Saturday, August 20

fall semester, 2016

no courses to describe this time around. just teaching some of same old things, working on learning how to be a real academic.

this is the weekend before the semester officially begins, and for days campus has been buzzing with students and faculty and that grand, subtle feeling of autumn ambition and learning-ness that I have loved for so long. it has been an exciting week.

I have just finalized the syllabus and assignments for my Business Writing class.

I am making lists and planning to dedicate this much work time to libraries, that much to notebooks, just enough to the undergraduates, and all the leftover time to my research gig.

and after work I will bake and eat, and read more stories, and walk and daydream, and water all the plants on my windowsills.

in sixteen weeks I'll be better at being a real academic. and it might be snowing.

it feels so good to be where I am. lucky me.

Monday, August 8

reflections on teaching online

the online summer class I've been teaching ended last Friday, when all the last final projects got turned in. as of five seconds ago, all the grades are tallied and posted and submitted. hurrah! two weeks til fall classes start...

did any sort of learning happen over those 8 weeks of summer term? on my end, definitely yes. I hadn't taught online before. during the spring and beginning of the summer I attended conference panels galore about online writing instruction. my wonderful mentor Kelli Cargile Cook spoke about the best practices she's developed and studied over her career. friend David Grover from Texas Tech presented on his dissertation research--all about how underprepared graduate students are when they get the chance to teach writing online. at Computers & Writing, I met the brilliant and generous people behind the OWI community website. so many awesome resources and inspirations. it was terrifying, but encouraging.

I was arguably more prepared (on paper, anyhow) for this course than for anything else I've ever taught in my life. most other things I've ever taught involved sticky notes with tentative 6-point outlines and thoughts, all scribbled down mere hours before the lesson. sticky notes don't work for online classes, though. instead, there were dozens of PDFs, a screencast video introduction, a website thing, bits of Blackboard fiddling, many many emails, and many Slack messages.

the slick, fancy Slack messaging app suggested itself as an especially appropriate online teaching tool for professional writing. I'd been hearing about the app on all the podcast advertisements, and I figured my bundle of Business Writing students could benefit from some exposure to it. with help from friend Michael, I poked around and tested things out and got everything set up just how I needed it for the various sections and projects of the class. hosting the whole class within Slack was disorienting for students at first, but most of them caught on quickly and enjoyed the interface. we didn't have quite as much fun as this Zach Whalen fellow seemed to have with his students on Slack, but ah well.

as the course got busier and summer ticked itself relentlessly into the past, I found myself wishing I could be sure my students were reading the announcements I made and the updates I posted. is there such a tracking device? my search just now brought me to this detailed list of Slack shortcuts and tips. there is a way to see who has logged in to Slack-- I'll have to explore that option next semester. it may or may not tell me who has read which channels. this piece might be something to share with students as they set up their Slack accounts for my class--hopefully they'd find it helpful. I need to remember the "reminder" function and the "pin file" function, for important information that students might lose track of too easily. the user-name policy also sounds pretty useful-- one way to maintain a sense of professionalism.

benefits a face-to-face class include students seeing each other and talking to each other a lot more, instead of merely performing for me and my syllabus of requirements. I'm not sure how well my students got to know each other. I did create an "off-topic" channel and let students have it to themselves (I checked now that class is over to find 4 lonely little posts there). our Slack space stayed very to-the-point and business-oriented, a place where work got submitted and readings got "discussed" within minimum wordcounts and with little dialogue. next semester, I'll have to incentivize more student-to-student communication and discussion. this boils down to an odd form of pandering bribery and forced-ness, which my soul squirms and recoils about just a little. I like to think that as an undergraduate student I would have been utterly happy to talk to my fellow students of my own accord (very not true). who needs incentives for that? but that's my vaguely-more-enlightened and far-less-shy gradstudent self talking.

my course was 99% asynchronous, and I so wished that I could have all 17 of my students in one channel at the same time. more focused, immediate discussion could have been way more useful. all the best online courses I've ever taken have included a synchronous Skype or chat-room element. but the way online courses are marketed in this program means students sign up expecting to work at their own paces and not expecting to show up to be counted at any particular time. because of that, I didn't feel like I could design a course with much, if any, synchronous discussion time in it at all. this summer, I asked students to sign up for one-on-one video conferences, so at least there'd be a sliver of synchronous discussion. this worked pretty well. for next semester, I may consider assigning small-group conference meetings, perhaps to discuss peer review work more directly. the institutional constraint here is a challenge to work around. perhaps it deserves to be brought up with my supervisors and program directors. we'll see.

this weekend I talked with a few potential community partners about linking my fall Business Writing assignments to their local, real-world business contexts and needs. it's lovely to know people who run small, local businesses in this lovely college town. wish me luck getting myself organized to incorporate some of those ideas for the next batch of scattered, disembodied online students.

Thursday, July 14


on the bus the other morning, a fellow hopped on at the 7th street stop and sat down with a dense, serious-looking paperback. not much later, a woman at 3rd street waved for the bus and sat down next to the man with the paperback. she wore a pink skirt. she had her own paperback--a more colorful one than his. she put a hand on his shoulder and kissed him, and they both settled in their seats to read as the bus turned some corners and crossed the river to the west side of town.

it was a nice moment to observe, the niceness of which reminds me somewhat of a time last Christmas when I watched my little sister and her husband discuss complicated beyond-me modeling software of some sort-- technical things, math and physics and methods of calculation.

the niceness of observable well-matchedness, I guess it is.

Thursday, July 7

a negative amount of sense

I don't know enough about anything. I don't know enough. this is both true and an excuse to stand back, to distantly question and wonder, to pretend for a while to put myself in other people's shoes and to still fail at understanding why they do this or that, and then to shrug those other perspectives away because I can't know enough about anything.

I don't watch the news. I get news filtered through friends and internet icons. I stay out of it; I have the privilege of class and skin color and education enough to stay out of the news and let my little life sail on. the most affecting mishap I've had to personally deal with lately was watching one of my cute handmade clay bowls slip off the counter and shatter into pieces. I'll make a new one. it'll probably be just the same as the old one.

what are broken dishes when meanwhile, death threats and gun violence and rape and bigotry, brutality, corruption, hatred, and anger seem to fill the world and the internet? there is all this anger and rage and tragedy, all swirling around my privilege and the blissful ignorance it tends to afford.

have you seen this video?

I keep re-watching it, wanting to re-watch it and re-watch it as if my re-watching it might mean that everyone else were watching it, learning something.

I should be grading student drafts, and working on my own drafts, yet I feel like I have to write this instead. and what do I really want to do in a post like this? what can I even hope to halfway-decently attempt, when writers more invested and more practiced and more attended-to than I will probably ever be are already saying more powerful and more meaningful things than I could about this latest ugliness?

I remember marveling--two years ago, November 2014--at this court decision. it made negative amounts of sense. I don't know enough about anything, but I remember that I started looking at uniformed officers differently that year. I told friend Chris, as we watched people on twitter rage and mourn, that I wanted to walk over to our municipal building on 6th and South Street, where all those cop cars are always parked outside, and I wanted to stop at least one officer and ask them questions, and hope they'd sit down and take time for answering. I didn't. I haven't. I still pause when I see uniformed officers, still wonder to the end of the sky what they think about all of this swirling injustice and death. I'm sure there would be miles of red tape, or at least buckets of busy dismissiveness, if not paranoia about whether I'd be likely to spin their comments into some kind of sensational media story.

I am not a journalist. I don't watch the news. I have too many silly podcasts to listen to. today, it happened to be this one from a Sporkful series on Other People's Food. an interview and an audio collage about segregation. about the negative amounts of sense that used to mean strictly separate water fountains, train cars, restrooms, and--more happily--about the activism that eventually changed things.

my instinct is to question. my reactions are questions. why? why? why not talk, and listen, and leave your weapons out of it? why make excuses, why not call this systemic awfulness what it is? why not confront the racism in it? wouldn't it be better to confront and wrestle with, rather than ignore and excuse and backpedal and victim-blame and cover-up? why not trust people? why not put some real faith in the "innocent until proven guilty" principle? why panic? why suspect the worst? why put this woman in handcuffs, why not trust her to keep cooperating? why not trust people? why not treat people like they are, can be, will be good?

I keep thinking about my interactions with uniformed officers. speeding tickets. warnings. nothing bloody, nothing that warrants any screaming. I keep thinking that if I were pulled over for a burned out taillight, I would have been trusted to stand and wait and do as I was told--no handcuffs, no guns. more patience. I would be suspected of nothing beyond failing to maintain a tiny lightbulb within my vehicle. my skin color makes it safer and calmer and pretty much normal, if inconvenient, for me to interact with law enforcement people if I ever have to, and that is puzzlingly unfair beyond unfair.

what am I doing with a post like this? I am reacting. I don't know enough about anything--not about any victim or any officer, not about what the weather is like in Baton Rouge or in Minneapolis this week, not about the political or legal webs within which the cities I've lived in are being maintained, and not at all enough about the biases that insidiously sit in my own head. I do not know who wrote all the news articles or what kind of slant their publishers may have expected. I do not know exactly what kind of methods were used in compiling which kinds of data from what sources. I do not know if the world will ever be different enough from the depressing way it is for certain groups of people in this country.

but ever since this Hank Green fellow made this video about democratic engagement I have been meaning to use up some paper and ink and stamps with more pointed and purposeful reactions to things. now is all there is, so it may as well be now.

Wednesday, June 29


this is the song playing in the background:

it's from the best Muse album--my most favourite one because it was my first--the one called Absolution, and it is playing downstairs because freund Jeremiah put it on. he is making lunch. I am writing. (blogging counts as writing--it so does. especially when it's been three weeks since I last wrote anything here.)

so: an update. people use blogs for that sort of thing, it seems. I more usually use mine for pseudo-academic musing, but today, an update. there are drafts waiting for finishing, of course. one about facebook, one about the word "defense," and three about books I've read or am reading. snippets about human-technology, about collaboration and commitment. those will have to wait til next week. or next month.

for now, a string of memories and memories-to-be from various facets of this amelia's life.

I visited northern Michigan a few weeks ago. it was a glorious mix of misty, cool, drizzly summer shower and sparkling, steady, beating sunshine. there was hiking, dunes, kayaking, lakes, and plenty of laying around on a beach reading.

I'm teaching an online class. it is pretty nice to teach from wherever, wearing whatever, responding to students as needed. we are three weeks into this eight-week course. I hope we all get through it happily and that some sort of learning happens on all sides.

my research team and I designed a pretty poster to hang at a conference this summer. not my typical communication/English/humanities conference, but the American Society of Engineering Education conference. the poster is there this week, along with a few of my colleagues. I'm staying home to write and write and write an article or two or three.

dear Chris and I chipped away at a few more levels of Portal 2 on Friday. every six or twelve or nineteen months or so, I manage to make time for a videogame. keeps things balanced.

dear Chalice visited last week, too! we wandered the sweltering little town of Lafayette for a few days, exploring a few restaurants I hadn't been to before, dipping bread in peppered olive oil at one I hadn't been to for many months. it was a grand few days hosting her and Dan. 

most of the corners and edges surrounding these fun bits of my life are eaten up with writing and meetings about writing. I like it that way, even if it means I'm always, no matter what, inhaling and exhaling the feeling that I should be writing. 

Sunday, June 5

summer weekend, so far

it has been a week of ups and downs and chaos, post-vacation highs and crunch-time woes. but slivers of wonderfulness got mixed in with the rest. luckily.

new pots for some plants. rain in the morning.

farmers' market wandering, in all the drizzle.

I bought one pumpkin-chocolate-chip muffin to go along with my daydreams about chai and frothy hot chocolate. and I came home with interesting-looking jam (peaches and strawberries and cherry and cranberry and raspberries? that is so much for one jar of jam), a big pint of tart strawberries, and some veggie pasta.

it rained more and more and more on the way home.

and then the day got eaten up, mostly by all the summer teaching prep, but also a little bit by LibriVox recording. more poems.

earlier this evening I saw the very first firefly I have seen since last summer. always delightful, the glow and fade and flight of those bugs. there was one, then another. I didn't stay out to see more. tonight, the sight of fireflies flying is entangled with old memories that surprise me with their rusted, pokey edges, un-kempt, un-sharpened, but cutting enough even after sleeping so long underneath so many others.

still, fireflies. enjoy the fireflies while they're around.

Friday, May 27

soaking-in and stirring-up

friend Patti and I have driven miles and miles and miles in the last week. across all the states between Indiana and upstate New York. up and around to Toronto, and back, and across and through and along. I'll put up photos eventually. there has been ice cream and yoga and wonderful views and confusing traffic and much adventure.

who was it who told me about David Antin?
{ this is a photograph of northwest Missouri from ten years ago. random, I know. }

it was someone at the Digital Humanities Symposium I went to during finals week, earlier this month. someone was talking about genre and medium and sound recordings. it was someone making a point about what poetry is, and as they did so I wrote down a mis-spelled version of the poet's name on my hand.

reading David Antin poems in pdf does not seem very fun. I will have to consult the library.

in the meantime, when Patti and I are not on our way from here to there in a car, and when I have not been writing article drafts and planning my summer teaching adventures, I have been reading various other things. books I picked up at publishers' exhibit halls, books Patti passed on to me after she read them for the tournament of books, and books that stowed away in Patti's trunk when we left the states.

a list:

Gold, Fame, Citrus (irritating in spots, otherwise good)
So You've Been Publicly Shamed (rambly yet thought-provoking enough)
Between the World and Me (I want my dad to read this)
Go Ahead & Like It (lovely, evocative, simple)
The New World (bewildering and sudden)
Our Souls at Night (sweet. poignant, even)
Bats of the Republic (a puzzle)
Information Doesn't Want to be Free (inspiration-sparking)
The Mermaid's Sister (tedious, vague, bleh)
The Blue Hour (poetry snippets, dark, tattered)

only two of those are non-fiction, everyone. and only one of them can at all be considered research/dissertation-related. but don't worry. I spent three and a half days at a marvelous Computers & Writing conference. I learned so much, took so many notes, resolved to do so many things, and have plenty of whirring ideas caged up for later use. research/dissertation-land will not be abandoned.

this David Antin fellow does not 'write' his poetry. he talks it. oral poetical rambling, recorded and transcribed, and then published.

that sort of poetry is not a thing. it is an event, a production.

but how dare we trap any piece of writing in nouns?

processes. hows, not whats. and I have so many questions about how. why? how? those are where my questioning mind goes. why speak your poetry instead of write, type, paint it?

well, why not?

I was about to wish for my summer to have just as much writing and creating in it as reading and consuming. but how would I measure that, when the reading and soaking-in is part of the writing and building? how would it make sense to compare? I could force it to, I suppose... but it might be more interesting not to.

for now, I have picked up Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway, another stowaway book from Patti's trunk. its book jacket promises fairy-tale twists in an aloof and mysterious vein, and its first section title seems to be "The Golden Afternoons." I hope it is good.

Thursday, May 12

record, erase, re-record

my babysteps into the world of LibriVox volunteering are going alright, so far. only one of the projects I've been working on has been completed this year-- a collection of Sappho's poems, translated by a fellow with the awesome name of Bliss Carman. I was the designated proof-listener for that recording. I'm also signed up to proof-listen these three other projects:

Poems by Adam Lindsay Gordon (about half finished)
The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night, Vol. 8, translated by Richard Francis Burton (just getting started)
A Chinese Wonder Book by Norman Hinsdale Pitman (yet to see any progress)

listening to poems is great. they are almost all somewhere between 1 and 5 minutes long, and very quick to check.

I've recorded some poems, too. the first recordings I made were from a collection called Gleams of Sunshine by the Canadian minister Joseph Horatio Chant. I signed up to do three of his pieces: "Niagara's Rainbow," "My Sister Nell and I" (which was kind of depressing), and "Gather the Wayside Flowers." my sections are all done and proofed, but the whole collection is still in progress.

I'm now working on recording a whole spat of poems by Francis Thompson. apparently he might have been an infamous murderer? yikes. so far the poetry I've read isn't so scandalous--just chock full of classical allusions and fanciful introspections about love and beauty. yesterday, I noticed this line in the third of my assigned series--an ode to a goddess:

"O therefore you who are / What words, being to such mysteries / As raiment to the body is, / Should rather hide than tell"

interesting to think of words as the curtains and clothing of mystery. language obscuring but also accentuating the body of thought. I am remembering conversations I've had with friend Eric, the linguist, about what language happens to do for us, and how we force it into the service of our ideas. he would probably have more detailed things to say about the potential for words to cover up just as much as they might uncover.

all these thoughts want to be linked up with my memory of this arresting and bewildering art installation, Zeno Writing. dear Patti and I saw it in Houston last month. searching for it just now, I found a nice review of the piece from several years ago.

the Museum of Fine Arts - Houston posts some words about the Kentridge installation. Amber Ladd's review adds a bunch more words. my few words here might count, if I could think of what else to say about the film. words seem inadequate. but I can think of more descriptors if I try: stark. engrossing. looped. unwinding. none of these will convey enough of the room and the sound and the feeling of the art. if you go watch this other piece by the same artist, you might get a small sense of it. something more direct than words.

Zeno Writing is remixed from a book, it seems. The Confessions of Zeno, by Italo Svevo, published in 1923, originally in Italian. the book is probably in the public domain, given that date. but its translation may not be. for whatever reason or lack thereof, there is no LibriVox recording of it yet. maybe someday, though.

my other, non-poetical LibriVox recording work includes two whimsical, rambly chapters from British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions, by Wirt Sikes, and the preface and introduction to The Art of Bookbinding by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf. these are longer book projects, so it will be a while before they're finished and released in the LibriVox catalogue.

within the next week or so I need to get to chapter 25 of Anne of Green Gables and chapters 20 and 27 of Little Women. how could I not sign up to work on those recordings?

hey, you could join in and record some too. everyone is welcome.

Thursday, May 5

the impossibility of defaultlessness

it seems so easy to be in a marvelously good mood when one is recovered from awful sickness. the work of spring semester is over. I have little margins of space all around in which to read whatever I want. and today is the first day in a week that I haven't felt like a half-rotten zombie full of slime.

so today I attended the second half of a Digital Humanities Symposium. it was exciting--interdisciplinary and spark-full--and there were pastries, too.

I might call myself a newly minted fan-girl of Amanda Visconti, a DH scholar with Purdue's libraries, who talked about her dissertation project, Infinite Ulysses. social reading, they call this. digital text, networked, layered with your reactions and my reactions and anyone else's.

socially-mediated, communal reading experience. Michael Widner from Stanford talked about it too, in the context of his project Lacuna. I have so many questions about this tool that I did not ask during the question-time of the last panel. would it work for a technical writing class? would it work for an online class? can I download it and play around with it on my own for a week or so?

during his presentation, Widner made a small aside about default settings. in building Lacuna, he and his team had millions of decisions to make about how it would function for users. as students add reading notes and annotations to these digital texts, what kind of tags should they be able to chose from in categorizing those notes? should annotations be public by default, or private? in their user testing, it turned out that unless a category tag is selected by default, most users won't select any. if readers' annotations are set by default to public, most of them stay that way. if the default setting is private, most of them stay that way. based on these observations, Widner's comment/advice was: "whatever the default is, that's what most users will do, so your defaults should promote the kind of engagement you want to see."

ah, the weight of those decisions. it's arbitrary, to some extent, which little settings are default or not. privileged, or not.

at this little comment, my brain started whirring and wondering. Widner described various options they'd tried out as the defaults for the Lacuna reading environment. only one arrangement of settings can be default at once though--that's just how it seems to work.

and then I wondered, what if we wanted defaultlessness? no defaults at all--nothing privileged or pre-set for anyone... some purely customizable, blank, open, transparent, full-of-possibility canvas of un-made decisions?

it wouldn't work. it wouldn't ever work. nobody would ever get anything done, if they had to set their own defaults from scratch.

what would 'from scratch' even mean, in a default-less world?

these thoughts reminded me of these thoughts. another word for default mode might be dominant. the default orthography for most sentences includes a capitalized first word and a period at the end. the dominant discourse about education is that official degrees from official institutions are pretty darn valuable. these aren't the only ways of working with sentences or the only ways of learning things.

my dad used to tell us, don't live your life on auto-pilot. don't walk around on default. usually the context was some kind of cleaning frenzy, and the subtext swirling around in my memory, at least, implies that a default life is one that won't stay very neat or tidy, one that might not look very respectable to any important visitors who stop by. I'm sure that's not all he meant, though. a default life is one where you give away all your choices. or one where you don't think enough about making any choices at all, even when you have the chance.

for anyone to live a non-default life, there have to be some default settings to start with, I guess. I wonder how many different defaults there are out there. mine probably weren't the same as everybody's.

Friday, April 22

stuck reading

if you would, my dear audience, take a moment and read (or skim, whichever) two pieces of internet journalism-ish writing.

first, a year-old personal blogpost by Nicky Case piece, once that I might be tempted to assign as reading for students someday. it is about rhetoric without using the word, though Aristotle's ethos, pathos, and logos are in there everywhere.
The Science of Social Change.

and second, Astra Taylor's article about the terminologies wrapped up in trying to change the world.
Against Activism.

these were recommended to me in the reverse order that I've just recommended them to you in. I read them in this order though-- they are both long (for things-published-on-the-internet, anyway), but the playful, casual tone and the sans-serif of the Case piece made it easier. the curly, dense criticism of the other was not the most enticing for my distracted end-of-semester brain.

pertinent (says me) excerpts from each:

...for most people claiming to be 'apolitical,' it's usually just code for 'don't challenge the status quo.'  
if we want to make social change, the logical content of an argument is crucial, but not enough. We need to carefully and compassionately(!!!) craft the emotional content, too.

... for it matters less what we call ourselves and more what we do...
In our increasingly sorted and labeled society, activists are analogous to skateboarders or foodies or dead heads, each inhabiting a particular niche in America’s grand and heterogeneous cultural ecosystem [...]. Worse still, Smucker contends, is the fact that many activists seem to relish their marginalization, interpreting their small numbers as evidence of their specialness, their membership in an exclusive and righteous clique, effectiveness be damned.
the vagueness and politics of the word activism are not the only hangups I personally have. my own privileges (privileges of skin and body, of citizenship and education) have bred lots of apathy, it seems. it's not that I blatantly don't want to challenge the status quo... but I allow myself to wonder if it's worth the effort. it's not that I wouldn't mind if the status quo got challenged to bits... but am I haven't felt any pressing obligation to get involved. do I think I should? do you think I should?

my answers to that question changes from day to day. yes, the world needs changing. yes, it can be changed--I think I believe that. or do I? can it? if the world--or even a piece of it--changes for me or for you or for anyone, will the change stick, or will everything just change back next week?

most days, I am having too much fun thinking about all of this to do very much that might change the world in an obvious way.

maybe I'll work on this. the thing is, all the things I really most deeply seem to want to change about the world may not make sense to very many people. could we kill the custom of applauding so much for so many things? can waterslides be prettier on the outside?

perhaps that's an excuse though. change is difficult.

less relatedly, I'm also in the middle of reading this piece on humans + world + time by Glenna Albrecht. if you finish reading it before I do, tell me what you think. or tell me what you think anyway.