Sunday, July 31, 2005

Rural advantages

Although Columbia is a small city, Missouri is a largely rural state. This bothers some people who find themselves plunked down in the middle of the midwest, but there are advantages to being surrounded by agriculture:

(1) Heirloom tomatoes: Dark, dark purple skin with the most amazing deep red flesh and a luscious flavor that surpasses even those tomatoes you grow out on your back porch. I'm not exaggerating.

(2) Peaches: I grew up in peach country and have never been able to eat a store-bought peach without a great deal of sadness. Southern Illinois was the first place I lived since my childhood that offered decent locally grown peaches. Actually, better than decent. The ones here in central Missouri aren't bad, either. (Mind you, I'm not saying they're as good as the ones in Parker County, but they're pretty good.)

(3) Blackberries: My grandmother grew them in her backyard and regularly cooked them up into huge cobblers. Just picking up a pint transports me back in time faster than any Madeleine.

(4) Potatoes: Yeah, yeah, they've received a bad rap in the low-carb era, but, really, how can you resist purple potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, little fingerlings?

(5) Cantaloupes

(6) Sweet little watermelons

(7) Zinnias, sunflowers, and other cat-friendly flowers

Just a short list of what I found this week at my award-winning local Farmers' Market.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

My old guy

Clyde's new bed

It hardly seems right that both Casey and Gabe, two johnny-come-latelies, have appeared on this blog and Clyde hasn't. So now he has.

Although we bought this bed for Gabe, and although Clyde already had his very own special orthopedic bed, Clyde took an immediate fancy to this cushy thing. Nineteen years and arthritic joints trumps one year and bouncing off the walls. It's Clyde's bed now.

Clyde and Kitty came to live with us 13 years ago when they were both about 6 years old. Their previous human companion, A, went to live in Israel for awhile and entrusted the cats to us. Although A returned sooner than planned, he let us keep the cats. I've always felt a little guilty about that, but not too much. We kind of bonded with them right away. Thirteen years later, Clyde's still an awfully sweet guy, despite aches and pains and various ailments of old age.

I know this will no doubt sound corny, but I feel like I've learned and contine to learn a lot about aging gracefully from Kitty and Clyde. And even about dying well.

Old cats at rescue organizations always have a hard time finding homes, but let me tell you: if you have a chance to make a home with an old cat, don't pass it up.

Here endeth my sentimental blog about Clyde.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

S'more blogging benefits

Ron Sillimans lists 15 ways blogging has benefitted him. The first item is a benefit that I've often noted:

I’ve been able to sharpen some vague thinking into much clearer concepts.

The idea of the blog as a place to sharpen ideas goes against the commonplace thinking of nonbloggers (like that Chronicle guy from a few weeks back), perhaps because a person really needs to blog in order to experience that effect. It isn't as if every day I post a sharp blog (far from it), but it is the case that the conversations that erupt and the return to ideas and the potential of an audience (even if I'm that audience) that blogging provides do serve to make me think in ways that I wouldn't if I were only thinking in my head.

But the reason I want to link to and save Silliman's list is because he isn't a specialist in comp/rhet and he isn't an academic (though he's certainly a remarkable scholar--not to mention, of course, a poet). But many of the items in his list are the same benefits many of us in rhet/comp would note. Not the most startling discovery, but one to keep in my hat, in case I need it someday.


Since the original blog post that Chris just responded to has now moved to the archives, I'd like to snip a bit from her comment and also draw from some other comments to think a bit more about the issue of comp's status as a required course. Chris says:

I really believe we have to look hard at that mandatory part when we start to discuss implications for cultural studies pedagogies and how we might look at our own selves through that lens, as well as understanding the fundamental difference between our discipline's foundations and that of other academic departments or disciplines.
I agree: composition studies *is* unlike any other discipline because it has come to exist, historically, in order to supply departments with people who can manage the required first-year course. This is basically the argument I make in my article "The Managerial Unconscious of Composition Studies" and will make, in (let's hope) a more historically informed and nuanced way in my book. And, like Chris, I think the field hasn't really dealt with that historical uniqueness in any very critical or informed way.

Chris's comment follows comments by Derek and bowerr, all bringing up the issue of accountability in first-year composition programs and how that outside pressure, both real and felt (might we call it a kind of panopticism?), might lead to programmatic uniformity. IE, we teach academic argumentation here, folks, not personal essays. (And, really, just based on my general immersion in a variety of programs, this does seem like the default position of many programs, so it seems odd that Fulkerson detects a lack of attention to argumentation in the field--is it maybe that argumentation has become a new kind of "current-traditional" rhetoric in that it's what we think students need and so it's what textbook companies tend to offer?) And why do we teach academic argumentation (or whatever it is we teach)? Because deans and provosts want to know what the heck we're doing in that first-year comp class. They want to know why the heck juniors and seniors "can't write." And if we can't provide a nice tidy answer for them, well, maybe we just won't be allowed to manage the first year composition program anymore. Maybe this person without one of those fancy PhDs in rhet/comp will do better (they don't have all that theory to distract them). It happens. I've seen it happen in more than one place.

So what's to be done? I'd like to believe that rhet/comp could more convincingly make itself into a discipline that studies writing and that the first-year course could simply become an introduction to the major in the same way that a first-year course in philosophy, biology, or what-have-you is an introduction to the major. But even then there are wrinkles: there's introduction to biology for science majors, and then there's introduction to biology for everyone else, right?

Where I find it to be a truly tricky game to play is in teaching the course for new graduate teaching assistants. I'm expected to provide a kind of party line, right? That is, I need to prepare the new GTAs to teach for the program at my institution. (I'm talking in general here, not specific to my institution.) At the same time, I feel compelled to introduce them to the richness of rhet/comp: not so that they will be impressed with rhet/comp, but so that some of that richness will seep into their teaching. After all, they won't always be teaching at this institution. Why provide them with a very limited sense of what it means to teach writing? Doesn't that just foster more and more narrowed ideas about writing and the teaching of first-year writing? But, well, it gets complicated, doesn't it? Since it seems some at all levels would be happy if a narrow view of writing were indeed perpetuated. (I'm getting vague, yes--can't help it.)

So and so and so. Chris, I would be very interested in hearing more from you, especially if you wouldn't mind fleshing out what you mean when you say, "in other ways it really bothers me, and it's because of that mandatory standing of the course." What is "it" and in what ways does it bother you?

And other comments welcome, of course. This question is something that's always bubbling around for me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

City Museum

I'd heard of City Museum before I went there Saturday with friends, but I had really no notion of what I would find there. It's usually billed as a place for kids (and friends on Saturday included people ages 3 and 5), so I was expecting hands-on, interactive kinds of things.

Lion City Museum

And it was interactive, but not like a science museum or something like that. Walking in, the space was disorienting: as my friend G. put it, it looks like someone found a bunch of stuff at a dump and just threw it down for kids to climb around on. But once I got my bearings, I began to "find" things and to slowly realize that this was a museum of city cast-offs: old gargoyles, bicycle tire inflators, and yes, even Big Boy--all arranged, for the most part, to allow climbing, crawling, and general kid-like maneuvering. Cool place.

Crouching Gargoyle City Museum

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The art of neglect

isn't hard to master. (With apologies to Elizabeth Bishop.)

Had a lovely day yesterday in St. Louis with some friends from Carbondale and made plans on the drive home to blog about the City Museum (complete with photos) and then arrived home to find home security had been compromised. That's all I want to say about that, but it has caused me to feel a bit rattled.

But hoping tomorrow will make all the difference and that I'll be back with photos and a proper blog entry for once.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

On not blogging

It's always something with me, isn't it?

This time it was an auto-immune disease: Norton Internet Security decided it wasn't safe for me to gain access to things like email and such. So I had to (1) figure out that was the problem, (2) uninstall NIS, (3) reinstall. Not that big of a deal, but a bigger deal than I really wanted to deal with and that sort of took up all my computer time for the last few days (since I'm trying to have more off-computer time in order to be a more productive book-writer).

Anyway, I think we're all set now, so I'll get back to blogging soon. Very soon.

Monday, July 11, 2005

On not conferencing

So it seems that Collin, Jenny, and Jeff are all at the big KB Conference at Penn State (as is, I believe, my colleague Jim). I don't recall whether I thought about proposing something for this conference or not. Probably not, as I did too many conferences during 2003-2004 and so resolved to only do CCCC this year. But, technically, the Penn State Conference takes place at the beginning of the fiscal year (in July), so it's really next year already (as far as university budgets go). And that's the reason, in part, that I've never done the Penn State thing: at my previous institution, it seemed practically impossible to request funds in advance of July since the requesting of funds didn't happen until the semester was well under way. (There I go, airing dirty laundry about my former department. Tut tut. Seems Ivan the Terrible is right about us bloggers.)

At any rate, I'm a little envious, because a look at the schedule suggests some potentially good papers: D Lynch on Burke and affect, for one--something I've been wanting to work up and will be working through in my fall grad seminar. So I'll hope to see a little conference blogging after everyone returns home.

And, happily, my current department simply gives everyone some money for travel. No request needed. Not that it's a lot of money--but at least I know it's there. So maybe I'll make it to the next Penn State Conference.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Why people hoard cats

I've been helping out a bit at my local no-kill shelter this summer. And whereas before I wondered how anyone ends up with too too many cats at home, I now understand.

This is Todd, a new kitten at the shelter. Wouldn't you like to adopt him and give him a new name?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Something like the contradictions of producer-consumer culture:

I go to my local grocer, not the one I usually go to, but one that's closest to my house. They've got the automated check-out. I've used it before, but tonight I'm thinking, no, I'm going to use the real thing. That automated check-out represents the loss of three jobs (since only one person oversees four scanners). But only two real people seem to be working, and those lines are busy. So I head over to the automated check-out after all. And probably get myself out of there much later than I would have had I waited in line for the real person to check me out. Why? Because I take an odd pleasure in getting my things in just the right bags, to make the bags just the right weight and just the right shape.

The delayed reader

Does any other Bloglines user have the experience of blogs showing up as updated sometimes days after the fact? Is Blogrolling better? Or is it a matter of the source rather than the reader causing the delay?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Can't stop the carnival

I was thinking the carnival was winding down and wondered if I even wanted to write one last post, then I found several new conversations going on.

I agree with Collin's analysis of the "content envy" question, even as I commented, in response to Jenny's question over at his place, that I do think critical/cultural studies approaches put more emphasis on what might be called "other content" rather than on writing itself. And I don't even really mean in the classroom: rather, I mean in what gets talked about in scholarly circles. Or it might be said that CCS approaches put more emphasis on methods or approaches to teaching than on writing. So that I'm pulling the analysis in a slightly different direction from Collin: I agree, with Collin, that the turn to cultural studies might be said to be a symptom of a crisis of (ir)relevance in the humanities more generally. So the turn away from writing qua writing that I'm getting at isn't a problem of CCS approaches only: rather, I think it's symptomatic of the field of rhet/comp.

You knew it would get to this, didn't you? I think it's a problem of focusing, in our scholarship, on classroom management rather than of focusing on what it is we're teaching. Mind you, I'm not against pedagogical questions. I find them very useful. But why not spend some time thinking about writing? Some do. Genre theory sort of does. (Though the emphasis there tends to be on what is and on professionally-sanctioned genres--still, knowledge about writing that can be quite helpful, as Collin has written as he's been teaching a class on genre theory.)

But the voice that I really have in my head is Sirc's:

we--bad enough--don't really know what teaching is, but also--far worse, fatal, in fact--we haven't really evolved an idea of writing that fully reflects the splendor of the medium. (Composition as a Happening 9)

And even Massumi's:

But perhaps in order to write experimentally, you have to be willing to 'affirm' even your own stupidity. Embracing one's own stupidity is not the prevailing academic posture (at least not in the way I mean it here). (Parables 18)

See, I don't even know how I got from the beginning to the end of this blog post. And, I'll say it again: that's what I like about blogging. I think blogging gives me, at least, permission to embrace my own stupidity. It feels very different from the sometimes all-too-fitted jacket of academic writing. And if I like the way it feels, imagine how good it might feel to first-year students.

(And then the voice of propriety whispers: But what about what all those professors in the other disciplines? What are they going to say? What about the public? The legislators? You *know* a dean has already complained about that first-year composition class blogging last semester. . .)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Bad news Friday

You've heard it already, no doubt. But, really, with all the crazy things going on with pharmacists refusing to give out contraception and such, it's worth being concerned. So if you want some ideas about what you can do, check out this.

Or maybe become a pharmacist. Seems like a potentially feminist act these days.