Wednesday, February 17

shiny emerald wisps of inspiration

sometimes, though not so much lately, I feel like I am fighting inspiration off with a stick--making great efforts to do one thing at a time and actually finish a project before yet another wouldn't-it-be-nice-if-I-also... comes along to take me in some new direction.

inspiration, for me at least, isn't always the most useful thing. it can be distracting. or infuriating, the way it tantalizes me. I tend to be plagued with flighty, wispy kinds of inspiration. the kinds that hover just out of reach, just beyond practical-possible priority.

an hour or so ago I read this piece about teaching abroad. about the prospect of "relocating to a continent renowned for civil unrest, poverty, and disease-- but also for untarnished landscapes, wildlife, many cultures, and a complex history." high daydream potential, this sort of thing.

and yes, some of the descriptions in this piece are on the sweeping, sensationalish side. but you can at least see what I mean about the distance stretched out between me and such prospects. this inspiring stuff always seems to float just six inches or so higher than my hands seem to reach-- things to daydream about but not things I could actually do-- not yet anyway. and perhaps that's the way daydreaming is supposed to work. before you can reach a thing with your hands, you can settle for reaching it with your brain. imagining it. a first step, of sorts.

on Monday I attended a very nice talk by a former professor of mine: Dr. Cheryl Ball. she taught my professional writing capstone course ten whole years ago. since that far-away semester, she has worked at three other institutions and done many more boundary-pushing academic things. she taught and researched in Norway on a Fulbright scholarship. she is developing this fancy-looking revolutionary publishing system.

sometimes inspiration starts out as envy.

or maybe they are secretly long-lost twins, envy and inspiration. yeah.

anyway. the talk on Monday was about digital humanities + digital publishing and the paths Dr. Ball has wandered in getting to where she is now. now she is scholaring in an emerging field she calls publishing studies, a place full of multimodal and digital work, editing, technology, infrastructure, and lots of other finicky processes that have to do with making things public.

she began the talk with childhood tales featuring inspirational words like vision and initiative. and she ended with this slide, of which I took a crooked and slightly fuzzy photograph:

there are, I saw on facebook earlier, several much better photos of Dr. Ball's visit to Indiana in an album here.

her concluding list of lessons learned isn't earth-shatteringly inspirational in general, but in this specific sub-section of academia it counts. for me, swimming in semi-aimless circles in the middle of my PhD, it very much counts. so I have typed these points out again for ease-of-reading and for the thought-provoking reminders they might be to my current and future overly-inspired but somewhat lost, less-motivated self.
publishing studies has taught me [Dr. Cheryl Ball]...
- editing praxis for media-based texts
- the arbitrariness of style guides
- the ethics of access/ibility and preservation
- the importance of building communities and infrastructure
- the importance of global communication practices
- the necessity of teaching writing in use-contexts
- the necessity of teaching multimodal communication
- that vocational training isn't a dirty word for liberal arts.
there were examples and stories referenced at each of these points, but stories and examples are not as easy to transcribe into a neat list. I will have to trust my memory to weave the stories from her life into and alongside stories from my own.

the paths I'm wandering aren't the same. ten whole years is a long time and lots of things are different in the world. the wouldn't-it-be-nice-ifs that I follow around (or don't) will be unique to my brain and my habits.

at the moment, one of the wouldn't-it-be-nice-ifs that I have wrapped my fingers around is reading audiobook snippets for LibriVox. I have an official page in their catalogue as a reader, even. I've only just started. the project is wide and ambitious. it's not the exact same kind of digital publishing Dr. Ball presented, but it is a digital publishing project nonetheless, and a fascinating one. we'll see what it teaches me.

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