expertise is futile

Happening: the GRE this weekend, packing to move, squeezing in a whirlwind trip to Buffalo, the start of classes, my graduate assistantship, conference proposals, and planning for the first college course I will teach. Well, the last one, not so much. Time is a factor, as always, and distractions abound, but what it comes down to is expertise, or lackthereof: I haven’t done this before. I don’t know how to.

While drinking my coffee this morning, I wanted to catch up on my Reader feed – a move toward a productive day. Putting my anxiety into perspective, Jeff Rice wrote a post called Rough Cuts: Creativity:

I enjoy writing about and speaking about the creativity process, though not from the position of being a “creative writer.” I’m not. I’m also not an artist. And I’m also not interested in art or creative writing. Instead, I think of my academic writing as creative. At home the other day, I compared my work on a new book project about social media and craft beer as being like a musician getting back into the studio. I have a project in mind. I have a concept. I want to create it. I need to get into the studio. I don’t think this is a romantic view of academic writing, but rather, a desire to create. That is, I don’t claim the process to be inspired from above, artistic, or generated by some muse or locale. Instead, I enjoy the labor and work of creating. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.

After some humbling talk about difficulty doing and publishing his own academic work and interesting remarks on Roland Barthes that serve as yet another reminder that I need to read Barthes, he goes on to talk about the new TA reception his wife, Jenny Rice, was hosting as composition director:

The TAs will largely be responsible for exposing first year students to the creative process of academic writing, and they do so as they, as well, work to understand such struggles (dissertation writing, trying to publish, etc.). They are on dual tracks of expertise searches: as students and as teachers. My only observation on this experience comes as one who has directed composition programs, taught the TA practicum many times, and, of course, been a TA many years ago. It’s a pity we fret so much over expertise. Expertise is ethos, but it also can shut down invention entirely. A typical composition program devotes endless energy in trying to be expert. It can’t, of course.  TAs and young student writers can only explore their creativity.

I keep approaching planning this course with feelings of inadequacy at my lacking expertise in the setting, demands of the role, and the subject matter. Since I am co-teaching the class with my professor-mentor, there are also fears of him realizing I’m not expert enough, that my ideas are half-baked, lacking in connections and knowledge of the proper authors, key words, and titles. But I can only explore my creativity. This is where I acknowledge that of course I am not an expert, but that’s not the point. I’m in graduate school because I’m curious and like to explore. I’m interested in teaching for the same reasons. Boiled down as such, these seem flimsy, but they are far from it. These are cautious undertakings wrought with pauses, the seeking of guidance, missteps, and entirely wrong directions, no doubt. But that’s just it.

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