by Anthony Keyes ||
My journey to the mysterious land of academia started out unlike any other. To study the field of Chemistry, I traveled to the land of Jackson State University. Fascinated by the change of matter, I hoped one day I would be able to control the change myself. Although my techniques in the laboratory were improving tremendously, my rhetorical skills were lacking. I wanted to train multiple aspects of my body and mind, so I joined the knights in the small kingdom of the writing center to delve into the mystic rhetorical arts.
In the writing center, I trained with my fellow peer tutors under the guidance of Lady Griffin and Lady Glushko. Although we all came from multiple fields of study, we sought the unique experience of serving as knights. In the beginning, our training focused on techniques of masters whose words served to guide our minds. Many of us were impatient, ready to wield rhetorical weapons and start tackling rhetorical problems head on with writers. Looking back, I now see the importance of reading and taking time to put the masters’ teachings into practice. It was our dual moral purpose, to enrich our minds with the teachings of experts and develop a tutoring style to serve writers both strong and weak.
In our training, we read about rhetorical problems writers face. Masters Flower and Hayes, for example, state that “one of the major differences between good and poor writers will be how many aspects of this total rhetorical problem they actually consider and how thoroughly they represent any aspect of it to themselves” (159). Each of us had gone through the training and discussed the many ways a knight should act; nonetheless, we all crafted an individual combat style. Once we finished the literature and took to the field to do battle for the first time, many of us lacked confidence and finesse. Our writing center would assign writers to us, and at first we just started swinging with whatever rhetorical weapon we could hold in our hand, hoping that it would be enough to win the fight to write.
In “Myths of Writing,” Frank Smith explains that “writing generally requires many drafts and revisions to get ideas into a form that satisfies the writer,” stating, “Writing is messy” (30-31). On the battle field, I had become accustomed to the mess that writers could make. My sweat and tears became proof of my efforts as a knight. There were no neat battles. Every time we drew our weapons, we knew that there would be moments of conflict. The purpose of our training wasn’t to turn us into perfect knights. Our training allowed us to make mistakes and learn from them, to become flexible and adapt in the face of uncertainty. Our training made us viable knights who worked alongside writer-warriors in the realm as we improved our fighting styles.
As writers, many of us approach rhetorical battles with different styles, as mentioned by Flower and Hayes, and as knights, we also developed unique peer tutoring styles. These were the ways that we choose to fight alongside other writer-warriors. My peer fighting style had developed around the use of a lance, which allowed me to stand back while writer-warriors took to the front of the battle field. I played support while taking measures to keep the warrior safe and comfortable at the frontlines. Some knights chose to wield an axe, an approach that resulted in bluntness. Some picked up swords and engaged with writers on the field with repetition and precision. A few knights selected bows and arrows, attacking minor errors from afar so writer-warriors could focus on their main targets.
Overtime, we all gained a certain level of mastery that helped us move through our battles with ease and confidence, not only as knights but also as writer-warriors. We could no longer deny the importance of seeking feedback in either battle. Assignments and writers were no longer mere battles but opportunities to continue to practice as we became comfortable as knights, and more aware of ourselves as writers.
The literature and training equipped us with an arsenal of weapons and techniques that together gave rise to powerful rhetorical methods. Many of us learned to make a plan of attack, and selected our strategies accordingly. We had learned how to survey the field which gave each battle more structure. We had even started to identify rhetorical problems on the field. No longer were we blindly at war in a mysterious land. Our vision as knights had greatly improved. I learned that a variety of fighting forms helps our kingdom serve the larger realm. There was no superior fighting style. Warriors would come to our kingdom from many different fields to enlist the help of a knight to fight with them. Warriors would leave, and in only a short amount of time fighting side-by-side, we had grown together as a unit. We came to trust each other, empower each other, and naturally we learned from each other.
Our training had transformed us into knights of the writing center, and with time, I realized that I had been the one to experience change. As I sallied forth with weapon in hand and heart in chest, I now seek the most challenging quests. With ears open and mouth at rest, side-by-side we all provide guidance for writer-warriors who feel oppressed, and vow to never provide anything less than our best.
Flower, Linda, and John R. Hayes. “The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem.” The Harcourt Brace Guide to Peer Tutoring. Ed. Toni-Lee Capossela. Orlando: Harcourt-Brace, 1998. 155-166. Print.
Smith, Frank. “Myths of Writing.” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication PC-27.2 (1984). Print. [Also, in Rhetoric and Composition. Ed. R. Graves. Boyton/Cook, 1990. 26-31.]
Anthony Keyes is currently conducting research surrounding drug delivery at the University of Bordeaux in France. He will be attending Vanderbilt University for his Ph. D. in Polymer Chemistry in the Fall of 2017, where he plans on continuing his work as a writing consultant to continue his growth as a chemist and a writer.