tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:/posts betajames 2021-07-28T14:07:50Z james schirmer tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1718240 2021-07-28T14:07:50Z 2021-07-28T14:07:50Z the most we can do

The most we can do is to write -- intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively -- about what it is like living in the world at this time.

-  Oliver Sacks in How We Live Now by Bill Hayes

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1683604 2021-06-30T16:00:00Z 2021-06-30T16:00:04Z books recently read - may/jun 2021

Mauve Desert by Nicole Brossard

Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr 

The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

Demolition Means Progress by Andrew Highsmith

Desert Cabal by Amy Irvine 

The Anthropology of Turquoise by Ellen Meloy

Why I Don't Write by Susan Minot

The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1660469 2021-04-30T16:00:06Z 2021-04-30T16:00:06Z books recently read - mar/apr 2021

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang

Rust Belt Femme by Raechel Anne Jolie

The Home Place by J. Drew Lanham

The Two Cultures of English by Jason Maxwell

Looking for Hickories by Tom Springer 

The Star in the Sycamore by Tom Springer

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1678331 2021-04-13T18:55:21Z 2021-04-13T18:55:21Z Department Chair Nominee Questionnaire - Schirmer

Thank you for your interest in serving as a department chair in the new departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. Please complete the following questionnaire, limiting your responses to each question below to 1-2 paragraphs.

1) Why do you want to serve as a department chair?

I want to continue and extend the interdisciplinary work I performed over four years as chair of the English department. This work included developing a course schedule that held a fill rate at or near 80% every year while balancing faculty interests and student needs. Integral to this success was my ongoing collaboration with department liaisons in linguistics, literature, writing, and English education. I am eager to engage my Department of Language and Communication (DLC) colleagues in this approach. While chair, I also led the English department through three successful tenure and promotion cases, not only ensuring that we retain productive and diverse faculty but also showing that it is possible for different disciplines to understand and value each other’s work at a deep level. And, within the last two years, I chaired Faculty Council, participated in Game Design / Development and Teagle Grant discussions, and served on the CAS Reorganization Task Force and the Recruitment, Retention, and Graduation Task Force. These experiences broadened my campus view and allowed me to develop stronger relationships across academic and administrative units. I intend to draw on those relationships to the betterment of DLC and CAS. 

In a broader sense, though, I am interested in shepherding faculty and staff into new ways of working and functioning as a department. I have a complementary interest in shaping the work of the College overall, and I am excited about how new and existing alignments may come to serve the broader interests of DLC faculty and students as well as enable both groups to bring forward beneficial changes on behalf of the College. Given COM’s origins within the English department and ENG/LIN faculty interest in Flint’s Spanish-speaking population, opportunities for collaboration are before us and I relish the opportunity to aid their cultivation. Having ushered the English department toward the possibility of a single integrative English major, I’m particularly interested in building “futureproof” multidisciplinary programs. There is also a job-crafting element to this new position that intrigues me. To be simultaneously building and acting in the position of department chair is a challenge I want to pursue. And, as the wellbeing of CAS faculty, staff, and students depends on how we weather current crises while growing into the new structure of the College, I see an opportunity to bring the care, protection, and support I hope I’m known for to a wider range of disciplines and people.

2) What does "inclusive excellence" mean to you and how do you intend to pursue it if selected as chair?

With fewer voices representing the masses in our new structure, it is all the more important to lead by listening and to afford multiple opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to talk about how to support others in reaching their best. I therefore understand inclusive excellence as a multi-pronged approach that focuses on the intellectual and social development of all people interacting with the department through meaningful attention to cultural differences and the purposeful use of appropriate resources. The very idea of inclusive excellence invites a series of questions:

  • What are the numbers of historically underrepresented students, faculty, and staff in our department? What are their success levels?

  • How diverse is the content in the courses, programs, and experiences within our department?

  • How can we develop a climate supportive of all faculty, staff, and students?

  • How do we facilitate and assess the acquisition of content knowledge about diverse cultures and the development of cognitive complexity?

I intend to pursue inclusive excellence by first engaging DLC faculty, staff, and students in these questions and then by inviting them to not only seek appropriate answers but also to show evidence of and act on those answers. Of course, to simply say “we do this already” is not an appropriate answer. Such an answer does a disservice to our students and our community. Instead, we need to look beyond token inclusion. My years working with Flint Writers, Inc., to put on the Flint Festival of Writers have continually shown me the importance of attending to cultural differences and the diversity of our experiences. As department chair, I will seek curricular, extracurricular, and administrative changes in accordance with an understanding of inclusive excellence at the center of what we do in the Department of Language and Communication. 


3) What ideas or suggestions do you have to increase enrollments in your new department?

DLC needs to embrace and build on its service role. ENG, FRN, and SPN 111 and 112 as well as COM 210, ENG/COM 338, and ENG 345 serve disciplines, programs, and purposes across the entire university. Green chemists, evolutionary psychologists, math teachers, philosophers, and urban planners all need to write and speak well enough to be understood by an audience; DLC offers courses that are uniquely foundational to the development of these skills. While among the department’s most robust in terms of enrollment, these courses also afford the opportunity to welcome and orient students to the UM-Flint experience. Service courses are not barriers but open doorways that empower and enable students to step through and into their desired futures. We should therefore work with complementary disciplines and other academic units to develop certificates in Professional Communication (COM 210, COM 281, COM/ENG 338, ENG 354, PSY 377) and Persuasion & Negotiation (COM 200, COM 363, ENG 336, LIN 341, MGT 443) as well as credentials like Business Chinese and Spanish for Healthcare Professionals. Service courses can thus be doorways not just to career placement but to advancement. 

DLC should also maintain clear pathways to degree/certificate completion. Prerequisites should be understood and examined as valuable tools for putting students in the right sequence. Courses should be scheduled so students can earn certificates in a single year and credentials in a single semester. These aspects should be explicitly marketed to transfer students. Through the DLC website, we must communicate how, where, and why certain courses count toward degrees, certificates, and credentials. Having attended many admissions events as chair, I know the importance of assuring department presence and making clear contact with even students who “hate writing.” But I also hope that by embracing and building on its service role, DLC will have space to pursue initiatives toward new enrollments, similar to how I supported ENG/LIN faculty in both the Teagle Grant discussion and the Mellon Borders & Crossings grant.  

4) What innovations do you think CAS should consider in the first year of our new structure?

Morale. We need to address faculty and staff morale in direct, substantial ways. The unrelenting pace of change amid a pandemic continues to unmoor and upend us. I am aware of at least five faculty members’ intentions to leave the university this year. The lack of real stability or support for faculty and staff labor means many are not mitigating their circumstances but suffering. We need to acknowledge this beyond “thanks for your work” or a ‘wellness’ day. 

File management. If policy-planning and implementation is of major focus in our first year, then we need a logical, standard filing system in Google Drive for the entire College. No department or program is unique enough to require its own filing system. All chairs and admins should be able to go into any department’s drive (with permission, of course) and find what they need with 2-3 clicks. 

Structural clarity. We need to set standard expectations for all departments and be clear about when and where there is room for individuality. Students deserve to know where to go when they have problems or questions. Appointment lines should rest inside of programs or departments, not both. College and department bylaws should intersect in meaningful ways, and so should Council of Chairs and the Executive Committee. We all need to understand how and why our new structure gets work done. 

Classroom observations. In the absence of policy/protocol, classroom observations of/by tenure track faculty tend to happen only in advance of a tenure/promotion case. Establishing a clear CAS-wide procedure for observations of all faculty every year would eliminate a mad departmental scramble and afford more opportunities for faculty to discuss teaching. 

Internal/external marketing. Each new department needs and deserves to have cohesive, comprehensive narratives for current/prospective students, admissions officers, university administrators, and faculty on the possibilities and purposes of the programs within that department. Having clear statements on departments’ websites about possibility and purpose should give solid ground to faculty and students uncertain about where the reorganization has put them. We also need to bring back life into department websites. If we want to recruit faculty, staff, and students, we need to show them what our work looks like. People rely on being able to learn things about departments and programs and offices from our websites, particularly right now. We can’t be flattening everything into “faculty profiles” or otherwise kicking important information to the course catalog. 

Thank you for your responses.  The Dean’s office will be in contact with you soon.

-- -- -- -- 

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I didn't get the job.

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1662948 2021-03-08T13:03:35Z 2021-03-08T13:03:36Z "We knew. We knew and did nothing."

In my youth, we talked about the earth heating. The UN addressed the rise in temperature in 1988, creating the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

We changed nothing, instead increasing the use of fossil fuels, adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. We lived our lives recklessly and with abandon, and we will see only the beginning of what we have done and what will happen. The rest we've left to our children, their inheritance this uncharted world.

-- Nancy Wayson Dinan

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1635625 2021-02-28T17:00:04Z 2021-03-01T20:22:57Z books recently read - jan/feb 2021

The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment

The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Midwest Futures by Phil Christman

Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Here by Nancy Wayson Dinan

The Overstory by Richard Powers 

Home Learning Year By Year by Rebecca Rupp 

The Rise and Fall of English by Robert Scholes 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1606718 2020-12-31T17:00:04Z 2021-01-04T15:11:41Z books recently read - nov/dec 2020

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler 

The Plague by Albert Camus

Desert Notebooks by Ben Ehrenreich 

Lurking by Joanne McNeil

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1585999 2020-10-31T16:00:00Z 2020-10-31T16:00:05Z books recently read - sep/oct 2020

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Intimations by Zadie Smith 

You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1568873 2020-08-31T16:00:03Z 2020-12-27T00:00:11Z books recently read - jul/aug 2020

Fallout by Lesley M.M. Blume

Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

The Death of Sitting Bear by M. Scott Momaday

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Real Life by Brandon Taylor 

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1583506 2020-08-14T01:00:04Z 2020-08-14T01:00:05Z welcome to word power Good evening, and welcome to Word Power: How Words Define and Confine Our Reality.

We just had the pleasure of experiencing James Brown, MD, on his Arborlune.

My name is James Schirmer and I'm currently chair of the English department at the University of Michigan-Flint.

It is my honor and privilege to not only welcome you to this event but to also recognize my incredible colleague Dr. Erica Britt as tonight's moderator.

Before turning everything over to her, I have a couple things to share.

First, this is a public event streaming through both Zoom and Facebook Live.

Those interested in Q&A participation should be viewing Word Power through Zoom, but we'll keep an eye out for any comments or questions on Facebook.

Second, you should feel free to click on the "Live Transcript" button in Zoom to follow along a bit easier.

Third, words matter. With apologies to the late, great Prince, words, like albums and black lives, still matter.

The words we choose to use, the reading and writing and speaking of them, the tapping and typing, the scribbling and swiping, constrain and frame, praise and blame, construct and destruct who we and others are.

Of course, that understanding is why we are here.

So, again, I am honored and privileged to be here, to listen in on what lies ahead and behind and now.

And I am glad you are here, that we are here, amid pandemic and police brutality, despite uncertainty and strife.

We are here and we are ready to hear. Dr. Britt, let's begin...

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1545247 2020-06-30T16:00:00Z 2020-07-27T11:12:14Z books recently read - may/jun 2020

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card 

The Story of More by Hope Jahren

No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell L. Moore 

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet 

Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O'Connell 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1521277 2020-04-30T16:00:05Z 2020-04-30T16:00:06Z books recently read - mar/apr 2020

The World-Ending Fire by Wendell Berry

Incidental Inventions by Elena Ferrante 

Dictionary of the Undoing by John Freeman

That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon

Inland by Tea Obrecht

Weather by Jenny Offill

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1496581 2020-02-29T17:00:01Z 2020-02-29T17:00:01Z books recently read - jan/feb 2020

Walking by Erling Kagge

Waking Up White by Debby Irving

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Walking Art Practice by Ernesto Pujol

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate 

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1472595 2019-12-31T17:00:02Z 2019-12-31T17:00:02Z books recently read - nov/dec 2019

Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

A Walking Life by Antonia Malchik

White Flights by Jess Row 

Trace by Lauret Savoy 

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine 

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher 

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1485911 2019-12-06T13:10:32Z 2019-12-06T13:10:33Z the question of whether to write at all is one white writers should take seriously
from White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination, by Jess Row
james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1445423 2019-10-31T16:00:04Z 2019-10-31T16:00:04Z books recently read - sep/oct 2019

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

The Need by Helen Phillips

The Third Horseman by William Rosen 

The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1455545 2019-09-15T14:36:36Z 2019-09-15T14:36:36Z opening remarks at the Flint Festival of Writers Good morning. My name is James Schirmer and I'm currently chair of the English department at the University of Michigan-Flint and, on behalf of my fellow event planners and partners, it is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the Flint Festival of Writers

It's great to see everyone this morning. I'd like to think that you're here for many of the same reasons that brought my colleagues/companions/comrades Sarah Carson, Bob Campbell, Katie Curnow, Connor Coyne, Jan Worth Nelson, and I together: the belief, the knowledge that Flint is a place rich with stories, that the writing done in and about Flint is uniquely important and deserving of attention and support. Everything about today's festival is intended to acknowledge the power and value in reading, in writing, in sharing words with others, sharing our perspective, sharing our stories, in sharing your story. 

So, we can and do look forward to learning from LaTashia, Jonah, Ben, and Bob in this morning's panel, to working with Jonah and Liz and Kelsey this afternoon, to hearing from Flint's young writers, to networking and perusing at the book fair, and to listening to LaTashia in the early evening. And yes, there is an after-party open mic celebration at Totem tonight, but, given what I think unites us in coming here, my hope is for the entire day to be a celebration. 

Here's to a beautiful, inspiring, restorative day in the city of Flint. 
james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1425255 2019-08-31T16:00:02Z 2019-08-31T16:00:02Z books recently read - jul/aug 2019

Nature's Mutiny by Philipp Blom

Generous Thinking by Kathleen Fitzpatrick

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell 

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires 

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1420656 2019-06-30T16:00:04Z 2019-06-30T16:00:04Z books recently read - may/jun 2019

Milkman by Anna Burns

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Time Travel by James Gleick

Witness Tree by Lynda V. Mapes

This Is The Way The World Ends by Jeff Nesbit

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward 

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1378846 2019-04-30T16:00:02Z 2019-04-30T16:00:03Z books recently read - mar/apr 2019

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett 

New Dark Age by James Bridle 

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte 

Coal by Barbara Freese

A Bright Future by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist

Downriver by Heather Hansman

The Fuzzy and the Techie by Scott Hartley

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1359922 2019-02-28T17:00:00Z 2019-02-28T17:00:02Z books recently read - jan/feb 2019

Quiet by Susan Cain 

Outline by Rachel Cusk 

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

The Inward Empire by Christian Donlan

Florida by Lauren Groff 

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

Severance by Ling Ma

So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo

The End of Animal Farming by Jacy Reese

Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1338774 2018-12-31T17:00:02Z 2018-12-31T17:00:02Z books recently read - nov/dec 2018

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Extreme Cities by Ashley Dawson

Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1313720 2018-10-31T16:00:00Z 2018-10-31T16:00:03Z books recently read - sep/oct 2018

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston 

Trespassing Across America by Ken Ilgunas

Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson 

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Rising by Elizabeth Rush

No Good Alternative: Volume Two of Carbon Ideologies by William T. Vollmann

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1301392 2018-08-31T16:00:02Z 2019-08-16T15:16:06Z books recently read - jul/aug 2018

The Poisoned City by Anna Clark

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell 

Walking on Lava: Selected Works for Uncivilised Times by the Dark Mountain Project 

The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer by Laurent Dubois 

The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell 

What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hanna-Attisha

Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays by Paul Kingsnorth 

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Circe by Madeline Miller 

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

We're Doomed. Now What? by Roy Scranton

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies by William T. Vollmann

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1284876 2018-06-30T16:00:05Z 2018-10-12T14:20:29Z books recently read - may/jun 2018

Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Run Forever by Amby Burfoot

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Future is History by Masha Gessen

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

There There by Tommy Orange

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1267398 2018-04-28T15:46:54Z 2018-04-30T16:00:03Z books recently read - mar/apr 2018

Planet Of The Apes by Pierre Boulle

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins

Field Notes From A Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert

Vacation Guide to the Solar System by Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich

No Time To Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Tower of Swallows by Andrzej Sapkowski

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck 

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1227562 2018-02-24T18:53:25Z 2018-03-31T18:30:57Z books recently read - jan/feb 2018

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Ghostland by Colin Dickey 

Vacationland by John Hodgman

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne 

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

Made For Love by Alissa Nutting

Dream Hoarders by Richard V. Reeves

The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski 

The Revenge of Analog by David Sax

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1203300 2017-12-30T20:18:55Z 2018-03-31T18:30:31Z books recently read - nov/dec 2017

Out in the Open by Jesus Carrasco

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

The Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

When the English Fall by David Williams

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1219231 2017-12-20T03:36:43Z 2018-03-31T18:27:29Z #wideemu16 keynote

Man, I’m nervous. Y’all nervous before giving a talk? Because I’m nervous. And I’m nervous for three reasons.

#1 is because I love this conference. I get excited every time it pops up. It gives me a chance to see people I know and respect more than once a year. And it gives me a chance to get to know new people that I will come to respect and look forward to seeing again, too. And I think there’s a lot of good, honest work happening at smaller, regional, low/no-cost conferences like this one. 

#2 is because of my co-presenter, my co-keynoter. Whether he’s aware of it or not, Donnie Sackey’s been a solid influence on me, particularly in my thinking about cultural and environmental rhetorics. Having had the chance and pleasure to witness a couple of his prior talks, I consider him to be an engaging, enlightening speaker. I’m humbled to share this space with him. 

#3 is because I’m going to be talking about Flint. This isn’t something that comes easy to me. As writers in Happy Anyway: A Flint Anthology and in the Spring 2016 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review attest, many city residents harbor skepticism and defensiveness toward anyone defining Flint and its problems. So, I’m nervous about falling into speaking for them, into speaking about them, particularly when, from my perspective, they’ve proven very adept at speaking for themselves. It’s the fault of others for not listening. 

I want to believe that I’m listening, though, even as I make my daily commute from the Lansing area to the University of Michigan campus in downtown Flint. It’s a drive similar to the one once made by Jerry Ambrose, who lives in Mason and was the fourth in a succession of emergency financial managers for the city. Of course, our degrees of influence in Flint are very different; while his time in the city is over, mine is still beginning. To some degree, I’m dealing with the ramifications of his and every other emergency financial manager’s decisions. It’s not a responsibility I’m happy about, but it is one I accept. This acceptance may mark a difference between me and Mr. Ambrose. 

And I want to believe I’m listening, because I want to talk about a problem in Flint. It’s a problem that continues to color my experience there. It’s the only lens through which I’m able to see, no matter how cloudy the resolution. Of course, I’m talking about the Flint water crisis. But I want to talk about it in a particular way. I want to try and talk about the Flint water crisis in a way that addresses the framing question of today’s conference. And if this talk falls flat on its face, it’ll be because of my inability to see past this ongoing crisis for which there is no end in sight. 

Coleridge: Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink

There are many common refrains in the Flint water crisis, and I think these lines from Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner are among them. And I share them here in part to divest myself of the anticipation, of the expectation, of the irony. But I also share it because “water water every where nor any drop to drink” might not be the most apt allusion. I’d argue that “day after day, day after day, we stuck” is more appropriate, given that not even 1% of city pipes have been replaced, given that city residents still can’t drink city water without a filter, given that there’s a bacterial outbreak because some have so little faith in the water coming from their faucets that they don’t wash their hands. 

And I say this, and I say this with a tinge of annoyance if not anger, not to get political, but to get it out there, to get it on the level, which I see as the least, the absolute least I can do. Some might call this slacktivism, i.e., “a low-risk, low-cost activity via social media, whose purpose is to raise awareness, produce change, or grant satisfaction to the person engaged in the activity.”  It’s what I do with Twitter now. It’s about the only thing I do with Twitter now. And I still don’t know how I feel about doing it, or about Twitter really. 

However, I do know that the level I seek through writing calls the following into question: that a flood of email signals transparency, that a sip of water signals empathy, that a concession of the Flint water crisis as Michigan’s “Katrina” signals acceptance of responsibility. Because each action is a kind of erasure, a silencing. Such actions give the crisis an unwarranted air of inevitability. Such actions allow celebrities to respond in kind with provocative tweets and plastic bottles of water. Such actions collapse multiple failures, just two being the state’s oversight of the switch and its much-delayed response to the ensuing crisis. Such actions invite upon Flint residents the same unfair, uninformed criticisms and questions leveled at those who were in New Orleans when the levees broke. Such actions give greater weight to the short-term address of what are more systemic problems. Such actions blame the environment, which we continue to pollute, for harming and killing us. 

Atwood: Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water.

But getting it on the level, or at least seeking it, is what I try to do in the classroom, too. In January 2016, I asked students if we should take some time to talk about the Flint water crisis. This was a long overdue inquiry on my part. And it had already been in the news long enough that I thought students might want to spend a single 75-minute session talking about it. They had so many concerns and questions about every aspect of it, though, from health and history to infrastructure and policy, that we decided to make the crisis our focus for the rest of the semester. 

For many of them, the Flint water crisis was more local and relevant than anything else at the time. It likely still is. So, we took the rest of the semester to seek our own level. We watched the congressional hearings and read and talked about blame and responsibility, about environmental justice and infrastructure, about emergency financial management and lead. The writing that came as a result of those readings sought its own level, too, as students argued for pipe replacement and against abandoning Flint, identified potential solutions in majors as diverse as aerospace engineering and urban policy. Through the encouragement and offering of space, students found their way and made connections; through writing, they found their level.

Vitanza: There is something about “writing” that not only “we” hide from ourselves but also that writing itself hides from us. Though hidden, “it” cannot be found. If supposedly found, “it” is easily lost again. Actually and Virtually, “it” is not hidden! Nor is it ever found.

In the wake of Vitanza, I hope it is safe to say that writing wants as water wants. Water seeks its own level, and I think writing does, too. What we see in water we also see in writing. Water and writing can reflect and reveal the toxicity in an otherwise pristine environment. 

In water and in writing, we have the necessary and the mundane. We possess (or lack) concerns about access and infrastructure, and such priorities are among the highest/lowest as well as the most (in)visible facing us right now. 

The words we write today are, to a degree, the same words used by writers centuries ago. The water we drink today is, to a degree, the same water used by dinosaurs. 

And it’s entirely possible that, through all of this, I’m conflating desire and state, wanting and being. But I think I’m okay with that. Maybe you are, too. 

Melville: Surely all this is not without meaning. 

Thank you for your time and attention this afternoon. 

james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1192669 2017-10-31T18:00:46Z 2018-03-31T18:30:17Z books recently read - sep/oct 2017

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

Death's End by Cixin Liu

I'm Just A Person by Tig Notaro

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Chemistry by Weike Wang

The Book Of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

james schirmer