Nearly every Wednesday I invite you to write with me. I’ll post a prompt online and I guarantee I will post 30 minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing below. Please write with me. If you like, you can even post your response to the prompt in the comments section below.
Prompt: What is the oldest email in your inbox? What is the story behind it?
The oldest email in my inbox is dated January 7, 2008. This must have been the year I decided to stop cleaning out my inbox every week. There was a time when I thought that if an email did not warrant a response, it didn’t need to be kept. I have nearly 20,000 emails saved in my gmail inbox now and this email, the very oldest one in the inbox appears boring at first, but it represents the beginning of a completely new way of looking at things for me.
The email in question is quite simple. It is a message sent to me by Dr. Todd Goodson, my major advisor during my doctoral program at Kansas State University. The email has no content. Its subject is simply “proposal.” And the contents is a draft of a presentation proposal he submitted to NCTE in 2007. I was sitting in Todd’s office on January 7, 2008 with the task of writing my own proposal to appear in the 2008 NCTE Annual Convention in San Antonio, TX. And I imagine Todd called me in to show me how to craft a successful proposal.
It was somewhat important for me to at least propose a session at the 2008 annual convention. I had committed to a full residency PhD program at the Kansas State University College of Education. While I had presented a state conferences in the past, I had not yet presented at the national level. Heck, I had just attended my first national conference a two months prior to this meeting in Todd’s office, so the whole scene was still relatively new to me. But in his own way Dr. Goodson knew how to pull the very best out of his students, and with his guidance I submitted what would ultimately be an accepted proposal.
I don’t remember much about the presentation I made in San Antonio in November 2008. I know I brought together a number of panelists who all talked about visual responses to literature. Our presentation went well–at least that was my interpretation. But years later I am beginning to see how important it was for me to be in San Antonio that year for the convention.
While attending and presenting at the San Antonio convention I interviewed for a job at Elizabethtown College. Becky Olson, a member of the English faculty, and a member of the search committee for a position that had just opened up in English: Secondary Education, met me in a hotel board room to talk about the college and its programming. I enjoyed our conversation very much, but I left thinking “this is too good to be true.” I never thought I would hear back from Elizabethtown. But, as it turns out, about one year after the oldest email in my inbox was sent I was on a plane heading to PA on a chilly day in January to hold my on-campus interview. To this day I still think it is wild that I wound up in Central PA, but I absolutely love it.
In San Antonio I also had a moment where I knew I may be completely over my head. One well-known event at the NCTE annual convention is the Ramon Veal Research Roundtable forum where emerging academics bring their research for review and commentary by more seasoned academics. In preparation for my appearance at the forum, I submitted a brief summary of my intended dissertation questions and a project outline. I felt pretty good about my trajectory at this point, but I had several questions on how to get to the types of questions that could lead to a better final product. It didn’t go well. For the rest of the story you are welcome to contact Dr. Chris Goering c/o Arkansas State University. When you do, ask him to tell you how my veal was cooked in 2008.
After this nearly successful venture into the NCTE scene in 2008 I have gone on to serve in a couple of leadership roles with NCTE, and I have become far more connected to this organization and its operations. I have served on the Executive Committee and I have lead the Middle Level Section. I have appeared in two NCTE journals and I have advocated on NCTE’s behalf on Capitol Hill. It all started with an invitation (demand) from my major advisor to submit a proposal to speak at a convention, and an email he sent with a sample proposal for me to reference when writing one for the very first time.
That is what I see in the oldest email in my inbox.