College Composition Students on their Writing Center Visit

I recently had my students write an “About Me” essay as it might appear on an Electronic Portfolio, a cover letter for a job, or an application for graduate school.  The assignment comes from a campus initiative toward incorporating ePortfolios and from what I’ve noticed about students’ writing who come to me as they approach graduation and are faced with writing such texts.  The students met with writing center consultants and wrote reflections about their visits.  With the students’ permission, I’m sharing some lines from their reflections.  I also snapped a few pictures of the writing center at St. John’s University where I teach.

Welcome to the Writing Center!

The people at the front desk are cheery and good-natured. I quickly passed this off as a trait of English majors.

–Max Blitzer

My expectations prior to going in [to the writing center] were to meet with a nerdy, potentially socially awkward valedictorian type of student.

–Daniel Herrera

Consultants Not the Grim (or nerdy) Writers Some Students Expect

I realized that I was actually doing most of the talking; she [the consultant] was just a mediator and I answered my own questions.”

–Malgorzata Stapor

Students Often Surprised How Nice It Is In The W.C.


When we were first assigned to go to the writing center to get help on our “About Me” essay, I was honestly confused.  How could someone help me write about myself?…When we sat down I tried to explain to her [the writing consultant] how I did not really understand the purpose for me being there.  Shortly, she explained to me how their job was to bring out ideas that we ourselves might have missed.

–Bibin George

Library Book Browsing Activity

Find the Book You Were Looking For

(or the one you didn’t know you were looking for)

Torg, Torgerson, St. John's University, Reading, Research, Writing, books, teaching

Yep, Young People Still Look at Books

The Activity:  (take notes in your daybook)

  1. Walk over to the library with someone you don’t know very well, and chat with them about their intellectual interests.  What did they find during the last library trip?  What do they think they might read and write about this semester?  Note your partner’s name and write down some of what they say to you.
  2. As we get in the hallways of the library, check out the signs on the wall that inform you what numbers (PN 1345  etc) are on what floor.  You can also check with me, or the staff of the library for help.
  3. You were to come to class with three call numbers for books in the Queens library that might interest you.  Try to find these books.
  4. As you find a book, be sure to check around the same shelf and the shelves close to your book to see if there is anything there that interests you.  This could be a section of the library that you return to again and again.  Write down the author and title of a book that is close to the book that you meant to find.  You’re going to spend the class reading and you’ll check out a book or two at the end of our time.  Be thinking about what books you might want to take with you.

Take Notes in Your Daybook that look something like this:

Book 1 Title and Author:__________________________________________________________________________

Book Close to Book 1 Title and Author:____________________________________________________________

  1. When you’re done, you should have written down the names of at least six books: the three books you were looking for and the book that looked interesting that was near the book you were looking for.
  2. Take books with you that you might want to read around in.  You don’t need to re-shelve these.  From what I understand, the library wants to get a sense of what books you are looking at.  There are carts placed around the library where you put the books when you are done looking at them.
  3. Sit down somewhere in the library and read around in the books and see what you find interesting.

What Floor Are the Writing Books On?


  1. For this week or next week, do a Reading For Writing (RFW) entry on a book that you check out from the library.  See the syllabus for a full description, but this means you’ll choose golden lines from the article.  Type up those lines in bold, and then free write after the quote sharing whatever the writing gets you thinking about.
  2. Somewhere in the piece, tell us about whom you visited with.
  3. Be sure to use the “son of citation” website (or something like it) to give the full MLA works cited entry at the bottom of your post.
  4. Copy and paste that works cited entry into your “Reading Bibliography” tab on your blog.
  5. Print out a copy of the entry for reading groups next Wednesday and bring your book or books to class next time.

Want the handout?  See the handout tab at TheTorg.Com


Did the PCC’ers Visit You On Your Way Marriage?

As Josh Henkin’s novel Matrimony kicks off, there is no sign of marriage, just college dorm hilarity when the PCC-ers—Peer Contraceptive Counselors—come for a visit to educate the new freshman dorm dwellers.  Given the pacing, I forgot that this was a book that purported to be about marriage and I started to expect a story that took place in a small college over a couple of days, or at most, a semester.  I could feel some of my own Love on the Big Screen story coming on when there was some early bathroom talk between the protagonist Julian and his roommate Carter:

It’s bad enough to pee in your own shower,” his roommate said.  “But in a communal shower?”  He looked up at Julian.  “You don’t pee in the shower, do you?”

“No,” Juian said.  From time to time, he had.  Didn’t everyone?

Joshua Henkin's novel, MATRIMONY

I love Henkin’s timing with his “From time to time, he had,” line.  The sentences are full of those sorts of attention-grabbing surprises, and you’ll hear a lot more from Julian and his roommate, interesting stuff, about how men navigate relationships, especially when those relationships overlap.  Henkin deftly takes big jumps in time when it comes to the narrative, and this is mostly achieved by dividing the story into geographically organized sections:  Northington, Ann Arbor, Berkley, Iowa City, and New York.  It’s with these jumps in time that Henkin is able to go down into specific detail while still telling the story of what it is to be married, at least for Julian and his wife Mia.

Julian and Mia make decisions that have consequences and things happen to their marriage that sometimes happen in relationships.  In reading the book, I’m reminded that I heard Henkin say several times at the Wesleyan Writers Conference something to this effect:  When writing, you want smart characters who are capable of intelligent mistakes.  While none of the events or mistakes that concern Mia and Julian are shocking, all of them are a surprise, probably because the range of things that can happen to any couple—get hit by a car, find out the apartment is full of rats, or make a million in the stock market—is nearly infinite.  Things happen to the couple and it’s interesting to read about how each character responds and interacts with and toward their spouse.

A Picture of Henkin from His Website

Matrimony can sometimes feel like a book on the art of writing.  Julian and his friend Carter are both writers who attend a workshop class taught by a Professor Chesterfield who spouts guidance such as this:  “THOU SHALT NOT CONFUSE A SHORT STORY WITH A RUBIK’S CUBE.”  I sometimes hear folks criticize writers who write books about characters who want to write books  (I see their point) but I think the writing process of everyone who writes is so highly personal and individualized that it’s usually interesting to hear how writers do what they do.  This is a book more about marriage than writing, but there’s also a funny bit where a character writes a story with a character who thinks about breaking up with their boyfriend for over 20 pages.  Thankfully we don’t have to read the pages; we just comically hear about the story from other characters as the novel proceeds.  In this way Henkin is a skilled comedian who uses repetition to make the joke even funnier than it was the first time.

Henkin keeps the language fresh, and for awhile I was thinking that maybe there was at least one vocabulary word for me on every page.  Here’s a few I jotted down that I had to look up:  petard, jejune, peremptoriness, bathetic, somnolent, and bivouacking.  Of course there is much more to fresh language than my vocab list, but I found myself marking interesting word choices as I read.  Most of the characters are book lovers and part of the reward for reading this novel was their lively wordplay banter.

For a guy like me who has spent a lot of time thinking about how relationships work and don’t work, Matrimony presents a view of marriage that makes sense to me:  hard stuff happens and the couple tries to hang in together and on some levels they succeed and on others they fail.  Part of what was interesting here was to see what the couple decides to do about splitting up or staying together.   From the complexities of in-laws to a crazy dog in a small NYC apartment, Matrimony shows readers a marriage worth paying attention to.