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Background Noise

I was looking back through “Noise from the Writing Center,” one of the first books that we read this semester. I found myself drawn in once again to the amusing (amusing because it didn’t happen to me) story about how Dr. Boquet received a note from a colleague complaining about the rather distracting noise coming from the writing center on a Sunday night. The colleague’s point of contention was that it was discourteous for the people in the writing center to produce such a “racket.” Dr. Boquet eloquently (and defiantly) responds, making the point (among others) that the noise was a productive noise, and not the noise of party-goers. Reading along, I found myself completely sympathetic to the plight of Dr. Boquet. Once again, creative types—the writers—were being picked on by the oppressive forces of the powerful academic elite. I considered pumping my fist in solidarity at Boquet’s righteous retort. Of course, when I read this book, I had clocked in, oh, about ZERO hours in our Writing Center. My perspective now…well, read on…

I’ve recently started doing e-mail consultations, which are really fun. There’s something great about diving into a piece of writing, wading through the words and phrases, looking to catch a writer’s wave and just ride, baby, ride until the end. There’s one drawback though, and it’s kind of a biggie. I’m given an hour to read my e-mail and respond—not an unreasonable request. The Writing Center, however, is all about growth. And as we know, growth is pain. My particular lesson that I’ve learned about my own e-mail consultation style is that noise and interruptions set me back 5 minutes. Picture this: I’m typing away—clackity-clack-clack—and really getting into the groove. I’m getting into the writer’s work and I’m making what I think are some decent points and then---BRIIING-BRIIING! The phone rings. And my brain shifts from 4th to 1st gear. Don’t get me wrong. I actually kind of like talking on the phone and making appointments for people. (Yes, my boss is reading this.) The minute I’m off the phone, however, I have to get back into the e-mail and I can’t just shift from 1st to 4th—I have to do it the hard way, going from gear to gear.

This is just one example of the various kinds of noise in the writing center. There are also the other face-to-face consultations happening in the Center. There are the folks who come in looking for another office. Then there are the monkeys. (Not really.)

So, with that in mind, I reread Boquet’s book and I immediately felt chagrined. It had taken me just a couple of months to going from solidarity with Boquet to siding with her oppressor who demanded peace and quiet. And yet, I have to admit that there is a transformation taking place. I’ve only done three e-mail consultations so far, and each one has their own share of distractions to derail the feedback process, but I’m finding that I’m starting to be able shift back into 4th gear a little bit quicker. Maybe “noise” is simply sounds we aren’t used to—stimulation which can provide a different context for learning and being challenged. I know that I definitely wouldn’t want the writers coming into the center to have to whisper and be quiet or observe specific phone call times. (Don’t call when I’m clackity-clacking!) No, it’s all part of the beautiful process and it’s about opening yourself up to the experience.


  1. Hey, David, I have the same noise=gear shifting thing going on. Email consultations are tough to get through when hoards of panicked students come in to make appointments. If everyone else is with "live" writers, by default the email responder helps the panicked hoards. The writer who emailed his paper gets pushed to the back, because he's not making enough noise, perhaps.


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