Monday, February 11

professor-ing, spring 2019

there were at least a dozen robins out in our backyard a minute ago, chirping away and pecking things out of the damp dirt.

I didn't notice when they left and I don't know where they've gone now. to someone else's backyard? some other patch of damp ground?

I'm working from home today, with the window in the den half-open and a dish of homemade granola (too crumbly to be bars, but I tried) on the table next to me.
 
there are revisions to focus on, but mainly I've been writing emails to send and posting comments on the blog for my graduate course.

did I write last semester about all the courses I was teaching? it looks like I did not-- not specifically anyway. not the way I've done for all my many semesters as a student. I'll make up for it now.

English 3230: Technical Composition
I taught two sections of this last fall as well, and I'll be teaching 3 sections this semester. Two are face-to-face, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we've almost reached the end of our first major project. Our next project will be a service-learning/community-engagement project built around a partnership with our university library. who knows if it will spark for my students the kind of gushy enthusiasm I felt about my first service-learning project way back in 2005/2006... but I'm excited about it anyway.

English 6560: Digital Cultures - Theory & Practice
this is my online graduate course, in which four delightful graduate students are enrolled. we are discussing various aspects of and scholarship and theorizings about digital culture over at https://engl6560.hcommons.org/ and meeting for video conferences every other week to discuss further. I'm enjoying it quite a lot and can't wait to see what kinds of projects these students come up with for the rest of the semester.

I have more new and exciting courses (undergraduate and graduate) lined up ahead of me for the next few terms. most of them are technical-writing-related, though I also get to adapt the digital cultures course for undergraduates next fall. I'll get to teach an advanced tech writing and editing sometime in 2020...  lots to look forward to.

being a teacher and not simultaneously a student is pretty much a million times better than doing both at once. teaching is still difficult, but I think I'm somehow slightly more sure of myself now that I have a different focus. my own scholarship has not been set aside, of course (in fact, I should be working on article revisions instead of blogging, probably), but rather than having all the pressure of three reading lists for grad classes + seminar papers to draft + my own scholarship to advance + teaching, it all feels more manageable and spacious and steady.

Sunday, January 13

goodbye, facebookland

this week I deactivated my 15-year-old facebook account.

why?

many reasons. mainly, it's a new year, time for trying new things. facebook's role in my recent life has largely been a passive, bad-habit-esque waste of time, and I'm increasingly convinced that its recent roles in spreading terrible ideologies and misleading nonsense makes it problematic for anyone to continue supporting it at all.

so I want to live a year or so truly without it and see what happens. perhaps I'll have more time to write and blog and exercise and knit and make phone calls.

speaking of more time for blogging, over the past months I have been (as is usual) sifting through a dozen different ideas of what I might blog about, with new ideas poking at my brain every few days, too. there are podcasts to blog about, and the upcoming semester to blog about, and gardening plans to blog about. but when? I can't feasibly blog about everything all at once, sadly.

for now, I guess I'm blogging about facebook.

somewhere in the depths of all my old blog drafts, I've had a collection of notes sitting here, from a talk given by a facebook executive or employee of some sort. it was hosted in the student union at Purdue University, where I sat and took notes in the blogger app on my old phone.

here's me, kicking off my mild resolution to blog here more often in 2019, attempting to reconstitute and expand these old notes and snippets into something intelligible and interesting.

facebook's goal/mission/quest/thing has been, for as long as I've heard them talking about having one, is to connect the world.

is this a noble and valiant thing for facebook to be doing? does it seem like a mission that we should trust facebook with?

well, in any case, the speaker opened by stating facebook's mission. and then he spoke excitedly about new developments like live video, virtual reality, and artificial intelligences. oh and about how many new jobs facebook was creating every day. hurray for tech jobs.

he also, unaviodably, had to address issues of privacy and tracking, and he did touch on the ethics of selling users' data to marketers. I'm reminded now, several facebook privacy and ethics scandals later, of this twitter thread about ethics and technology:
Gorcenski writes in her informal critique there that there are no universal codes of ethics. ethics standards are always situated. they're constructed, imperfect, with plenty of ambiguity-- often just enough ambiguity to make companies and other institutions feel halfway okay about carrying out very questionable actions in the world.

from my notes, I see that most of my interest and my strongest reactions to this talk had to do with what the speaker said about facebook-as-governing agent. he shared his experience dealing with the many challenges of managing, filtering, and/or censoring public and semi-public online expression across national borders. he reminded us that facebook has employees and users all over the world. what's legal and appropriate in one country doesn't always match what's legal and appropriate in others. but somehow, facebook's own community standards have to make the whole world happy, to at least some extent.
in negotiating with governments about how to enforce or uphold various local standards, the speaker explained, facebook does as much as they can to push their own values. yes, there are tensions between how a borderless online community wants to function and how more traditional global powers want to run their more traditional, border-bound nations.

facebook, the speaker emphasized, tries to be an agent of empowerment. a platform for making invisible things visible. shining light into dark corners. facilitating new and more transparent conversations. changing the balance of power.

and then the speaker said something about facebook hopefully having a major role in someday establishing some kind of global online government. after that, according to my notes, I typed out this:

"eeeeek."

does the world want and need to be connected by a central online platform, really? is the capitalist interest that facebook has in being the medium by which everyone is connected anything we can trust?

I'll end this post with two more brief thoughts (the second of which is more of a gesture towards some other people's thoughts, really).

1. it is worth admitting explicitly that the phone-typed notes I took on this nameless facebook employee's presentation are at least three years old at this point. I wish I had included the fellow's name and title and the date of the talk and all that, but I did not. it is also worth admitting that I have not included every single thing I made notes on. what I have done is shape the more timeless bits into a satisfying order and fit them carefully into real sentences. in any case, I make no pretense that my reconstituted representation of the talk and its mood is fully accurate.

2. one of the many awesome podcasts I've listened to inbetween semesters has been ZigZag's end-of-season offering, "If Capitalism and Socialism Had a Baby." they interview Rufus Pollock, who wrote a book called Open Revolution (which you can read online in PDF form over here). I love the ZigZag podcast, and their whole second season was a carnival of great interrogations and important questions about technology and humans. go listen to it!

Monday, November 26

November, nostalgia

I successfully spatchcocked and roasted a chicken last week. like this. all the leftovers from it have been eaten up, along with the leftovers of sesame rolls, vegetable gruyere gratin, roast broccoli, cream puffs, pumpkin pie, and shortbread cookies.


eating cold leftover chicken reminded me of so many long-ago moments. most surprisingly, somehow, I remembered my dad teaching me how to eat chicken. how to eat chicken doesn't seem like a thing one needs to be taught, yet I remember his voice and mannerisms explaining which bits are called gristle and which are meat, and pointing out the small chicken muscles that nestled in the corners and caves of the bones.

when we added a citrus glaze to the spiced shortbread cookies the other day, I had another shock of nostalgia, all vivid and unmistakable despite its utter lack of context or timeline. just the sights and smells of fluffy angel food cakes, the bright neon of food coloring, and somewhere nearby my paternal grandmother's presence. she was probably visiting for my brother's summer birthday or something. 

what are holidays for, if not for encapsulating and preserving all the random, imperfect, priceless snippets of nostalgia like these?

Tuesday, October 23

rhetorics of plaid


the mini podcast series Articles of Interest is still sorta new, but maybe a bunch of you have heard it already.

I hope they do a season two sometime eventually.

until then, I might just listen and re-listen to this episode all about plaid

plaid!

they reference the Scottish Register of Tartans, which I remember learning about during that summer I spent hanging out with Dr. Salvo and assorted other professional writing students in Dundee.

the most memorable bit from this podcast analysis of plaid and tartans, for me, is the moment when the show's creator, Avery Trufelman, notes the deceptively simple yet deeply complex nature of tartan.

that's why I've always liked it. I know I once said that there was no real reason, but that complexity is at least a little bit of a reason. as much as reasons for being really into plaid make any sense. it's really cool and interesting to me that this flat and fairly two-dimensional thing-- fabric or print or what have you-- also has so much depth to it.

anyway, listen to this show. and all the others in the series. but especially this one. I learned some neat historical and rhetorical things about tartan.

Monday, October 15

because poetry.

there's a scene in John Green's latest book, Turtles All The Way Down, where two teenagers sit next to an outdoor in-ground pool and the young man's simple bits of poetry, spoken off-the-cuff under the stars, seem to successfully unseat the young woman's (the protagonist's) spiraling, paralyzing anxiety.

it was a very lovely scene. and it made me think back to a headline I'd seen just a day or so earlier: "How Doctors Use Poetry."

upon first clicking that link to that headline, I read as far down as these few lines:
"...reciting poetry engages the primary reward circuitry in the brain, called the mesolimbic pathway. So does music—but, the researchers found, poetry elicited a unique response. While the mechanism is unclear, it’s been suggested that poetic, musical, and other nonpharmacologic adjuvant therapies can reduce pain..."
and then, a week or so later, I finally came back to read the whole thing. and eventually look up the cognitive neuroscience study the author references. I wanted to blog about this. because poetry.

because the idea of communication beyond the 'restricted' language of 'science' is interesting. because feelings and power and pathos and transformation feel important.

perhaps something about this time of year makes poetry feel especially necessary. seasons changing. colder, darker times pressing in upon us. stresses of the semester intensifying...

I often think I should read and savor more poetry more regularly. but sometimes it doesn't seem accessible or convenient. making space for poems isn't always easy.

our lovely local poets here at NSU have offered me an excuse for savoring plenty of poetry lately though. they're participating in a month-long poetry marathon to support a small indie non-profit literary press. one poem every day, for almost all of October. I like it. maybe there's something about knowing that poems have been written under a time constraint that makes them especially delicious and interesting.

almost all of these poems evoke some kind of emotion. some ask more patience of me than others. I like the ones that make me feel pried open, or guided dot by dot around a gallery of newness, or plunged into a deep ocean.

all the poems of the 30/30 poetry-fest are on one webpage, which makes it difficult to send you to the ones I like the most. you'll have to search a little bit for them. some of my favourites so far:
  • A Study in Time and Space / by Rebecca Macijeski
  • God owns a carwash in Iowa / by Ally Schwam
  • Two Heads / by Karen Greenbaum-Maya
  • Camelot’s Redemption / by Chad W. Lutz
  • If I could make this easy / by Jen Stewart Fueston

and there are still 15 more days of poems to be written! if you're into it, you can donate to the press and incentivize our lovely local poets this month, here and/or here.


more poetries, previously:
also, all of this poetical literary mashup film by Yulin Huang is very cool.

Thursday, September 27

endings, middles, randomness

September is nearing its rainy, grey end.

yesterday, I opened three windows in our house, and the gentle, humid breezes felt almost a little chilly. does this mean my sensitivities are fully transitioned to southern climate mode? that 72° Fahrenheit is on the cold side of things?

before classes started, I spent many mornings coloring. listening to podcasts. it was lovely, and I actually did finish some pages from this stained glass mandala book friend Patti sent me way back during prelims time.


I find I have less time for podcasts these days. my commute is 1/3 the length that it once was, unless I bike to campus-- and listening to podcasts while biking is probably an ill-advised course of action.

so instead of listening on the bus or in the car, I listen while I craft or color or clean.


or while I roadtrip to Arkansas.

it was in preparation for that roadtrip that I found this old-but-new-to-me podcast, Never Not Knitting. it seems to have run for 10 seasons between 2008 and 2016. one hundred episodes. and surprisingly, the host's blog is still around.

so far I've listened to 40something of those one hundred episodes. and also skimmed the whole accompanying blog and associated Ravelry content. I want to make a version of these mitts. and possibly this hat. and also someday be good enough to knit a whole sweater/cardigan or a nice top.

a few other new-to-me podcasts have joined my podcast queue recently, too. among them:
Science Update
The Daily Show: Ears Edition
and
Out on the Wire.

the first and last of these are inspiring me to eventually design some technical communication coursework around podcasting. 


eventually and soon, I also want to write about the final episode of one of the most unique scholarly podcasts out there: Masters of Text. now that I think about it, a review of that podcast might belong in a more scholarly venue than this blog. hmmmm. I shall have to ponder. maybe the answer could be both.

speaking of scholarly venues, I shall have a piece coming out soon as part of this fall's blog carnival with the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative. the short speculative little essay was originally spawned from a prickly little question my dissertation committee asked me last May, and it's called "Hypermediated Workscapes and the Digital Rhetorics of Personal Branding."

and speaking of short digital publications, I was poking around on Google Scholar the other day and found that this long-ago book review of Goldsmith's Uncreative Writing has been cited in an article about publishing information systems from the European Journal of Information Systems. how random.

Tuesday, September 4

witnesses, multiple

this blog has changed a whole bunch over its decade or so of existence. some of the changes are probably more obvious to some of you than to me.

if you have paid very close attention, you may know that I've referenced (twice!) the seed of an idea that once upon a time and eventually (today) would become this blogpost. back then, it was in draft form. and it stayed trapped like that in draft form for at least five years.

of course, now I've fiddled with the draft over and over again, for at least five years, and I cannot tell you what the original seed of the idea actually was.

five years ago I put the idea in a list of things I wanted to blog about: "something about Marc Chagall + 2 Corinthians 13:1" 

two years ago I listed it again, as something "about Chagall and repetition and shared-ness," alongside several other ideas, this time hinting that these might be ideas to give up on already.

whether or not I've given up on the idea remains to be seen. I'm writing this, but will any of what gets published in this blogpost match up with what I was thinking about in 2012?

my memory tells me that I may have been thinking about the remarkable sense of one day knowing nothing about an artist named Marc Chagall and the next day hearing seven different people mention the artist Marc Chagall. or it could be any artist. any name. any concept that's new and interesting. the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, it's called. while I didn't remember the term, I know I've learned it before. what I didn't know, and just now learned, is that the phenomenon got its name in 1994 from a West German terrorist group. interesting.


somewhere in between 2012 and 2016, I actually experienced some of Chagall's art. the images from that trip to the Chicago Art Institute are probably 40% of the reason this old draft of a blogpost has survived so long. 

the textual evidence that has accumulated here over the years tells me that past-amelia, at some point between then and now, was also thinking about ownership.

creative and intellectual property have long been scholarly and philosophical interests of mine. who owns things? when and how does the ownership of things make a difference? why?

Chagall has nothing in particular to do with these thoughts, I don't think. but he is an artist. this stained glass design is his work. nobody else's. his art exists in the world, and it belongs to him in some sense.

but also... it doesn't. Marc Chagall died a year and a half after I was born. his art belongs to his estate, perhaps. to art collectors. it is owned by other people. museums, galleries.
 

and even if Marc Chagall were still alive, the galleries and museums and collectors and other audiences would could still own--in some sense--this art.

there are many kinds of ownership, just as there are many kinds of authorship, performance, and other art-making-ship.

if not to share some of one's own art with someone else, why does anyone make art?
 
here are a few other pieces of art and history we saw in Chicago five years ago:


the Art Institute's ownership of the Chagall stained glass piece, and of every other piece of art in their grand space, has made a difference to my experience of Chagall and of life. which is nice. I like to think that art (and non-art too, probably) gathers more and more meaning when more people experience it. more witnesses, more part-owners, more connectedness. maybe.

and now, if the sudden evening downpour has paused, it is time to walk the pug, make dinner, and bake a cake.

Saturday, August 18

muscle memory

this song by the singer-actor-musician-person Hilary Duff seems to play every time I stop at the local grocery store. you can listen to it over here if you don't remember how it goes.

I, somehow, remember it pretty well now that I keep hearing it.

even on first re-hearing it a few weeks ago, it astonished me how deeply and fully I recognize and remember this song. this song from 2003 that I don't have particular memories connected to or anything. as far as I remember, it was just popular back then. on the radio all the time.

and now it seems to be on all the time again. or the grocery store has limited music on rotation. who knows.

does anyone still listen to music on the radio?

lately I have been biking around town and to campus a little bit. around the neighborhood for exercise. across the river for lunch.

the feeling of being on a bike in a small college town takes me back to the early 2000s in a way similar to the lyrics of "So Yesterday," but it is much less surprising that this happens. muscle memory is supposed to be deep. riding a bike is supposed to be unforgettable.

as a Purdue student, I think I biked to campus a total of six times the whole five years I was there. West Lafayette had too many steep hills in it.

Logan, Utah also had some steep hills (like the one this building sat on), but I was younger back then and it wasn't so hot and humid all the time either.

as an undergraduate, too, I had particularly limited choices about transportation. unless the car-owning people in my life were willing to offer rides, I had to bike or bus or walk myself everywhere. and thankfully there were wide roads and sidewalks and plenty of space for all those things. and free buses, too. (I miss a good handful of things about Indiana now that it's almost 2 months since we left it, and the relatively sleek public transport is among that handful of things.)

the feeling of being on a bike is a somewhat precarious feeling. balancing. weaving. it's familiar, but my muscles and my breathing are still readjusting.

a new fall semester always requires readjusting. remembering, but also putting away the past to face new things. it probably feels more precarious than it really is.

Thursday, August 9

cryptocurrency, female empowerment, + podcasts as technical communication

I am loving this podcast: https://zigzagpod.com/

especially this recent episode of listener stories and general reflection.

and especially Ms. Manoush Zamarodi's response in that episode (around the 19:01 mark) to a listener who wrote in to criticize the hosts' allegedly "acting like silly dumb girls." as she read his letter aloud, I waited, eagerly and impatiently hoping to hear a rebuttal pointing out just how sexist and short-sighted it is to code female laughter as automatically juvenile, thoughtless, idiotic, or stupid, or as some sort of coy, superficial act. Zamarodi is subtler than I think I would have been in her response, but she makes much the same point: there's not one single societally-approved way of sounding or acting intelligent.

she says, "we laugh because we know it's okay not to know everything, that this is a real-time exploration, an investigation into changes that are happening in tech and our culture. And you know what, we don't care if it's not a good look, because it's who we are, and I'm sorry if you find that tiresome. But I really do hope you will keep listening and get used to what strong, intelligent women sometimes sound like. We're being real. And maybe you just haven't heard women in such an up-close and transparent, authentic way before."

thank you for that, Manoush.

the whole podcast so far is wonderful stuff to listen to. people, real experiences, uncertainty, trying new things. plus you get to learn a little bit about blockchain technology and journalism and the future.

I got thinking the other day that this podcast, personal and documentary-ish though it may be, is a great example of technical communication.

podcasts-as-technical-communication is a preoccupation of mine generally, given my scholarly immersion in the later and my personal enjoyment of the former. I want to write more about ZigZag and tech comm someday, but I think that post needs more thinking time.

for now... what other podcasts could be counted (at least in some way) as technical communication? let us explore my subscription list of 30+ podcasts and see what else we find.

most obvious examples:

10-Minute Tech Comm
interviews with scholars and practitioners of technical communication. this makes it more meta, perhaps, but it still counts as sharing information about technical topics. (also--I was in an episode, did I mention that?)

RadioLab 
presenting science-y information and stories in creative narrative forms. definitely a form of public tech comm.

What Trump Can Teach us about Con Law
legal communication is arguably a more narrow sub-discipline than most, but law is very technical. Roman and Elizabeth break it down and make it relevant. that counts.

The Infinite Monkey Cageinformal, comedy-infused, very science-y discussion panels, with episodes based on a theme like space travel or the immune system. the show mixes informative with entertaining very well.


and then a few slightly less-obvious examples:

Lingthusiasm
there's a lot of technical, science-y stuff related to how we use language (mouths and tongues and air and frequencies, not to mention unicode and twitter). and though it's sort of hard to think of it as such, language is a technology in its own right. Gretchen and Lauren make all that technical stuff very fun. (sidenote, I kind of can't wait to read the book Gretchen is working on.)

Ways of Hearing
music and sound and how our bodies and technologies mediate those things. so much about this is inherently technical: see above.

The Sporkful
food and cooking = technologies. most of the time this little show is human-interest stories and entertainment, but Mr. Pashman gets pretty technical about all kinds of food things every so often. they even settle debates from listeners about the practical ethics of grocery store lines and free ice cream samples.

Succulent FAQ podcast
horticulture and plant science, even if discussed mainly in hobby-ist terms, count as technical topics, I say. this one is more how-to than any of my other examples, so that makes it especially similar to traditional tech comm.

others I can think of but don't subscribe to myself-- Planet Money, TED Radio Hour (and most TED talks in general), Song Exploder, StartUp, and Car Talk (even if it is all re-runs now).

I'm sure there are dozens more out there, ranging from specifically how-to-ish all the way up to generally educational in some way. can you help me think of more? feel free to add to the list.

Thursday, August 2

reflect, revise, reset

I am preparing to teach an online technical communication course for a handful of graduate students.

it is an exciting and slightly daunting prospect, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity. teaching online is fun. teaching graduate students will be new. hopefully I will love it. hopefully the students will love it too, at least a little bit.

as I've started putting together assignment sheets and syllabus sections, I've gone back to the files I have from my first semesters as a graduate student, way back seven years ago. my experiences from then are inspiring my preparations now in a messy but helpful sort of way.

the class I will be teaching is not going to be exactly like the first technical communication course I took in 2011. there are no PhD students at my new Louisiana institution, and there isn't quite a full tech comm graduate program, either. we offer a certificate in Writing for Business, Industry, and Technology and a related MA degree in Writing and Linguistics. my work here will fit into the little tech-comm-shaped niches around and among those programs and the offerings for our undergraduate emphasis in professional writing.

it's been interesting to look back at the work I did as a brand new graduate course and revisit the thoughts I was thinking about everything I was learning. one of the essays I turned in to Dr. Kelli Cargile Cook at Texas Tech in 2011 starts out, after one boring sentence that sets the stage, with a million semi-rhetorical questions:
"Who is qualified to create or enforce a definition of technical writing? In the face of rapidly changing technologies, will a static definition be at all important or useful? What is the clearest, most accurate way to make sense of our place as people who write and communicate among extremely diverse communities? What commonalities among those communities are worth emphasizing? Are any of the basic truths about technical communication universal enough build a profession upon? Will it be possible to include all the essentials without being completely vague? These questions and many more continue to shape the process of figuring out who we are, what we do, and why it matters."
that's six questions, all crammed into one opening paragraph. another professor of mine, Dr. Richard Johnson-Sheehan, always gave me pointed critiques when I included too many rhetorical questions in essays for his courses at Purdue: "your reader is going to lose patience with these," he would say, implying his own quickly waning interest.

I think I've learned to agree with him, by now. I do still love questions, but I understand now that they can be a tiresomely slow way to introduce one's main point.

one day soon I may remediate that whole long, rambly essay into a less-long, less-rambly blogpost. that could be fun. for me anyway. possibly useful for anyone out there who might wonder what I really think I'm doing with my academic life, too.

definitions of technical communication (and of rhetoric, or writing, or art) are still, forever, being debated. my own place in this disciplinary debate is still debatable too. malleable. amorphous. emerging.


I know a lot more now than I did in 2011. and I know much, much more now than I did seven years before that when I returned from studying abroad, declared myself an English major at Utah State University, and eventually started this blog. a whole decade and a half of experience has ways of teaching one things. sometimes without you even noticing.

it's August, 2018. new things are happening. the world and me look so different than they used to. it feels like a beginning--expansive, wild, wide, and uncharted. a chance for new rules. better habits. but it's hard to know what the best new habits might be. so much of this new life is going to be unfamiliar for a while. disorienting.

teaching experience and academic credentials have piled up on top of me over the years. those things have given me some grounding amid all the chaos of finishing one thing and beginning another. the transition has felt long. May 18 was almost a dozen weeks ago, and my new semester at Northwestern State is still weeks away. as much as this feels like a beginning, it's just as much middle, and partially an ending, too. as soon as August 4 gets here and Purdue's commencement ceremonies are over, I'll officially officially be Dr. Amelia Chesley, with a real PhD and a diploma in the mail, with an exciting tenure-track job as an Assistant Professor. soon enough I'll have this office in Keyser Hall arranged just how I want it. I'll have a phone in that office, and faculty meetings to go to and everything. 


I still have a million things to learn, at least.