that I made with Maria’s insightful words. At one point she said something along the lines of, “I don’t get how someone can write a 400 page book about something that they’re not passionate about. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.” This was awesome and refreshing to hear. If I’m going to devote a lot of time, energy, and resources towards something, I would really hope that it is for something that I genuinely believe in and enjoy working on. If it isn’t, then why bother?

Throughout college, I have had both the fortune and misfortune of being involved in assignments that I have loved working on and wanted absolutely nothing to do with. I have always found that I have produced far superior work when it has been on a topic that I’m truly invested in. This is why I’m really looking forward to putting together my final project. It is on a topic that I am emotionally invested in: summer camp.

While this sort of insight from Maria may have been generic, it is still something that I really appreciated hearing, and I think it is really important to be mindful of. For everyone else that will soon be getting started on their projects, I hope you are able to approach it from an angle that is particularly meaningful to you. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and take a unique approach that you feel strongly about.