~from intern Courtney Satchell


Thomas M. Swensen
Assistant Professor, Department of Ethnic Studies

What are you currently working on?: I’m currently reading The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference by Roderick Ferguson for my grad seminar called “Race in the City.” This seminar I teach is focused on looking at the University as a city and how the University uses diversity not simply to challenge power structures but rather reinforce them.

Describe the Eddy in one word: Panoptic

Favorite book/poem: My favorite book would be Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn, which is a post colonial novel about the Philippines. My favorite poem is “Persimmons” by Li Young Lee.

Any advice for CSU English students?: Read everything. Especially if you’re a non-English major taking a literature class because you might not get the chance to read as much later on.

Biggest Goal?: Finish writing my book, The Great Land: The Environment and Belonging in Native Alaska, for my research.

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Have a happy & safe #Halloween weekend, State 👻🎃Remember, Rams take care of Rams. #ColoradoState 📷: @aleora2013

A photo posted by Colorado State University (@coloradostateuniversity) on

  • Skyhorse Press will re-release Dan Robinson’s latest novel, Death of a Century, in paperback in April 2017.  If people didn’t purchase it in its glorious hardback edition, they can now purchase it in its cheaper (altho no less glorious) paperback form — same cover but a slight change to the ending.
  • A short story from Shoaib Alam’s master’s thesis titled “Guildwood Village” was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s July/August Fiction Open. He wrote the first draft for Steven Schwartz‘s fiction workshop and revised subsequent versions with help from Leslee Becker, E.J. Levy, and Alexandra Bernasek.
  • Claire Boyles’ short story, “Ledgers,” received second place in the Short Story Award for New Writers contest from the Masters Review. It is published on their site at the following link: https://mastersreview.com/new-voices/ledgers-by-claire-boyles/
  • Joanna Doxey’s poem “Guidebook to Landscape: The Border” is in the current issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, here – http://tinderboxpoetry.com/
  • Mandy Rose’s “On Car Accidents and Second Wives” was cited in Christian Exoo’s pedagogical piece, “Using CNF to Teach the Realities of Intimate Partner Violence to First Responders: An Annotated Bibliography,” published in Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, issue 3.1.


Greyrock Review: Get your work published!

Fiction: 5,000 word limit, format should be double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman or Galibri fonts. Two pieces of your best work may be submitted.

Nonfiction: 5,000 word limit, format should be double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman or Calibri fonts. Two pieces of your best work may be submitted.

Poetry: Up to 5 poems may be submitted, each poem should be placed on a separate page in a single document. If poems have a visual formatting component, please use Adobe PDF files. Otherwise, Word (.doc files) are preferred.

Visual Arts: Any visual art form is accepted, excluding video. Please photography your work and submit digitally. 300 dpi and CMYK colored .TIFF file is preferred.

For more information please visit http://greyrockreview.colostate.edu or email Baleigh Greene at bmgreene@rams.colostate.edu

Submissions accepted from October 3, 2016 – December 16, 2016

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You might not know this about intern Courtney Satchell, but fall is her favorite time of year, and Halloween is her favorite holiday. So when we brainstormed some ideas for posts related to the season, she was the obvious choice to put something together. Here’s her list of some Halloween reads you should check out.



Bram Stoker’s Dracula: I’m not normally one for horror (which my sister thinks is ironic because my favorite holiday is Halloween) but Dracula is definitely one of my favorite novels of all time. The struggle between Van Helsing and Dracula is beyond creepy and this Gothic Horror classic will definitely get you in the Halloween spirit.

Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black: Writers tend to hang out together, and just like any group of friends they’ll sometimes get into silly little arguments that can spiral way out of control. Luckily for us, it usually spawns great writing. In the case of this anthology it was suppose to settle a debate between Y.A writers Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black about which was better: zombies or unicorns. With Holly leading Team Unicorn and Justine leading Team Zombie, both convinced their fellow writers to join them and then thus the anthology was born. Personally I’m Team Unicorn, but the anthology brings quality laughs all around!

The Wife’s Story by Ursla K. Le Guin: This is a werewolf story. A. Werewolf. Story. A rare and beautiful thing, a lot like unicorns. That alone should make you want to read it. Werewolves are severely underrated. Severely. It’s a pity and a damn shame because they are awesome and they deserve more than playing second fiddle to vampires. It’s a beautifully written short story with an awesome twist. Check it out.

I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan: Okay this one is for the 90’s nostalgia I’ve been in for basically all my life. Like I said I am not one for Horror, but I loved this book and my sister was all too happy to force me to marathon the movie series after I told her I had read the book — I had nightmares for the rest of the summer. Worth it. Read the book or watch the movies, either option is a perfect way to get into your 90s feels for Halloween.


What are you reading for thrills or chills this season? Anything we should know about?

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~from intern Haley Huffman

Ellen Brinks is the graduate program coordinator for the English Department, but her passions extend far beyond the scheduling, staffing and training that make up a large portion of her responsibilities. She thinks of herself “first and foremost as a teacher, advisor and mentor for undergrads and graduate students.”

Brinks grew up in Michigan in the suburbs of the Detroit Metro area. While she was in high school she studied abroad in Germany and that opened everything up for her. Brinks loved the vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere of Germany so much she ended up completing her Masters at a German university. At that point, she had been in a classroom for her entire life and decided that she needed to do something a little different.

She really wanted to do something for others because she has always been very service oriented, so she spent six years doing social work. Brinks returned to her academic roots after realizing that “deep down, [her] nature is that [she’s] an intellectual.” She likes to study, learn, and loves the classroom, and that’s where she wanted to be, so she went back to graduate school for a PhD.

For six years Brinks lived in Manhattan and worked on her PhD at Princeton. She became accustomed to her metropolitan lifestyle and fell in love with the diverse people that also inhabited the city. Ironically, when Brinks completed her PhD she applied for a position with a university located in a small town in Colorado.

Ellen and her wife, Julie

Ellen and her wife, Julie

The adjustment to life in Fort Collins was an interesting one. The hustle and bustle of Manhattan was a long ways away. “I thought I was in some post nuclear zone. I would look out of the house I was renting on Remington and I wouldn’t see a single person walk by,” said Brinks. The charms of CSU and the English Department in particular convinced Brinks to stay. “This department is wonderful. They let you explore and develop in the ways that you feel compelled to do.”

Professor Brinks is using that creative freedom to study international fairy tales at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, and how that shaped understandings of a globalized childhood. In particular, Brinks studies the way these fairy tales were reviewed and the conversations that surround these tales. “Those stories invite children to journey to other cultures and other places that they can never physically go, but they can imaginatively go — so what view of the world are they presenting and what understanding of the child as an international or global citizen are they projecting in those works?”

To research this, Brinks spends a lot of time sifting through archives, which happens to be one of her passions. She will be traveling to London in a couple months to the British Library to scavenge for fairy tales from the 19th century. “I love exploring all of those things and not knowing what I’m going to find,” said Brinks.

Children’s literacy is not just a topic that Brinks is exploring in her academic world, but also in her personal life. She spent some time traveling solo and ended up in Livingstone, Zambia on the Book Bus, a mobile library dedicated to increasing children’s literacy across the globe. “That’s when I absolutely fell in love with the place. There were other volunteers who were with me on the Book Bus, who were like in their 20’s or even younger. There was one guy who was 18 from England and he had never been to Africa before. He just on a whim decided to do it and he was great. I thought ‘wow!’ I can so imagine CSU students doing this and getting so much out of it and finding it very rewarding.”

When Brinks returned to CSU, she met with the Education Abroad office and began to develop the Zambia Study Abroad Program. She found an organization that could accommodate a larger group of volunteers, working in community health and education. Students from all over the university, representing all different majors, participate in the Zambia program and have said it’s been one of the most transformative experiences they’ve ever had.

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project. Zambia, Summer 2015

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project. Zambia, Summer 2015


Professor Brinks working in a clinic in Zambia

Ellen Brinks working in a clinic in Zambia

Students spend three weeks working in Livingstone, Zambia and can choose from several different tracks. For example there is the community health track, where students have the opportunity to provide health care through home visits, or there is the education track, which gives students the opportunity to teach a classroom of elementary-aged students.

Students will be challenged during their visit to Zambia and there will be tough moments, but Brinks said, “it’s also rewarding because you see how you can make a small difference in a child’s life.”

The trip to Zambia isn’t all work and no play; there are weekend excursions and plenty of free time for fun. Chobe National Park, in Botswana, is on the weekend excursion itinerary and there is a very large animal population. Rafting on the Zambize river and swimming on the edge of Victoria Falls are other pastimes.



Livingstone, Zambia has a very warm and welcoming feel, full of cafes and restaurants, as well as shopping and nightlife. This trip is a chance to be immersed in Zambian culture, without the prepackaged “African” experience.

Brinks has been leading this program for three years now and it has been one of the best experiences of her teaching career. “I am with them in the neighborhoods when we go to visit people, when we go to visit a young person who has cerebral palsy or an old woman who is really in pain because of a stroke. We’re problem solving on the ground together. We are giving each other emotional support. We’re just hanging together having a good time, sharing a beer at the end of the day.”

To find out more about this program, contact Ellen Brinks, Ellen.Brinks@Colostate.edu or visit the program page. Or come to the information session, November 2.


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For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf (A choreopoem) by Ntozake Shange, what intern Courtney Satchell is reading this week.

For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf (a choreopoem) by Ntozake Shange, what intern Courtney Satchell is reading this week.

~from Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

Those of us in it know that the English department is a diverse place where the possibilities for study and work are boundless. That said, even I am amazed when I hear what sorts of things people are working on – reading, studying, researching, teaching, writing, collaborating. We’d like to share more of that, so have started collecting the details of how exactly the Humans of Eddy are spending their time.

Towards that end, I recently sent an email asking that faculty help by sending a reply letting us know what they are working on (writing, researching, producing, studying, submitting, collaborating, etc.) and what they are reading (for school, work, or pleasure). Here are some of their responses:


Leslie McCutchen, English Instructor

I am currently reading for fun: Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013). And now he has a series on Netflix! I will use more of Pollan’s research in my CO150 classes under our theme of “Food.” From Pollan’s website for the series: “Explored through the lenses of the four natural elements – fire, water, air and earth – Cooked is an enlightening and compelling look at the evolution of what food means to us through the history of food preparation and its universal ability to connect us. Highlighting our primal human need to cook, the series urges a return to the kitchen to reclaim our lost traditions and to forge a deeper, more meaningful connection to the ingredients and cooking techniques that we use to nourish ourselves.” http://michaelpollan.com/videos/netflix-documentary-series-cooked/


Todd Mitchell, Assistant Professor and Director of Creative Writing Pedagogy

Right now, I’m writing a middle grade novel that I think of as a “tragedy of the commons deforestation fable” inspired by a series of outstanding reports Lulu Navarro did on rainforest destruction in Brazil. I’m also working on an urban fantasy hybrid text YA novel (a book with art) about art, perception and the end of the world. And I’m working on an independent comic book series involving an invasion of empathetic environmental aliens, and rebel groups resisting their control.

Reading-wise, right now I’m reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, so it’s no surprise that my mind has been traveling down some very apocalyptic roads.


Sarah Louise Pieplow, English Instructor

I’m working on some articles about Mr. Robot (tv show) and about Lake Oahe and Cheyenne River, where the DAPL protest is happening.

I’m reading The Hidden Life of Trees, recently released by German forester by Peter Wohlleben, and Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa.


Zach Hutchins, Assistant Professor

Right now, for fun, I’m reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which is awesome. It’s a brilliant look at slavery in the antebellum South—first with a graphic recounting of its horrors and then with several imagined alternative futures/possibilities in the states through which our main character journeys north, on the way to freedom. I’d highly recommend it.


Rebecca Snow, English Instructor

I am working on my second novel, untitled speculative fiction set in the Pacific Northwest and featuring trolls.

I reviewed Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See on my website, (Doppelgängers of Darkness and Light). It’s my new favorite novel (after having the same favorite novel, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, for twenty-five years)!


Mary Ellen Sanger, Associate Director Community Literacy Center

Reading: Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.


Jill Salahub, Communications Coordinator

I’m writing a memoir called “Stay” about how I saved myself through practice, (yoga, meditation, writing, and dog), along with regular posts for my blog.

I’m reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.



On Friday, firefighters, researchers, and fire-service officials are gathering at the Colorado State University Powerhouse Campus for the Adaptive Challenges Symposium. The event is sponsored by Poudre Fire Authority and organized by Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Tim Amidon in collaboration with Professor Elizabeth Williams in Communication Studies, Professor Kim Henry in Psychology, and Professor Tiffany Lipsey in Health and Exercise Science.

The title of the symposium, “Adaptive Challenges,” describes the challenges the fire service faces in regards to safety and line-of-duty death.

The fire service, Professor Amidon explained in an interview last week, tends to respond to concerns about on-the-job safety through technical approaches. As an example, the fire service has developed sensors in firefighters’ equipment to monitor movement and air consumption and signal danger to both the firefighters and crew leaders.

While this technology is valuable, Professor Amidon emphasized that researchers both within and external to the fire service are looking for more human solutions for better safety.

“Firefighters have a lot of the knowledge to interpret the risk that they’re facing, but organizationally and through training we don’t always empower firefighters at the entry level to have access to the genres and literacies necessary for making effective decisions about the risk they encounter on firegrounds and emergency scenes. Firefighters don’t only need to know how to swing the axe or pull the house, but also need to know how to do the tacit knowledge work associated with the profession,” said Professor Amidon. “Everyone needs to be thinking on the level of tasks, tactics and strategies.”

Tim Amidom fighting a fire

Tim Amidom fighting a fire.

In layman’s terms, firefighting is still deeply influenced by its blue-collar roots. Compared with, for instance, the police service, the fire service offers few opportunities for firefighters learn research methods appropriate for empirically addressing the exigencies the fire-service faces or carrying on professional conversations about those challenges. Professor Amidon stated that he believes that firefighters of all ranks should be offered opportunities to learn and practice the genres and literacies necessary for identifying when they are in danger and that this is an area where education might be utilized to reduce fatality in a way that technology alone could and has not.

I asked Professor Amidon why it’s so important to study something that seems as technical as firefighting through a humanities lens.

One of the ways Professor Amidon sees his rhetoric and composition background as very applicable to the fire service is that it enables him to examine how research into firefighting safety is conducted.

The two primary organizations which research line-of-duty death in firefighting include NFIRS, the National Fire Incidence Reporting System, and NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. While NFIRS uses a simple coding system to track causes of firefighting fatality, assigning each death to one of nine codes, NIOSH offers more comprehensive, detailed investigations into the causes of fatality.

NIOSH’s approach is “mixed-method, multi-method,” said Professor Amidon. They use “multiple datasets to gain more insight about what’s going on in that moment. It isn’t just a single moment but a network of interrelated practices that give rise to a firefighter fatality.”

NIOSH’s approach, Professor Amidon believes, offers “qualitatively richer views about firefighter fatality.”

Professor Amidon also believes that it’s very important to approach challenges through an interdisciplinary lens. “Adaptive approaches need to get outside of the lens that we have only in our own discipline,” he said. While some believe interdisciplinary approaches can produce “watered-down” results, Professor Amidon believes that, on the contrary, working with researchers in other disciplines can help create a richer understanding of a problem.

“It’s a lot about listening,” he said: listening to firefighters and their experiences before going to engineers to design technological solutions to problems.

Before designing technologies, researchers and members of the fire service must ask, “How do we use technologies to empower humans to make more agentive decisions?”

Key note speakers at the symposium include Scott Heiss, Division Chief of Safety and Training for the Denver Fire Department, who, through his connections with the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation, does extensive outreach to families impacted by line-of-duty deaths, as well as Ron Timmons, a former Fire Chief and Lecture from the University of North Texas and Bill Hart-Davidson, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at Michigan State University with expertise in Technical Communication and User Experience.


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  • The Center for Literary Publishing is delighted to announce that The Verging Cities, by Natalie Scenters-Zapico, a 2015 Mountain West Poetry Series title, has won the Utah Book Award in Poetry. This is the second year in a row that a CLP title has won the award (last year it went to The Logan Notebooks, by Rebecca Lindenberg). Karen Montgomery Moore was the copyeditor; Cedar Brant, the proofreader; Katie Naughton, the typesetter; Melissa Hohl, the cover designer; and Stephanie G’Schwind and Donald Revell, the acquiring editors.
  • Debbie Vance’s short story, “Quartzsite,” won second prize in Blue Mesa Review‘s 2016 Summer Contest, judged by Jensen Beach. The story will be published in Issue #34 this November.


Please join us Thursday, October 27, 7:00 pm, at the home of Louann & David Reid, for the fall semester colloquium, at which we gather, with fine appetizers and drinks in hand, to enjoy one another’s company and hear about the work that our colleagues are doing. All department faculty and graduate students are invited.

Here’s a preview of the evening:

Doug Cloud will present some in-progress work on how speakers conceal animus toward marginalized groups in public discourse. He’ll show the results from an analysis of recent “bathroom bill” and transgender-rights discourse, to show how speakers are able to make prejudicial claims about transgender people indirectly. Understanding and revealing these techniques can help us be smarter consumers and producers of public rhetoric.

Kristina Quynn will talk about the phases of CSU Writes so far: where it started last year, where it currently is, and where she sees it going. She will touch on the reasons she started CSU Writes (including her own research agenda), the writing productivity research and models of women’s collectives that guide its vision, and some of the wonderful success stories of graduate students and faculty who have participated in CSU Writes organized retreats, workshops, and writing groups.

It’s always a fabulous event, so please treat yourself and make time in your calendar. We look forward to seeing you there!



Greyrock Review: Get your work published!


Fiction: 5,000 word limit, format should be double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman or Galibri fonts. Two pieces of your best work may be submitted.

Nonfiction: 5,000 word limit, format should be double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman or Calibri fonts. Two pieces of your best work may be submitted.

Poetry: Up to 5 poems may be submitted, each poem should be placed on a separate page in a single document. If poems have a visual formatting component, please use Adobe PDF files. Otherwise, Word (.doc files) are preferred.

Visual Arts: Any visual art form is accepted, excluding video. Please photography your work and submit digitally. 300 dpi and CMYK colored .TIFF file is preferred.

For more information please visit http://greyrockreview.colostate.edu or email Baleigh Greene at bmgreene@rams.colostate.edu

Submissions accepted from October 3, 2016 – December 16, 2016

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~ from intern Joyce Bohling


Kelly Weber is a first-year graduate student in the MFA Poetry program and graduate teaching assistant (GTA) for CO150.

What projects are you working on currently?

(In my poetry,) I’ve been trying to explore different methods of form and also going back and forth between things that are more autobiographical and things that are totally fictional, using a lot of personas. I try to swerve back and forth between the two. That way every project I do is really different. I just finished up a collage work for one course, for example. I’ve never done a collage work before, and I’ve never done political work before, too; it turned out strangely political, which was very new for me.

How do you spend most of your time in Eddy Hall?

When I’m in Eddy, it tends to be for the classes that I’m taking, or printing. A lot of printing goes on in Eddy Hall.

Do you have a favorite English class or instructor?

I haven’t had a chance to take a class with every instructor, and it’s hard to pick favorites. It’s pretty tough to beat (fiction) workshop, obviously, for various reasons, but I also really love this Crossing Boundaries class that I’m taking. I’ve always been really interested in a lot of the themes that we talk about for this class. The thesis work that I did for my previous master’s was in that topic, and so now I get to take a whole class in, which makes my heart happy.

Could you describe Eddy Hall in one word?

Home. At my previous university, I also had to go up three or four flights of stairs, so it feels very familiar.

What’s your favorite book or poem?

It would be really hard to narrow that down to just one, and it always depends on what I’m reading currently. I think I’m always going to enjoy the poem “Howl.” It was the first poem (I encountered) that was not Robert Frost, so it was the first poem that I really liked. A book that I also really enjoy is Sarah Kay’s No Matter the Wreckage. Love that book. It’s a collection of her spoken word pieces. That really interests me in terms of what spoken word works on the page and what doesn’t. I highly recommend it for a book to read!

If you were to give advice to incoming CSU English grad students, what would it be?

I would say just finding a good work-life balance in terms of what’s manageable and what’s kind to you as you go through this process. Probably, too, just remembering: what were your incoming goals with a program in English in graduate school? What are you really hoping to get out of graduate school? And making sure that you don’t lose sight of that. Dan Beachy-Quick has used the phrase, “You can start to feel a little like a bee drowning in honey.” You have so many wonderful opportunities. And so I would say just to keep some kind of balance in your life, be kind to yourself, and keep in mind your goals and your priorities as you go through grad school.

That leads right into my next question, which is: What is your biggest goal or priority right now?

I think probably doing just that: finding a manageable amount. But really, my biggest goal in grad school and in general is just to get better at writing and take this time for three years to have a kind of focused laboratory, in a way. To have a group of people who are forced to read and respond to my work, which is nice. *laughs It’s really nice to have this time to take all kinds of work to them. A lot of that work will probably be a failure, but I think it’s beautiful in so many ways that we have this time to do that.

Is there anything else you wanted to add?

I love being around trees again! After living in Nebraska for ten years and watching the leaves get ripped from the trees, it’s really nice to see the beautiful autumn here. I really love this community and this campus, and it’s been extremely welcoming.

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~from intern Joyce Bohling

Dana Masden
English Teaching Faculty, (CO150, CO300, Intro to Lit, Beginning Creative Writing and 20th Century Fiction, as well as CO150 online)
MFA: Creative Writing (she’s also an alumna!)
What brought you to CSU?

I came to CSU for my MFA in 2005. Every other school I applied to was in the Midwest and I was fairly certain I would attend school in Chicago. However, I got good vibes from the CSU Creative Writing department, my sister had recently moved to Colorado, and my top Chicago schools rejected me. Since then, my parents and other family members also relocated to Colorado. At the time, I thought of CSU as a big state school in a college town. Over time, I grew to love the community of Fort Collins and now only think of CSU as a small piece of the home I love so much.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Time is really my most precious resource, so I love the flexibility and independence that this career provides. But more than this, I truly enjoy working with undergraduate students. There is something about this stage in life that is perpetually exciting and hopeful.

Why are the Humanities important?

The Humanities are where people learn to think.

What inspired you to pursue a degree in English, the Humanities?

For two years as an undergraduate, I equally pursued both pre-med and creative writing, unsure if I wanted to be a doctor or a writer. I ultimately picked the writing path because I liked my classmates and professors in those courses much better, which told me something about what the rest of my life would be like if I pursued English and higher education. And it turns out that when I did well in the Sciences, it was often a writing-related task anyway, like writing a lab report or essay.

What special project are you working on right now?

After writing two (or four?) literary novels, my latest attempt is to write a thriller. I have always struggled with plot, so writing something plot-dependent is kind of a fun challenge for me.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A doctor or a writer—whichever had the better people.

What moment in the classroom stands out to you as most memorable?

I often return to a specific moment from early teaching when a student pointed out something incorrect and careless I said; an instance when I tried to answer a question I was unsure about. After this experience, I started paying attention to my own mentors in life and realized how willing they were to admit when they didn’t know something, how honesty was a big part of why they were good mentors to begin with, even if honesty was admitting ignorance or fault. I quickly learned that my attempt to always have an answer even when I didn’t know was obvious to my students and how important it is to pause after a question—to really think before speaking. That one student helped me to understand that teaching and mentorship is really not about being a constant authority but about modeling the thinking process, which requires both honesty and a bit of time to get right.

What is your favorite thing to teach? Favorite thing about teaching?

I teach both Composition and Creative Writing and I enjoy both of them equally—truly—for very different reasons. Composition is so useful and unlike anything I ever had as a student. I see my Composition students come out of the class better thinkers and that is inspiring. However, I am also very happy when I see someone in Creative Writing take a risk that pays off. Often the risk is to avoid some of the thrills and chills and plot stuff their peers are throwing into their work and to explore a very real but uncomfortable emotion. I feel privileged to be part of this when it happens.

What advice would you give to a student taking a class in the English department?

Go to office hours. Writers have such individual needs and I truly don’t know anyone in this department who I wouldn’t be delighted to spend twenty minutes with.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

I remember asking Steven Schwartz about publishing and he told me very bluntly that my work wasn’t ready and I shouldn’t think about that at all. He told me to work on the writing first. I know we hear it all the time, but in such a blunt package it was memorable and important.

What’s your favorite word?

Noodle. It is what my daughter calls her future sibling (we have a second baby due in March). I should add that Vera’s full name for this upcoming baby is “White Noodle,” which I thought was a pretty good image for a twenty-month old.

What are you currently reading?

I read a great deal of argument papers, annotated bibliographies, student stories. I always have a book opened and half-way read somewhere but reading for me is mostly a summer thing.

What don’t your colleagues know about you?

During the semester, I prioritize watching really crappy reality TV instead of reading. Please don’t tell them. [Sorry, Dana — your secret is NOT safe with us].

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

When I graduated from my MFA, I made a goal to publish something every year, which I believed was setting myself nicely up for failure since publishing is not really in the writer’s control. However, since then, I have accomplished my goal in one form or another, publishing sometimes even two or three stories and essays a year, if you don’t count 2012, which nobody thought was a great year anyway.

When you’re not working, what do you do?

I spend a lot of time with my family—with Joe, Vera, and Noodle, but also my extended family—my parents and siblings and niece and nephews. I can’t imagine not being close to them.


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~from Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

Disclaimer: I went to graduate school with Jessica Patterson. She’s my friend. We met at a time in our lives that feels like “just before” somehow, and it’s been such a joy to keep in touch, to be friends as we’ve both continued to unravel and come back together. She was and remains one of my favorite humans, a friend and a mentor. I’ve wanted to profile her on the blog for awhile, finally asked and she was generous enough to sit down and answer some questions for me. She had so much share, more than a post’s worth, but forgive me, kind and gentle readers — I couldn’t bear to leave any of it out.


Jessica Patterson
Owner and Director of Root Center for Yoga & Sacred Studies in Colorado Springs
Director of the RootEducation (RootEd) 200-hour Apprenticeship & TT program
BA English (1999) and MA English: Communication Development (2004), Thesis: (Un)Becoming Human


I know that yoga is an important part of your life. How did you come to the practice? What has it meant to you?

I took my first yoga class my first semester of college in 1993. I had moved to Ithaca, NY to Cornell University, and it was an overwhelming time of change. There was a little yoga class offered as an extracurricular class, and I checked it out for the same reasons so many people are drawn initially to yoga: to reduce stress, gain flexibility, and shift things. My early practice was sporadic. I moved from NY back to CO, went to Michigan for a while (where I also took a class with a friend), lived in Peru for a stint, and then settled back in Fort Collins to complete my undergraduate work. I took classes pretty steadily from there, but it wasn’t until I was in graduate school (often commuting from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins) and working on my thesis that I began to rely more heavily on the accumulated benefits of my yoga practice.

My graduate research was a harrowing and stressful exploration of the world of non-human animal exploitation, so I was witnessing and taking in a lot of brutality. And then I would have these long drives up and down the I-25 corridor, past the factory farms and transport trucks that illustrated so painfully the invisibility of naturalized violence. The subject matter into which I was digging so deeply could leave a person feeling utterly helpless and disempowered. It is a daunting topic, and that was the first time I started to clarify how important it is not just to KNOW, but to empower someone with knowledge. So often, I would arrive home after a week of classes and research and I would just be wrecked….stressed out to the point that my throat would literally seize up and feel like I couldn’t swallow. So, I started practicing very diligently, making that time each day to help my body process what my mind was spinning around and around.  So that is where it all kind of started.

But my practice really became a life line when my father died very suddenly the fall after I had completed my graduate work and was teaching Composition at The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. On Thursday, Oct 21 2004, I was sitting in my office meeting with students and doing the usual schedule negotiations with my father via email to try and find time for us to talk. I suggested a date/time. He emailed back, “okey dokey,” and within 4 hours he would suffer a massive heart attack and die. It absolutely knocked my off my feet. Everything that had ever felt stable or grounded in me now felt shaky and fragile. Diffuse. I remember the shock of the days that followed and telling people I felt like I had no borders anymore. It was like the skin I was in had been shed and nothing was holding me together.

So, really, it was THAT experience, the experience of loss and the disruption of who I thought I was (or who I thought I was supposed to be) that plunged me more deeply into my practice of Yoga.

I tell students now that in loss and grief, time is often suspended, almost like we are tossed up into the air for a while. And in those moments, we can actually look around at our life and see it from a different perspective. To a certain extent, what UNmakes us can be the very thing that helps us recover a sense of ourselves that is less tenuous or performative. In other words, when the ground shakes beneath us, and we are tossed up into the air, we can sometimes decide how we want to land. In the months that followed, and eventually when my then husband and I decided to divorce and my beloved great dane was diagnosed with bone cancer, my daily practice was the one time I felt present and clear. It was this one tether to something steady and supportive. And the real power of that was the discovery that the steady ground was WITHIN, not without me. It wasn’t about gaining or attaining something. It was about being exquisitely present to something. Something messy and seemingly contradictory like grief and freedom. Or fear and courage. When you really come home to yourself, you find you are spacious enough to hold it all. I also think we find a kind of peaceful urgency; we tap that place in us that wants to live boldly NOW instead of living our days as mere means to an end. Yoga is largely about remembrance, the remembrance of who we really are (and the knowledge that that is enough), but it is often marketed and portrayed as a practice of performance. Through the practices of Yoga, we have the opportunity to show up for what IS (physically, emotionally, intellectually, energetically through the breath, and spiritually) and to cultivate a more intimate relationship with our lives. That demands presence, and THAT demands vulnerability and courage. So, in the wake of tremendous loss and transformation—death of a parent, divorce, death of my dog, moving, a scary crash of my endocrine system, and a major shift in careers—my practice became the one gossamer thread that stitched the wide unknown and seemingly eclectic spaces together.

Jessica and her dog, Peanut

Jessica and her dog, Peanut

This is why I write and teach so often about the real practice beginning in savasana, the corpse pose, the final resting pose of a practice. Most people commit themselves to a practice like Yoga when something major has fallen away. People come home to themselves when something has unraveled. The many mini deaths of our lives are often what teach us to live. The practices of yoga make those deaths explicit and can help us navigate the process of letting go and letting life in.


What made you decide to become certified to teach?

Well, that is the continuation of the story above, I suppose. Let’s just say I had ZERO interest in becoming a “yoga teacher” when I took my first training. I was grieving the death of my dad, and I had looked around at my life and decided I wasn’t living according to that inner compass, that passion. So, I had left my position at UCCS and began to cobble together more education. I had been doing some freelance work for some various animal advocacy groups, and because of that work I was often asked by people to give them advice on shifting into vegetarian or vegan diets. I decided to study nutrition in order to augment that work, and while pursuing those studies, I signed up for my first teacher training program. Long an intense student of life and academia, I was drawn to a training as a way of deepening my own understanding of and access to the practices that had become so helpful to me in a time of tremendous uprooting. So, I said what so many people say: “I am just doing this for me. I don’t want to teach.” I could go into all the details, but suffice to say I was given the great honor (and terror) of being asked to sub for my own teacher right after I completed my program. And within 2 years, I would be teaching full time. I went on very quickly to pursue my 300-hour training with my teachers David Life and Sharon Gannon, the co-founders of Jivamukti Yoga and whose interest in and support of my graduate work had been pivotal in my approach to the “why” and “how” of Yoga.


While I pursued many trainings through many styles and lineages, with many well known and lesser known teachers, the fact is that I ended up teaching because I was asked to. That is a simple answer, but the implications are weighty. Teaching, to paraphrase Paulo Friere, should empower people to create change, not just indoctrinate or homogenize them. In my own trajectory, that has meant paying attention to how and where my work—my insights, experiences, and contributions—can be most meaningful and relevant. In the tradition of Yoga, the teacher is that which shines light on what is. It isn’t piggy banking ones “knowledge” or the franchising of others to reproduce or replicate oneself. Education should liberate both teacher and student. When we are asked to teach, we are asked to learn twice. Three times. Taking the seat of the teacher is a lot about facing our own inner critics and our insecurities and “who the hell am I to be here?” voices and not letting that eclipse what you can offer. When we are called forward to teach, we meet ourselves. And the choice is to perform as a teacher or to empower as one. So, I began teaching (reluctantly) when I was asked to by those who saw something in me that I had not yet embraced. I taught for a number of training programs in CO, but eventually I had some students ask me to create a program of my own. I was humbled and insecure, but I stepped forward. The RootEd program is going into its 7th season, and it is still the heart of my favorite work. Intense, honest, real.

I often say that the most reluctant teachers are often the best teachers. Our capacity to move into something as transformational as intensive Self Study (the real gist of a training program) without projecting onto our future selves who or what we think we will be allows us to be fully present to the experience. It allows us to revise so much of what we take as internal gospel, and it enables us to get very clear and honest about what form or forum into which we are called. My students hear me say this ALL the time, but we don’t need more instructors teaching asana (physical practices of yoga) in studios. We need yogis in the world AS yogis. We need yogis as surgeons and politicians, as teachers and parents, as business owners and artists.

The real goal of a Yoga teacher is to see the person before you as whole and enough, as is. And you focus on that and draw upon as many techniques as you can to basically say, “Remember?” I am also a Yoga Therapist, and that focus is all the more critical; we meet people as inherently whole and our task is to remember, which is different from the conventional medical (and consumer) model that there is something essentially broken  that needs to be fixed. A teacher doesn’t fix. A teacher reminds, calls forth, and supports what is already always whole and capable. The goal is to empower someone so that you render yourself obsolete. In the merchandised and commodified world of yoga-as-meme, teachers are too often models and actors, and the implicit (arguably explicit) message becomes “Look at me!” And that gets reinforced all the time by our culture of performance and competition, exacerbating and exploiting the feeling a person may have that they don’t have or are not enough.

But the essential job of a teacher of yoga, of guru (the force of illumination) is to say, gently, “look at YOU.” My teacher Mark Whitwell would remind us, “we should be falling down on our knees at the sight of one another.” That is the kind of reverence for and presence to one another, the kind of awe that is inspired by a practice (vs a performance) of yoga. We are inundated with messages all the time that exploit our sense of deficiency, seducing us into thinking our salvation is either in some future time (“when I get that salary or lose that weight or gain that attention”) or in the acquisition of something outside of us. The trick is, when you hang your sense of wholeness or center on something outside of you, it makes you even more vulnerable.


Two years ago, you opened your own yoga center, Root: Center for Yoga and Sacred Studies. Can you tell us more about that choice, that process?

It’s another long story, but the heart of it was that my own training program, RootEd needed a home that really embodied and fostered the spirit with which I teach . I had been traveling as a teacher, a gypsy of sorts, for a long time. I taught in others’ studios (from the very great to the very underbelly of the yoga world) and all over the world (including a summer residency in Taipei). I was ready to come home in the truest sense, and I was tired of renting other people’s spaces or being subject to someone else’s vision. I certainly didn’t think this town needed another asana-based studio. So, my goal wasn’t to open a space that was in competition with or a reproduction of what was already being offered. Again, I wanted my work, my contribution to be meaningful and relevant.

A quiet moment at Root: Center for Yoga and Sacred Studies

A quiet moment at Root: Center for Yoga and Sacred Studies

So I asked my longtime community of students and friends if opening a different kind of center would be something they would want. I wanted to be sure it would answer the cal for something that wasn’t being offered. The response was a resounding “yes.” But the truth is I had also just come through a devastating time in my own life that affected deeply my sense of myself as a teacher, with enough personal tragedy and trauma to have left me questioning whether or not I even wanted to teach anymore. Once again, I was at a crossroad between who I had been (as a teacher for 9 years at that point and as a woman) and who I was becoming. Part of me wanted to run away and start over, and part of me was ready to dig into my hometown and offer my community something different. Root was opened to be first and foremost a sanctuary for ALL bodies. You literally have to cross two thresholds to enter into the space, and it was built to nurture a feeling of being held. As is. The center is devoted to yoga as a conscious, embodied, spiritual practice (sadhana)—not just acrobatics in which you can check out and go on autopilot. The goal is to integrate what has been fragmented in belief, thought, speech, and action. And by “spiritual” we emphasize an embodied practice that connects you to something beyond your wavering thoughts and opinions. So, community (satsang) is central to our vision, as is service and scholarship. Rather than focus solely on asana, Root seeks to support the whole person, the whole practice, and the whole lifeline. My goal is help students tap something deep within, something unshakeable, from which they can resource themselves and recalibrate center when life knocks them around. If you can know center, and really find steady ground there, than your circumference can expand and shift and move.

Root Studio

Root: Center for Yoga and Sacred Studies


How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now?

I tell you what, my background in English has been integral to the work I do in Yoga. I learned along the way through my education in English that we are always reading and writing the world—outwardly and inwardly (onto our own bodies and belief systems). I learned to question the assumptions we make about what is center and what is margin and how we naturalize and codify certain behaviors and beliefs as “normal,” and cease to see how we are conditioned and habituated to perceive the world the way we do. I learned to question what was considered “The Truth” about who we are and to ask why and how any particular narrative gets privileged above others and universalized as “the way it is.” I learned to distinguish between habits and nature, to question whether something is inevitable or just really masterfully ingrained. As a student of nonfiction writing, I learned to pay exquisite attention to the details. I learned to listen, watch, and feel into the subtle spaces where the real stories are held.

In so many ways, I feel like I am doing the same work in Yoga as I did as a student of English and Women’s Studies. Yoga is a technology comprised of specific techniques and practices that essentially ask, “Who are you, really?” The practices reveal the inner stories with which we have aligned and postured ourselves and our lives. Stories like “I am not enough” or “I am not safe” are more than cognitive lines we repeat; they have an associated breath pattern and a physicality, they have emotional resonance and a ripple effect on how we relate to others. Because Yoga attends to more than just our intellect, it can help us redress and rewrite what we experience as Truth free ourselves from the most seductive or convincing stories that inhibit us in this world. Thus Yoga is arguably a way of rewriting our embodied stories of deficiency, brokenness, seeking, etc. It is a way of helping us clarify and reclaim our identity and agency in a world that too often seeks to exploit or homogenize our sense of ourselves. The practices help us come into our senses and literally revise—see in a new way what is writ large–the story of who we are. This is why one of the series of retreats I lead (including Summer 2014 with John Calderazzo guest teaching!) are called Rewriting Embodied Myths: A (w)Rite of Passage.

So, I think I am basically doing the same work I did as an undergrad, a grad student, and a teacher of writing; I am challenging identity and seeking ways to empower a more conscious and kind sense of ourselves.


What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)?

Hmm. I fall inwardly silent on this one. I am not sure I can speak to a great accomplishment, but I can say something about the little blessings in a day. When I see a new student or client suddenly grasp that who and what they are is enough, that makes everything worth it. When the woman who is convinced she needs to lose weight suddenly grasps that what she is really after is a sense of belonging and support, that is a great accomplishment. When the man who finally lets himself grieve openly realizes most of his physical pain was connected to holding it all together/in, that is a great accomplishment. I love what I do, but I am not terribly attached to it staying the same. Maybe my great accomplishment is adaptability.


How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

Well, to add a bit to what I said earlier, I feel like my education in the English Department instilled in me a great capacity to see patterns and question hard lines in the sand. I can only help others identify where they are mired in old stories and habits because I have done that work myself, and everything I learned and explored at CSU helped me (in the words of Rilke) learn to live the questions. As much as my education frames and gives context to what and how I teach, it also informs who I am personally every day. I try to cultivate more awe and curiosity and let go of the need to have all the answers, and that began in my time there.


What did you like about the English program?

I loved my professors. I think across the board, as an undergrad and grad student there, I so appreciated the ways in which they inspired new thinking and new vision in me. Critical thinking became an emancipatory experience, freeing me from the resignation that things were necessarily or inevitably a particular way. And I think I found my own unique voice while there, and that voice was so supported and encouraged by great mentors in the program.


Why did you choose to study here?

As an undergrad, I basically chose CSU because I had hopped around schools and countries, and I was finally ready to just be in a place I loved. I was originally a double major Anthropology and English, but when I received a scholarship for my writing, I decided to just pursue English and the nonfiction writing I loved best. Once there, I loved it. After all the flitting around looking for the right program on paper, I found the right fit because I chose to prioritize my inner life and was met there by such stellar staff. The Women’s Studies program was also an essential part of my self discovery and focus as an undergrad and grad student. I returned to pursue my MA in 2002, because I wanted to focus on nonfiction writing and was delighted to be back.


Do you have a favorite story from your time with the English Department? Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department?

Wow. I have a few snippets. I had so many great teachers and friends there.

I remember my first writing workshop with John Calderazzo, and he handed back this lengthy thing I had written about my complex relationship with my father. He had circled one line and put a star next to it and wrote, “THIS is the story.” I will never forget that and how it taught me that we so often have to sort through a lot of surface stuff before we arrive at the real story.

Paul Trembath’s classes completely changed the course of my thinking and my work. In the words of Emily Dickinson, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” That was how I felt after those classes. Like something had been taken off and cleared out and I was able to see the poetry and dynamism of life in new ways.

As an undergrad, I was in the grad class for Virginia Woolf and wrote my first major paper on meaning being something that happens in the spaces between. I still pull that up online every now and then (The Matrix I think the online journal was called?), just to remind myself that this interest in how meaning is made has been a longtime passion!

I loved the early nonfiction workshops, before it became such a “thing.” I would be in class with 5 other people across such diverse life experiences rapping it out. It was so awesome to be with a firefighter, a single mom, and other nontraditional students whose insights and observations deepened all we did. Rebecca Skloot and I became friends and workshop mates at that time, and I have been so thrilled to watch her success with The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks.

I was told once by one professor that my mind works in constellations and cosmos. It was a great compliment and it was also her gentle warning that my thesis was spiraling out in too many directions! I am still like that. 🙂


Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors?

I am fortunate to still be in touch with a few, including John Calderazzo (with whom I led a retreat and hope to collaborate again)and my thesis chair and advisor Sarah Sloane (whose support of my work those two years was medicinal). I enjoy watching some of my dear friends and colleagues (like JILL!) across the ethers of social media.


What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?

It is a phenomenal program in which you can really find support for your passion, your voice, and your contribution to the world.


What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?

Let the inquiry unravel you, and enjoy the infinite possibilities that arise when you let go of the idea that you are supposed to know a darn thing. Pay attention to what you pay attention to and let that direct your focus in a meaningful way.


Since graduate school, you have continued to write, including some blogging. What does your writing process look like now? Do you consider your writing a practice like yoga, or part of your yoga practice? Can you tell us about the book you are working on?

Writing is absolutely a part of my practice as a yogi, just as I said yoga is a practice of writing and revision. Writing is a place for me to meet aspects of myself that might not have as much air time in my daily life, and it is a supreme practice of self study. When I write, and I mean really write, that small self drifts off and something else starts to speak up. In yoga, the practice is to become more firmly established in that truer/higher/primordial self that isn’t mere ego or opinion or aversion. Our “goal” is to think from, speak from, and act from that space more often, more naturally, with less effort. When I write, I often feel like that ancient part of me is speaking, and it can help reveal and revise the egoic chatter of my fears, insecurities, preferences, and biases. Writing is a way of clarifying how beautifully complex and tenuous we are.

I am a haphazard and erratic blogger, but I did create a blog named afer my thesis, (Un)Becoming Human. It’s a place I pull threads and muse about things related to my work and life. But yes, I am working on a book and have been for a while. Whilst I have had the great support and unwavering encouragement of an editor and publisher in NYC, I find that my process is often waylaid by the busyness of life. In some ways I think I am such a disciplined person, but my writing is entirely messy and unpredictable. When I write, I will write for hours and hours and forget to eat or drink water. But then I might not write for weeks on end. I am trying to dedicate one morning a week to writing, but I have learned over the years that I am someone who balks with too much structure. So, I use whatever is on hand, or Facebook, blogging, and other forums to jot down things as they come, and I have someone helping me cobble all that together for the book.

The book is essentially a compilation of essays that trace observations from my practice and teaching over all these years. It is an inquiry into what it is to embody and live the ideas of Yoga in a real world way. Not as the great sage, and not as a practical How To manual. Rather, it is an exploration, drawing from my personal and professional experiences, of what this stuff means in our ACTUAL day to day lives—lives of loss and grief, delight and discovery, heartbreak and injury, celebration and lamentation. Each chapter navigates a particular aspect of yogic practice by expanding and digging in deeper to the implications and possibilities there. For example, the first chapter is Savasana, the corpse pose, because (as I said earlier) it is usually when something heretofore stable has fallen away that we really come into our practice. And that chapter opens with the recounting of seeing my father’s corpse in the viewing prior to his cremation and knowing without a doubt that he was no longer there, though the form was. I explore what death is in small ways and what it evokes in us. Or there is a chapter on standing one leg balances that sifts through the various physical and symbolic effects of poses like “tree,” wherein we learn to recalibrate when what was once stable shifts. In that chapter I look at the actual amputation of my great dane, Peanut; divorce as amputation, and the loss of my father. While most of it is done, it still needs some fluffing and shaping, and I am notoriously slow to get things done. I need to be pushed! However, I do have to say, I have learned and changed so much over the years, and what I would have said 7 years ago is very different from what I say now. So, I truly believe that this time has been a necessary maturation process for me to articulate and share far more meaningful stuff. But, you know…there is a certain point when you see it’s perfectionism that is holding you back, and I am working to share more (thus my use of Facebook, etc) and learn to let it go.


What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I hike 5+ days a week. My time in the woods and my solitude are critical to my wellbeing and my work. I was raised a fairly feral kid, so I naturally gravitate to the wild for that sense of being lost and found. I love to travel in small and large circles, and of course I try to write whenever I have the time and space to settle in. These days, running a center and two training programs, meeting with clients and students, I seem to have woefully little “free” time, but I make it a point to take solitude and silence in wild places each week. My community of friends and family are amazing, so I spend a lot of time with my satsang—eating, laughing, celebrating life and sharing the sorrows.

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