Five Minutes With … Gary Jaeger
Gary Jaeger could probably improve the writing in this magazine standing on his head. A philosopher, writing coach and yogi, Jaeger serves as the assistant director of the Writing Studio and senior lecturer in the philosophy department, as well as a yoga instructor at 12 South Yoga in Nashville. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and writing from Johns Hopkins University, Jaeger earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago. He says his work in philosophy and writing complement each other as both allow him to explore the power of argument while his yoga practice keeps him calm and focused.
What do you do at the Writing Studio?
I, along with the other directors of the Writing Studio, supervise a staff of around 30 writing consultants who meet one-on-one with people who want to discuss their writing projects. Much of our time as directors goes to training and mentoring our staff, but we also devote some of our energy to forming collaborations with other departments and programs on campus. In addition to our consultation services, the Writing Studio offers writing workshops and other programs like On Writing, where we interview professional writers, and Dinner and Draft, where we invite faculty to discuss their works-in-progress over dinner.
How many students do you work with each year and how are they benefitted?
Last year we had 4,102 appointments with 1,687 clients. Most of our clients are undergraduates, but we serve graduate students and faculty as well. Our clients come to us at all stages of the writing process. Clients who are just beginning a paper benefit from being able to talk through their inchoate thoughts. Clients who have already written a draft benefit from having a critical but sympathetic consultant read through that draft and engage them in conversation about the structure and strength of their arguments. We even see graduate students and faculty who are writing dissertations and book-length projects. These clients benefit from having regular meetings with the same consultant who can help keep track of how their projects are developing.
What’s the biggest issue students face in their writing?
Most students do not realize that academic writing is about making arguments. Each discipline makes arguments in its own way, but at its core all academic work seeks to make a novel contribution to its field by arguing that the current state of play isn’t quite good enough.
Most students do not realize that academic writing is about making arguments.
What’s a typical week like for you during the academic year?
Busy! During the school year I am up and writing before 5 a.m., sometimes as early as 4. This is the only way I can make any progress on my research and still make it into the office where my days are split between teaching and administrative duties. While on campus, I prepare and teach my classes, have regular meetings with the other directors of the Writing Studio and our collaborators, consult clients, see to the day-to-day operations of the studio, and attend philosophy department events. I also make time for yoga every day. Before coming to campus I practice pranayama (rhythmic control of the breath) for about 30 to 45 minutes. When I get home I practice asana (poses) for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
What courses do you teach in philosophy?
I mostly teach classes in ethics and political philosophy. I have taught introduction to ethics, contemporary ethical theory, social and political philosophy, contemporary political philosophy, and introduction to philosophy. I have also directed an independent reading course on Indian philosophy.
Tell us about your yoga teaching. How long have you been doing it? What do you get from practicing it and sharing it?
I went to my first yoga class when I was 16 years old. It was offered as a physical education elective in my high school and seemed like the best option for a 90-pound weakling. I didn’t become serious about my yoga practice until I started studying with an Iyengar yoga teacher about 12 years ago. It was significantly more profound and intelligent than any other method I had or have yet to encounter. Although yoga has made me fit, healthy, and nearly eliminated chronic back pain, the biggest reason for doing it is precisely this: it makes me calm, focused and alert. I would say it makes everything else in my busy life possible. I teach it because teaching helps me to learn. This is true of philosophy as well as yoga.
Have you ever had a student in one of your academic courses take your yoga classes?
I have had colleagues and graduate students from the philosophy department take my yoga classes, but I don’t think I have had a student from one of my philosophy courses take my yoga class. When I was teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I taught yoga as an academic course. They had an Iyengar yoga program in their dance department and I was allowed to teach a yoga class in addition to philosophy classes as part of my teaching load.
photo credit: John Russell