As a continuation of our first class and the introductions/interviews we did, I want us to spend a short part of the early semester getting to know each other. One of the things I want you to particularly start to think about is what about this course in particular interests you and what kinds of things you might want to study more. So, here’s a prompt, then I’m going to do my own response so you can all learn a little bit about me.
1) Your name, what you want us to call you
2) Where you’re from
3) Not your major, as such, but the thing or things you are passionate about studying
4) Things that matter to you (I’m thinking issues, but anything, really, works here)
5) Tell us a little story, just an anecdote from your life that will help us to better understand you and what you’re “about.”
You will need to have this posted, officially for a grade, by January 29.
And so, to be fair, here are some things about me:
I’m Dr. Devon Ralston. I spent a long five years getting a Ph.D. and it’s an important part of my identity. However, I don’t mind if you call me Devon. But if you don’t feel comfortable with the informality, which I understand, then you can call me Dr. Ralston, or Dr. D, but please don’t call me Ms. Ralston.
I’m originally from Alabama, though I grew up all along the Gulf Coast as my family moved frequently. My father’s parents are from Mobile and I spent much of my life there. I also got both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of South Alabama, so I consider Mobile home, though I don’t have a childhood bedroom or house to which to return. I lived with my grandparents beginning my second semester in college. When my grandfather died, my great-grandmother moved in, and there we were, generations of women in the same house. I often wish I’d fully understood the magic of that time with them, that I’d recorded my Granny telling her stories. I miss her laugh most of all. My heart broke a little when my Grandmother sold that house we shared; it was one the place that felt the most like home.
I can get quite nostalgic about the South, and while I rarely agree with the politics of the region, I love having grown up there, and I miss being so close to the water. I usually go to sleep to the sound of waves thanks to my sound machine and that makes me feel a bit closer. Everyone, including my family, wonders when I will return, but I’ve enjoyed living in the Midwest for the past decade (though the snow and cold can get to me) and I don’t know if I really want to go back because it won’t be the same. That old saying, “You can’t go home again,” rattles around my brain. I am also pretty sure that living in the same town as my parents who have retired there, would make me lose my mind. 🙂
I have three degrees: a B.A. in English, M.A. in Creative Writing, for which I wrote a poetry thesis, and a Ph.D. (from Illinois State) in Rhetoric and Composition, focusing on Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. I wrote my dissertation on how we convey a range of identities across various social media including place-based social media, and niche sites like Goodreads and last.fm. I’m immensely interested in the tools we use to tell stories about ourselves and how such tools/sites influence composing/designing/writing practices. I’m currently working on a project focused on class identity and Pinterest, and I just completed a collaborative article, which is coming out any day now (these things take forever), on feminism/activism in online comment threads. I spend an unbelievable amount of time behind my computer screen teaching, writing and researching. It’s part of the reason I wear glasses. Too much screen time really tires my eyes and gives me headaches.
I learned to read before I could tie my shoes. The first thing I ever read was a billboard. My mother says I was 3. My grandmother, who was a Math teacher, gave me a copy of a book of folk tales and myths, an old 2nd or 3rd grade reader that she found when cleaning her classroom one year. I was 5, and I carried that book everywhere. I can still remember its illustrations, the stories with their cautionary tales. Instead of stuffed animals or dolls, I slept with books around me. When I was in trouble, I was grounded from my books. Devastating. Because I would read in bed, my parents imposed a lights out policy, which I tried to circumvent by reading by flashlight under the covers. When that was foiled, I took the top off my Strawberry Shortcake nightlight. I woke up to a burning smell and realized that the naked lightbulb was burning a hole into my pillow.
My love of reading runs deep. Both of my parents are voracious readers. A few years ago, one of their bookshelves was so weighed down with books that the shelves finally cracked and came crashing down in the middle of the night. My father refuses to read on screen and the joy of perusing a book store remains in us both. My father will sit at a table in a bookstore, reading books he brings with him or buys for hours. Even if I don’t buy anything, I still love bookstores, libraries, the smell of books, the promise of their adventure. I’m romantic about them. When I can’t talk to my father about sports any longer, I switch to books. My mother asks for recommendations by text with emojis. When my own language fails me, I can quote books, poems, authors I love.
I believe everyone has a story, and that stories are infinitely powerful, and there are many ways to tell them.