"Centering on the Edge: Intellect, Spirit, Action"
Friends Association of Higher Education
Haverford College
June 16-19, 2005

Once Upon a Time:
The Satisfying Experiment
of a Quaker Writing Group

David Ross and Anne Dalke (Bryn Mawr College),
Deborah Shaw (Guilford College), Mike Heller (Roanoke College),
Barbara Dixson (University of Wisconsin Stevens Point)

"Lovely to see this evolving
(with Anne weaving the Web and
Barbara acting as wise sheepdog and
all of us holding the process in the Light)"
--David's observation, as we were putting together this report

Round One: Barbara's Good Idea!

Fri, 5 Nov 2004
To: heller@roanoke.edu, adalke@brynmawr.edu,
dross@brynmawr.edu, dshaw@guilford
From: "Dixson, Barbara"

This academic year, a group of us who have known each other over a number of years through FAHE have formed a writing group. All five of us...have extremely busy lives, with enormous demands from our academic commitments, and yet we all five have wished to keep writing alive in our lives throughout the year, not just in the open weeks of summer or during the rare sabbatical. We formed the writing group towards that end. We realized that if we had each other as companions on the journey, and if we had each other's support, suggestions, and simple interest, it would be much more likely that we would actually go on with our writing amongst the competing demands of our lives. We are quite different people, with different sorts of jobs and interests, which has provided one of the challenges and one of the blessings of sharing writing. We began with a tentative agreement, that during the first week of every month we would send each other something we had written, and then we would respond to the writing of the others. As we have moved further into the process, we have become more flexible with deadlines and more open to different sorts of response. For me, the expectation that others will be waiting to receive my writing and the regular responses I get from them have been, in a quiet sort of way, transformational. I do carry writing around in my imagination, along with the concerns of my students and colleagues which I typically am mulling; I do write; and I do feel myself connected in a deep and loving way with my community of writers.

We want to talk about the writing group, about its genesis and about how it has worked for each of us, to share some of the writing which has emerged from the year's commitment, and to query those present on ways in which they might analogously answer some of their own unmet spiritual and intellectual needs.

Round Two: How It Played Out Among Us

Date: Wed, 05 Jan 2005
To: adalke@brynmawr.edu, bdixson@uwsp.edu, heller@roanoke.edu,dshaw@guilford.edu
From: "David R. Ross"

I've just sent "Differentiated Learning in the Statistics Classroom" to the Journal of Economic Education....

I appreciate the luxury of having multiple comments, sometimes contradictory, to weigh.

The other two major blessings I've received from our collaboration this fall:
1) Hearing regularly from each of you: It's been wonderful keeping you all a regular part of my life.

2) The commitment to produce something by the first week of the month: It is too easy for me to set aside one bit of work to pursue the multiple enterprises that engage my interest. Commitments to others are more binding than commitments to self....

My biggest regret is that I have done so little to engage in conversation about our work - almost every comment about almost every piece of writing is a potential opening to further exchanges and growth.

June 6, 2005
Anne, extracting from two web pages
which arose from these exchanges

...several Friends...organized themselves into a writing group. One of them did much of her writing on-line; and it was essays of this sort...that she asked her friends to read and respond to. Their various and sometimes puzzled reactions to this kind of internet conversation are offered here....Perhaps they will illuminate some of the ways in which this sort of web work differs (intriguingly? usefully?) from the ways printed things work --particularly in the ways it addresses, and in what it asks from, its readers....

(From one of Deborah's responses:) I found myself thinking of the testimony of integrity with regard to our speech - in hallways, etc., - taking care, but not obsessively, with what and how we say things - being mindful of the enormous halls (like the mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings) that yawn invitingly behind every word or phrase we use... the appreciation of us taking on that responsibility...

June 15, 2005
"Here is what I culled out of our conversations..."


Mike in India, May 2005.
Saswad, Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust

Most importantly our writing group supported my need "to nurture my soul."

Deborah suggested that our work connects with the theme of "Witnessing through Scholarship." Part of that work for me is in doing small writings along with my students. These small writings are much like messages received and given in a Quaker meeting for worship.

Responding to David's, Barbara's, Deborah's, and Anne's writings was rewarding in itself for me. Responding gave me a glimpse into their lives and work. I liked the feeling that my small suggestions might be helpful.


Round Three: One Thing Each of Us
Learned Along the Way....

David: "One dimension of risk taking in scholarship is the question of how much of the self do we share in our writing. When we suppress emotion or the sense of the Spirit moving through us, are we being cowardly or true to the conventions and standards of objective exposition in our disciplines?"

Original, Comments and Revised Draft

(Full texts of both David's working draft and his submitted paper are also available on-line.)

June 15, 2005
"What I would speak to--the incredibly generous and radical hospitality practiced by the members of the group. The invitation...the encouragement...the compassion..."

(As I responded to Barbara:)
I felt deep resonance in your essay on writing. Over the past year I have understood a Divine directive to write. "What?" I ask - no answer. Clear the space, and the answer might come...I really like the images that are part of this essay, "...the garden of my inner space grew love for my students..." "...I tumble off into brambles and snakes:" "the shock wave of grief..." "My heart lifts like a whole flock of cedar waxwings." I like how you remind me that some of the things that feel so overwhelming in my life can shift, suddenly, on very tiny and subtle axis's. There is such a gift of encouragement offered here.

Mike in India, May 2005.
Saswad, Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust
Mike: "I take from our writing group a new interest in teaching about maps and beauty. I have used memory maps before in my teaching of nonfiction writing. Anne's writings encouraged me to do more with maps and beauty as topics in future courses. Here is a website she shared from her teaching: Beauty: A Conversation Between Chemistry and Culture."

Anne: "I enjoyed this, of course (how could one NOT?!?)--and/but (as always) I have as many questions as answers, as many dissatisfactions as satisfactions. For one thing, I keep wanting (and find myself frustrated in my inability) to make this conversation public, to move it beyond a treasured private conversation among friends, to a place where others can see, be enriched by it--and where our small community can be enlarged by other perspectives. So--here's an invitation to an on-line forum for joining in and extending the conversation."

Barbara's summing up

Forum on Quaker (and Other Sorts of?) Writing Groups

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