Go deep

Your generation needs your voice, but swimming in the shallows of written expression will get you nothing but a handful of rocks.


                       Sugar Pine Point, Lake Tahoe                                                      Photo Credit: Catherine Keefe

According to a recent article posted on Flavorwire, titled “2013’s Worst Writing About Millennials”:

The past 12 months saw more ill-founded, hysterical, condescending, and generally awful writing than ever about what so-called “millennials” are up to and why it’s ruining the country.

Writer Alison Herman collected examples of what she calls “the lowlights of this year’s coverage.” Included in her list are the “Me Me Me Generation” story from Time magazine and a New York Times piece titled “Sex On Campus: She Can Play That Game Too.” One of Herman’s biggest complaints about the articles?  “Reducing an entire generation to a series of lazy stereotypes,” and a “lack of actual statistics.”

Read the entire Flavorwire story here.

Then be inspired to set the record straight with your own truths about your own selves.  Insert your  voice into the unending conversation.  For goodness sake, go beyond stereotypes and include facts, statistics, and primary research in your work this semester.

Maybe next year’s list of “2014’s Best Writing By Millennials” will have your name on it.

Words in the Wild

world is a book                      Poly Canyon, San Luis Obispo                                             Photo by Catherine Keefe

What did you see this weekend? What surprised you? What did you learn?

I saw the writing on the wall.

I took this photo during an exploration of Poly Canyon where the learn-by-doing projects for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design are open to the air and free to the public.

According to the Cal Poly website:

A portion of Poly Canyon encompasses a nine-acre outdoor experimental construction laboratory that for more than four decades has been the host site of several structures designed and built mostly by students of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design.

On a quiet November Saturday I saw families climbing in and out of seemingly abandoned structures and groups of students following leaders in brown straw hats. I saw piles of crushed, empty green plastic party cups. Green is the Cal Poly school color. Go Mustangs! I saw Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, smashed and flung below The Cantilever Structure. And I saw a small leg bone, presumably from an animal, about the size of a baby coyote. I saw The Shell House and The Stick House and The Underground House where I took these photos. I saw a plastic pan with dried black paint and a roller.

words on walls


I bellowed to cows I saw across the canyon. I saw vineyards and brocolli on the bush in a field and a flock of turkey vultures, which I later learned is called a wake. I learned that San Luis Obispo is one of California’s oldest communities.I saw the infamous downtown Bubblegum Alley where I stuck a chewed wad of Wrigley’s Extra Polar Ice. 

I saw three good friends.

I learned that life offers every surprise and delight you need, if only you stop to look.
What did you see this weekend?

For more information on Poly Canyon, check out Inside San Louis: Architecture Graveyard Hike.

The coolest writing workshop ever…

happens in June, 2015.

If you’re sorry to see our Writing About Place class come to an end, remember that learning to write is a lifelong journey with myriad opportunities and Writing on the Edge sounds like one of the best. It’s especially well-suited for writers with curiosity.


Grand Canyon                                                                             Photo by Catherine Keefe

Thea Gavin, Orange County poet extraordinaire and barefoot hiker, offers a 4-day writing workshop at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from June 23-26, 2015.

Some of the topics listed in the class brochure include:

assembling the nature writer’s toolkit, paying attention, recording details, writing origin stories, lyrical storytelling, campfire story sharing, and discovering the singer and the song.

There’s complimentary camping at the North Rim Campground or participants can arrange to stay and the Grand Canyon Lodge. The class is open to all ages and writing skill levels.

Hiking difficulty is listed as a 1 out of 10 meaning “negligible elevation change” and distances of up to 3 miles.

Cost is $375.

Registration is now open. Find all the details at The Grand Canyon Association website here.

Q: What’s the most interesting e-mail I received today?

A:  The one‪ offering the most fabulous opportunity for Chapman students from Gustavo Arellano at OC Weekly.

Gustavo Arellano, best-selling author of ¡Ask a Mexican!

Gustavo Arellano                          Photo Credit: Gustavo Arellano.net

Putting out the call for OC Weekly interns for the winter quarter. Applicants must want to be a journalist, must earn college credit, and must be committed to raise DESMADRE. And, yes: it’s unpaid, because if the more than half of us on staff who started here as unpaid interns could do it, so can you. Interested? Email me at garellano@ocweekly.com. Spread the word!

If you’re ready to test your writing and editing skills in the real world, this is one great place to begin.

Do you want a job?


Then you’d better learn to write because it turns out there’s more hanging on the line than just words. You’re very livelihood might be at stake.

In an article titled, “Why Johnny can’t write, and why employers are mad,” posted today on NBCNews.com, writer Kelly Holland says,  “In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates’ inability to speak and to write clearly.”

Turns out effective communication is a skill needed in school and the real business world.

So what can you do to increase your effective communication skills?

1: Consider adding a Minor in Writing and Rhetoric to your degree program. Here’s a description of the minor from the ChapmanUniversity 2012-2013 course catalog:

In the writing and rhetoric minor, students explore why and how people create texts. The required courses provide students with a foundational understanding of the field of rhetorical studies. Electives enable students to study a variety of methodological approaches to the study of language and writing and to gain expertise in rhetorical analysis and the production of complex texts. The minor requires a total of 21 credits, 15 of which must be upper-division.

2: Continually look for ways that the writing techniques we focus on in our class translate to writing assignments in other courses.

3: Practice effective writing techniques even in your casual communication.  For example, which text is more effective?
Just saw a partially eaten deer on the trail. It’s about 100 yards past the first gate.
Be careful of mountain lions today.

These are real life examples of the trail chatter my fellow hikers and I use to update each other.   Is it too dramatic to say that effective writing may be a matter of life or death?


Summer officially cedes to autumn.

Tans fade. Half squeezed sunscreen bottles coagulate with dried lotion and California sun dips on the horizon just enough to cast long shadows during my early evening hike.


Yesterday a coyote shadow crossed the trail. Chester growled and I stooped to grab a fist-sized rock. At home this morning, slight breeze rustled the wind chime.

Fall feels simultaneously busy and cozy. In class we’re deep in thought and edit. We face shadows which hide real and imagined self truths. We dance between the comfort of staying on the trail of the first draft, the smooth story, the path that leads us to a destination we imagined when we began.  We’re alternately sleepy and thrilled with new knowledge. We’re more tired here in Week 6 than we were in late August, fresh with our newly set goals, boosted by the adrenaline of a new endeavor.

At this point in the semester we begin to glance off road, to wonder what might happen – to us, to our stories – if we leave the trail of comfort and expectation. What if we bump along in the unknown for a while? We face our past patterns with new eyes. We squint into the light of new knowledge and try to capture some essence of this craft of writing we said we wanted to learn more about.

We face the projects, formed by the syllabus, individually shaped by our very own human natures. Some of us are steady. Some of us are more like a tide.

Some writers insist the only discipline is a daily practice. I cannot doubt the value of this. And then I come across an interview with Terry Tempest Williams in the Progressive that opens my mind to a different possibility.

I live in a very, very quiet place. I have a sequence to my creative life. In spring and fall, I am above ground and commit to community. In the summer, I’m outside. It is a time for family. And in the winter, I am underground. Home. This is when I do my work as a writer–in hibernation. I write with the bears.

This is a mirror to my own practice, this “sequence to my creative life.” It looks different than the writers who insist you must write every day, you must produce, you must train the brain to perform on demand.

I write with the sea. I write with moon and coyotes and silence.  I write with students. I write in all seasons but there are weeks when I don’t write at all. And I don’t worry about this anymore as long as I meet my deadlines. I love deadline work as much as I hate deadline work because it means I can’t live forever wordless.

Dear students, you tell me the same thing.

So, if you’re stuck, live in the desert for a day or two without panic.

I fully trust you’ll continue. I fully believe in your process.