On Not Consulting: Reflections from a Former (?) Consultant

"Crimson Sunset" -- from Wikimedia Commons.  

"Crimson Sunset" -- from Wikimedia Commons.  

This semester marks one of the few times in nearly seven years that I haven’t served as a writing consultant. In 2009, I began as a consultant when I was an undergraduate at Augusta University in Georgia. One of my professors, a young Renaissance scholar, had the unfortunate task of being placed in charge of the writing center when the director decided to abandon ship because of a dispute with the department leadership. In 2012 when I began studying for my Master’s degree at the University of Georgia, I worked in the Rankin-Smith Athletic Writing Center tutoring athletes. When I started my PhD here at the University of Texas at Austin, I leapt at the chance to work in the University Writing Center. This year, though, I’m managing Praxis and teaching a course, which, though I’m excited to be doing both of those things, have left me without the time necessary for consulting (also, I think it would exceed my university’s 30-hour employment rule for graduate students).

 It’s a strange feeling not consulting when it’s been a part of your identity for the better part of your adult life. Watching the other consultants meet new consultees and walk them back to the tables to have productive, vigorous, and engaging discussions about their papers and knowing that they helped their students to feel more confident about their work and being aware that it will likely be a long time before you do it again leaves me more than a little wistful. I tutored this summer, and when I wrapped up my last session with a repeat client who had been applying to medical school, I felt melancholy in a way that is unusual for me. That same day, another student brought me a hard copy of her senior thesis that we’d spent an entire semester together working on about three times a week. I’d watched it grow from inchoate notes to drafty prose to a tight, polished argument, and I’d watched the student grow from a writer for whom even basic composition was a frustrating chore to choosing adjectives and adverbs carefully and precisely. Self-indulgent though it might sound, writing center work makes you feel good because you get the chance to help students in ways that are tangible and useful to them.

For all of the exhaustion that comes with consulting—having to be constantly “on” and ready to say something insightful to help the student through the process, having to listen carefully as the student tells you what they want and make sure that you’re helping them in a way that’s productive for them—it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had outside of teaching.  You get the chance to help improve individual lives and writers

I guess what I want to convey with this short rumination is to insist that we, as tutors or consultants or whatever we want to call ourselves, be appreciative of the gift we’ve been given. This isn’t to say we generally aren’t (please don’t flood my inbox insisting that you are appreciative of your work in writing centers—I’m certain you are), but as I stop to reflect on what it means to consult, I’m grateful I’ve been given the opportunity. From the editing services and closets of the early days to the more technologically advanced centers of today that emphasize collaborative work, writing centers have developed into a field and service that effects real change in students’ lives. And yet, even as I wrote the preceding material, I betrayed an unconscious continued identification as a writing consultant (I know, I know, I could have framed it that way, but I didn't--that was from the heart, y'all), and I think that speaks to the important job that we in the writing center do—we transform not only students’ lives but our consultants’. My time consulting has inexorably changed how I think of myself as a scholar. As much as I love studying rhetoric and religious toleration and all the things on which I’m currently writing my dissertation, I always approach that material trying to figure out how learning it will make me a better consultant, teacher, and writer. Though I might not be consulting right now, I’ll always be a consultant. Thanks for reading. 

~James Garner