Tuesday, September 17

back and forth-ness

I pulled my high school journal out of its place on the shelf last week, to look back at what I wrote on September 11, 2001.

it's a half page of earnest printed penmanship, phrases like "live in infamy" and "dumb terrorists" smushed together in an account of an event I didn't understand.

I opened this old blogpost draft today, in the mood to blog, not sure exactly what about. perhaps it will be a sequence of thoughts, some from the past and some from the now, juxtaposed as if on shuffle mode. that's often how my brain seems to work anyway: non-linear, constellatory, like a small racquetball inside a hollow dodecahedron or something.

I've noticed lately that my vocabulary, at least when I'm standing in front of a classroom full of students in Louisiana, has opened its arms to "y'all." the southern, folksy "y'all" hasn't displaced "you guys" entirely as my collective second-person greeting, but it's obviously gaining ground. I can't decide if I like it or not, but at least it feels fairly normal.

I need to read some more Joanna Russ.

these two podcasts turned out to be in conversation the other day (and by 'the other day' I apparently mean about a year ago). according to my notes, I listened to this one, "The Oddest Thing in the Universe" by Reasonably Sound, first, and then, from the BBC's Infinite Monkey Cage, "The Human Voice." why language? how? apparently we human beings had all the physical capabilities for speech long before we used them to communicate in spoken words. spoken language is a strange, purposeful biproduct. maybe I should re-listen and see if the two episodes mean any more now that I'm almost finished reading Gretchen McCulloch's Because Internet.

I've taken to putting all my old collection of mp3 music files on shuffle every so often, just to see what comes up. here's a list of what did:
Jack Johnson - Posters
Good Charlotte - The River
Blumfeld - Heiss die Segel
Peter Fox - Schwarz zu Blau
Ben Kweller - Run
Eve 6 - Girl Eyes
Andrew Bird - Hole in the Ocean Floor
when did I acquire Andrew Bird music? I don't remember. I do remember that the German stuff is from friend Yvonne, the rest from miscellaneous acquaintances in college.

in April 2016, I went to a musical about music (Once) all by myself. just before the second song--which sounded so familiar to me somehow--there were a few lines of dialogue I had to write down. I wrote them on an empty edge of the program. I wrote them down again in a sketch book. and I wrote them down here, too. the moment in these lines is so strangely memorable:
- are you breathing?

- yeah, I am.

-you won't die if you play this song with me.
and then she plays. they sing. he lets himself pick up the guitar again. his life is changed.

I've joined the community/campus choir that just started up last week. the director keeps talking about a particular rendition of one of the songs in our repertoire. was my youngest brother a part of that choir in 2014, or not yet?

   { the pinboard on the wall of my office }

Wednesday, August 28

fall semester, 2019

ten days into fall semester. it's been a bit of a rough transition from lovely summer travels to four new sets of students and curricula and work routines and everything.

for the official blog record, here's everything I get to teach this fall--

English 1020: Composition & Rhetoric II
an entirely new course for me, more or less. last time I taught anything like this was spring 2013 at Texas Tech University. I'm a much different instructor at a much different institution this time. but I think this class will be fun-- one of our projects involves writing about some of the opinions/controversies on the Change My View subreddit. each student is also choosing a theme to research and write about over the semester. should keep things exciting for us all.

English 3230: Technical Composition
this is my seventh section of this course. oddly, I've only got the one Monday-Wednesday-Friday section for this semester. 15 students, 15 weeks left. I've switched up a lot of things for this time around (including our textbook), so it's been more work to prep for this time around. ah well. we're doing our team project first, then instructions, then resumes, etc. hopefully plenty of useful learning happens.

English 3610: Intro to Digital Cultures
this is the undergraduate version of my graduate course, Engl 6560, last spring. different readings, a lot more hands-on things in our face-to-face classroom. yesterday I had students compare/contrast working in Google Docs vs. Word Online vs. Graphite. in future weeks I want to have us play around with wikis, twine, glitch, twitter threads, terms of service, interface design, maps, social media, and maybe some of these activities too. 
English 5220: Technical Writing
this year, I'm teaching this graduate course to 9 students instead of just 2. it's my one online class this semester, and it should be great. we're using Solving Problems in Technical Communication as our main textbook, and we also get to read (or listen to) all this great stuff:
most of these are the same readings as last year, but I added that final one after discovering it this summer, and several of the podcasts are new additions also.

ten days done, most of four whole months left to go... 

Friday, August 9


earlier this week we drove in my little blue car through several mountained places, between majestic canyon walls, into valleys and out of them again, up and down, back and forth, out across the plains, down and down and down. toward home. inexorably away from vacation-time, back to regular life (whatever that means).

the elevation here in Louisiana is 118 feet above sea level. that's not even 40 yards. not even half a football field above sea level. no wonder our backyard becomes a giant puddle every time it rains.

last week, miles and miles west of here, I was no less than 4,000 feet above sea level at all times, and sometimes almost as high as 8,000. we hiked. we picnicked. we chased nieces and nephews around and took family photos. 

and then we had to leave.

I imagine I felt every foot of the descent as we drove, this time. every mile of it.

by the time we crossed into Texas on Tuesday, I was starting to feel as flat as the stretching llano estacado plains. one part of me was eager to be home again, ready to work and finalize preparations for fall semester... but most of me was already really missing the mountains and family.

it might be another full year before I see my family again. that span of time didn't used to seem so long. being several thousand feet below and almost fifteen hundred miles away didn't used to seem that far really, either. but now it does. 

I'm trying let gratitude keep me lifted up, even though it feels pretty depressing to have left all the relatives and mountains behind us. I'm really lucky and glad we were able to travel so many miles and make so many good memories this summer. so lucky.

I guess now it's time to anticipate the next family gathering. and in the meantime, work, write, teach, and try to do some bits of good in the world.

as a postscript, I've got a few decently good things to show off about lately:

a reworked version of one of my dissertation chapters is now officially an online article in a special issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly. you can read it here if you like.

a collaborative article I've been working on with some Purdue Polytechnic colleagues has also just been accepted for publication in the Journal of Technology Studies. not sure when it will come out, but that's another exciting thing to anticipate.

I got to be a part of a twitter conference last month. it was pretty different, but also fun, to share my scholarship for a new audience on such a platform. I hope people liked it. the thing still exists in its original twitter thread and here in a "twitter moment." it's always cool to talk about LibriVox, I say.

and speaking of LibriVox, my most recent LV contributions have been to an early twentieth-century feminist novel called With Her in Ourland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. it's incredibly interesting stuff, and some of it seems relevant now, a whole century later.

next on my list of things to record for LV: City of Din by Dan McKenzie. I've got the 100-page text split up into suitable sections and now I just need to start recording them. soon, hopefully...

Thursday, June 27

images, tendencies, and commandments

the local public library is doing free Monday night yoga this summer, led by one of the proprietors of this local yoga place that I haven't yet visited.

I've been to Monday night library yoga twice so far. it's nice. last week, I lay there and breathed and thought a bit about about my ideal self.

{ image borrowed from this kind soul on Flickr

past versions of my ideal self have taken various shapes and sizes and attitudes. but one thing seems to always happen when I think about this future maybe-barely-realistically-attainable person. I think about what she looks like. 

draped over an armchair. surrounded by books and children in a sepia-looking library. wearing comfy (but very stylish) grey loungewear. surrounded by plants, accompanied by a fluffy orange cat and a cup of tea. dressed in homemade and perfectly-tailored dresses. slender but not too tall of course. curly (not frizzy) hair in a perfect messy bun. the perfect pair of glasses on a thoughtful face with a flawless complexion.

why is most of what I think about when I think about her centered on what she looks like? dresses like? what her body is shaped like and how her hair is styled? I picture her in short bursts of vivid-- with this kind of dress. that kind of toned abdomen. a certain kind of skin.

why don't I think half so much about what she does? how she spends her time and energy?
I do think about that too. but it's less easy to fixate on. visuals are easier. for some reason actions don't print themselves so firmly on my thoughts. they don't fit into the short bursts.

why not?

{ favourite oatmeal-chocolate-chip muffins } 

I’ve read so many blogs that have praised Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Smacksy is the one that comes to mind most readily at the moment but I'm 76% sure I've seen the book mentioned by at least twelve other bloggers, too. 

maybe I'll read it someday. (probably not really though)

for now, I'm skim-reading Rubin's blog. which I came across not long ago, as one does, via another blog entirely, when a fellow-academic on twitter linked to this handy blog about building robust academic writing habits, in that post, under habit #6, there was a link.

this link: The Four Tendencies Quiz.

academic writing habit blogger, Dr. Katelyn Knox, advises that knowing what your tendencies are when it comes to meeting expectations (whether your own or other people's) is helpful for knowing how to nurture good habits.

so I took the quiz, and at the end I was supremely interested (though not really surprised) to learn that I am a Questioner.

of course I am. I would have to be, eh? (I suspect that most of my family members are also questioners-- we like to understand the reasons for doing a thing before we're gonna set out and do it.)

now, I know very well from skim-reading the rest of Gretchen Rubin's blog and website that she is using this quiz and her blog and her online presence generally to sell books and to book speaking gigs and such. and books with titles like "The Happiness Project" pretty much always sound hokey to me. it seems sales-pitchy, snake-oil-y, just a little bit. "buy my book! be happier!" yeah, okay.
but I'm also not unconvinced that there is value in these ideas. the knowledge that I tend to Question before I commit to any course of action or acquiesce to any expectations about how I should do things is kind of eye-opening, however much it also confirms what I already know about myself. it seems like there’s something to it. something insightful, something that feels mind-expanding and practical. it’s not The Answer or The Solution to anything-- no silver bullet-- but it is a starting point, perhaps.

elswhere on Rubin's blog there is a post about writing custom personal commandments for your life, as aspirational guideposts or whatnot. maybe this is hokey and maybe it's helpful. it can be both at once.

the first custom amelia commandment that came to mind was "always whip your own cream," which is an easy one, but also a synecdoche for my general preference for homemade and handmade stuff. if there is ever a plastic tub of cool whip in my kitchen, it will not be because I wanted it there.

it's kind of fun to try thinking of personalized commandments. I could probably articulate a few unconscious ones I follow already, about word usage and getting enough sleep and such.

maybe "take photographs of your old beat-up shoes" is another one I could formally adopt?

{ black flats from Goodwill }

{ polka-dot flip-flips from a Ross in Hawaii }

last week while I was laying in savasana at the end of yoga practice at the library, letting my thoughts drift, I thought of one more custom commandment: refuse the numbness. I guess this one is also shorthand. it's about a deep hope that I'll always be able to be surprised by things, to be affected by things instead of jaded and uninterested. that I'll always be able to listen to the universe sending me messages about itself, about me, about everything. it's easy to let default mode take over, but I don't want that. I want to always be looking for connections, finding things to care about, practicing sensitivity to the world and what I can do in it.

Friday, May 31

noticing summer

there are magnolia trees, all over our neighborhood, with floppy blooms that are big enough to eat your face if they wanted to.

even as tightly furled blossoms they seemed humongous to me. almost bigger than both fists put together. almost weighing down the tree branches with the heft of their thick, velvety, white petals.

magnolias are the state flower of Louisiana, apparently. they're also wrapped up with extra cultural significance in Natchitoches because of Steel Magnolias.

remember when we watched that film way back in 1999 or some such year, because the high school drama department was holding auditions for the play? I auditioned for it, with my small little non-face-eating, pansy-sized voice. I don't remember what passage from the script they had me read.

maybe I'll rewatch the film one of these days while we still live in the town where it was made. will I recognize some street corners? all the locals here seem quite certain that I will.

Friday, April 19

playing opposite

thinking today about the word "work," particularly all the times it gets linked up as a prefix or suffix to other words.

so I made a list (it's not as comprehensive as this list, but oh well). it would surely look better as a wordle or other word-art-blob, and maybe I'll eventually use this list to make such a thing. for now, it is merely a list.

coursework, coworker, co-working
framework, meshwork, metalwork, network
paperwork, post-work, workaround, workbench
workday, worker, workflow
workout, workplace, works cited, workshop
workspace, workstation

(I know "works cited" isn't a single word, but the idea is a single idea, and its particular sense of the noun is intriguing today.)

someday I'll go look up the etymologies of all these words, too. what history do they share? what do they not share? and why?

scribbly doodle with phrases like "above practicality" "art for art's sake" "ideological literacy in everything" "service"

something else I'm thinking about is all the stuff that isn't work, or the stuff that at least gets talked about as the opposite of whatever it is we mean when we talk about work.

work vs. play
working vs. unemployed
going to work vs. going to school
hard at work vs. taking a break

and then there are all the synonyms for work. labor. effort. striving. functioning. succeeding. trying.

the word (or suffix or prefix) "work" shows up in my (newly resurrected) file of daily writing 1183 times. I sense that the word, its synonyms, and whatever we mean by it are all going to show up a lot in my future scholarship. my scholarly brain is quite obsessed with the concept lately. partly because
of dissertation residue and many of the ideas I reference in this piece, and partly because in the past month or so I've been consumed with Asao Inoue's book Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom.

I have so many thoughts and so many tenuous hopes that the thoughts might connect into something bigger. if there are meaningful lines to draw around and among the ideas of working to learn, working to live, working to play, workplaces, networks, and the ways we share the world with a million forms of black-boxy technology, then I'm going to find them. write them.

Wednesday, March 27

numbers, words, process, and "progress"

at some point about a year ago, in the midst of my dissertation labors, I wrote down the in-progress word counts (and page counts) of all five not-yet-actual-chapters.

why did I do this? I can't remember exactly. but I was probably curious, of course. and I probably also very much needed a brief numerical distraction from the laboriousness of actually writing. I thought, perhaps, that quantifying some of the work I was doing would illuminate the process, somehow.

here are the numbers I documented:

chapter 1 = 27,589 (70 pages mostly single-spaced)
chapter 2 = 8,822 (24 pages mostly single-spaced)
chapter 3 = 3,998 (16 pages mostly single-spaced)
chapter 4 = 6,799 (33 pages mostly double-spaced)
chapter 5 = 18,442 (61 pages mostly single-spaced)

for a grand, messy total of 65,650 words.

I also made a note that the smaller word counts signified the most finished and most actual-chapter-like chapters. chapter 4 at that point was the very closest. the hardest chapters to finish were the first and the last-- last most of all. that 61-page draft of chapter 5 had all the potential citations I'd eventually have to put into my reference list. all of the drafts contained many, many blabbering notes-to-self.

now that it's almost the end of March, my dissertation monster has been finished and tied up with ribbons for about nine months. I recently added it to the Humanities Commons. I'm trying to keep my profile there alive and up to date. it seems useful and Humanities Commons generally seems like a platform worth supporting.

but anyway, when I came across this old saved list of in-progress word counts, I started to wonder... what were the final numbers?

so I had my word processor calculate them for me again.

chapter 1 = 6,081 (20 pages double-spaced)
chapter 2 = 10,045 (31 pages double-spaced)
chapter 3 = 9,842 (34 pages double-spaced)
chapter 4 = 8,144 (28 pages double-spaced)
chapter 5 = 3,644 (12 pages double-spaced)

plus... 20 more pages of references and almost 80 pages of various appendices. the whole fat document, title page, abstract, acknowledgements and all, comes out to 53,845 words.

the five chapters alone are 37,756 words. that's 27,894 words that got smushed together with other words or chopped out entirely or maybe were only ever there as mental scaffolding for the words that got to stay.

do these numbers illuminate some of amelia's writing process? perhaps. I've long known that I'm the type to over-write and cut-and-paste and whittle the thing-that-will-be-written out of a giant boulder of words-that-could-be-the-thing. I don't think I'm the only one who writes that way. writing is not linear. progress of all kinds is zig-zagging and loopy. there isn't a true end to it.

whatever illumination is there also casts some shadowy questions. why is chapter 2 so long? could I have done more with that tiny conclusion chapter? what does everyone else's dissertation chapter word count table look like?

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.


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:


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?