Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Maybe about errands

Reading Debbie's post about her set of errands for the afternoon made me think hey, I'll write about my errands, too! I have errands today! (And what else am I going to write about? Not more about the book writing, please!)

But I have more errand than errands. Mainly, my errand involves going to the vet to get a prescription for methimazole for Clyde. Clyde's 20 years old! And he's been taking this medication since April 2004. Another effective treatment for hyperthyroidism is to hit the thyroid gland with radioactive iodine, which is somewhat expensive and requires isolating the cat for several weeks and doing something special with the (ahem) waste products. I opted against that treatment since Clyde was already getting close to 18 when he was diagnosed and I admit I thought he couldn't possibly have much longer to live. I was wrong. Go Clyde!

Other than that, the other item on my agenda is not so much errand as "break." Coffee break, to be precise. With Marcia!

But if I might take another cue from Debbie's post, I'll just briefly mention that *my* glasses give an ever so gentle "creak" when I turn my head to the right. For a long time I thought it was my neck, then finally realized it didn't happen when my glasses were off. But what does this mean? I can't find a crack. But it must be there. I live in fear of my glasses falling apart, but I take comfort from Debbie's (albeit temporary) success with superglue.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The obligation to begin

I would have preferred to be enveloped in words, borne way beyond all possible beginnings. At the moment of speaking, I would like to have perceived a nameless voice, long preceding me, leaving me merely to enmesh myself in it, taking up its cadence, and to lodge myself, when no one was looking, in its interstices as if it had paused an instant, in suspense, to beckon to me. There would have been no beginnings: instead, speech would proceed from me, while I stood in its path--a slender gap--the point of its possible disappearance. . . .
A good many people, I imagine, harbour a similar desire to be freed from the obligation to begin, a similar desire to find themselves, right from the outside, on the other side of discourse, without having to stand outside it, pondering its particular, fearsome, and even devilish features.

Ah, Foucault. You say it so well. Beginnings are devilish indeed.

For I have no gift for first chapters. None at all. Zero. Zip.

The main (or at least a *big*) reason my book is still in process is that the first chapter keeps eluding me.

Having read a number of other people's first chapter drafts, I know that this is a common experience: the first chapter is always the hardest to write, often the worst of the lot. But I thought at some point I would surely manage to overcome this obstacle.

For the longest time, I was trying to make my old first chapter "work." I thought I just needed to do more research, find a new way to focus it. Finally, I threw in the towel and decided, no, the problem was that the chapter just wasn't doing it. It no longer fit in the book as I had reconceptualized it after the dissertation stage. I didn't want to get rid of a whole chapter, but I did.

So, I thought, I'll just start with what used to be Chapter 2. I had already decided I needed to add a new chapter in the middle, so I would still end up with the same number of chapters.

But now I'm slowly realizing Chapter 2 also sucks as a place to start. Why start with Chapter 2? There's no particular reason to start with Chapter 2. It just appeared in the gap left by Chapter 1.

Here's the latest plan:start the new chapter. The one that was slotted to be Chapter 4. I think that chapter, or at least some version of that chapter, needs to be Chapter 1.

Sounds kinda crazy. Especially when you consider that I *thought* I was more or less writing a history, and Chapter 4 deals with a decade quite a bit later than the first three chapters. Doesn't seem too historical to put a later period first.

But what Chapter 4 (Chapter 1?) does is establish the exigence for the history I'm telling. In that chapter, which focuses on the 1970s, I'm looking at a decade that saw the emergence of a new professional organization devoted to administration, a decade that also saw the publication of a bajillion classic books on management, including Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital and Chandler's history, The Visible Hand. It's also the decade when, in the words of Geoffrey Sirc, composition became no fun. A significant decade, a significant moment: an exigence for watching the circulation of a managerial affect, both before and after that decade.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Random-ness: a mid-week inventory of some things

1. Someone just knocked on my door and asked if she could take a picture of my house. Sure, I said. My house is light green with dark purple shutters. She said she was taking pictures of colorful houses to make a montage.

2. I wanted to note how much I liked Jeff's title (and post) from a few day's back: "The Continuous Love of Linking." (Sure, he links to this humble blog, but that's not the *only* reason I like it.)

3. Last week I read the wonderful Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (I remembered to order it after reading George's entry a few weeks back). Now I want to read only graphic novels (or memoirs/what-have-yous). This is my wont: liking and binging.

4. Oh, yeah: I went to Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, and did more than discover the popular dark chocolate M&Ms. Mainly, we visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. And, mainly, we stayed on the second floor, home of American and Asian art, including this strikingly displayed Kwan Yin (or Guanyin), the bodhisatva of compassion. I at one time contemplated a whole entry on the Buddhist art at the museum, complete with explanations of the various forms of Buddhism (Theravada, for example, doesn't have the whole pantheon of deity-like bodhisatvas, but I like the idea of the incarnation of compassion, anyway. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is that incarnation.) But I've decided to spare you all those details for now.

5. I need to order some tiny shoes for a new person whose arrival is imminent. Hope no one in the Rio Grande Valley is reading this. It's supposed to be a surprise. ;-)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Loose ends

Classes start today, and I'm not going to campus. Pretty novel! Exhilarating, even.

I thought I might feel anxious as my semester of research leave officially begins (anxious about the need to "get things done"--get everything done! Ack!), but instead I feel remarkably focused and ready to go.

I guess that's why the sabbatical exists. (Although what I'm on is not actually a sabbatical, that lovely reward after tenure and six years' work. I've shifted around and so haven't built up six straight years anywhere.) After six years or so, one finally has done enough thinking, enough circling, enough gathering, and is finally ready to write. At least that seems to be true in my case. I *feel* ready to get this book finished at last.

But, lord, the loose ends. Last night, in preparation for a fresh and focused start this morning, I decided (at long last) to go through all the notebooks I've kept since leaving graduate school. I have six (although I feel as though I might be missing one) bound "composition" books, which have long been my note-taking medium of choice (though I'm slowly switching over to electronic notes in order to make the transfer to manuscripts smoother). I put in post-its to indicate divisions, and I labeled the post-its according to what I was taking notes on. And I noticed two things:

1. I have taken a lot of notes on a lot of things, and although there was always a reason for taking notes, I've moved from topic to topic very rapidly. No wonder I feel as though I've been unfocused or scattered. I have been. (Even though the scattering has been productive, for the most part. It just hasn't been productive in the way untenured faculty at research universities are supposed to be productive: ie, it hasn't led to quick finishing of the book.)

2. I have a s***-load of notes on John Dewey. And while I've given two conference papers on Dewey, I've published nothing that so much as references Dewey. Note to self: When this book is done, you're writing an article about Dewey and emotion/management. Got it? Put those notes to work.

(And why do I have so many notes on Dewey? Well, back when I was an optomistic beginning assistant professor, I thought my book would be done by the end of my second year out. I had been given reason to believe that this would happen. And so I wrote a grant for summer research on Dewey--because at the time I was interested in the whole "democratic" discourse thing and because SIU has a Dewey Center, where I did a bit o' archival research. But all that Dewey research kinda put a damper on getting the book (which has only the smallest tangential connection to anything Deweyan) done. And then the anxiety over getting the book done kinda put a damper on doing anything with Dewey. But it would be shameful to waste all those notes.)

So, Day 1 of my research leave. Doing something with those loose ends, in this case the loose ends of Chapter 1 (which has nothing to do with Dewey). Onward.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Newest addiction

Last summer, they were just a Star Wars ad piece. This summer (by popular demand, of course), Dark Chocolate M&Ms appear to be here for good.

I don't know why I like them so much. On first taste, they aren't so different from regular M&Ms. But they leave a slight bitter aftertaste, just like dark chocolate should. Nice.

But I can't have them in the house. I like them too much, I just told C., as I poured myself a handful. He asked if I might like him to hide them and give me three chances to ask for them.

Um, no. I'll take my chances.

The Candy Addict reviews them here. He's less enthusiastic than I am. But he notes, as C. and I did, that only some of the candies are stamped with the word "dark." Strange, isn't it?

And I discovered them, by the way, while getting gas on the way to Kansas City last week. Soon, I might blog about the trip itself. Or something else about it other than discovering that the dark chocolate M&Ms are back.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Can blogging be taught?

I might have asked myself that question before jumping into a class that was devoted exclusively to just such an endeavor last semester, but since I already teach things that supposedly can't be taught (writing, teaching of writing), the question never occurred to me. (And, anyway, we all know questions like that are just a nasty Platonic diversion.)

But now that Marissa, who was in the blogging class, has asked in the comments below,

i wondered if you could suggest some know, the smart people blogs about blogging and other smart people things....good examples are the ones i used to comment about on the class blog

my first impulse is to respond: well, heck, the class blog is still up and running! (Although inactive since May.) Take a look at that. The reading schedules are still posted in the sidebar, even. You've got the basics here, and then the "smart" readings on networks here. But that's all old news, of course. I myself like the smart people in my blogroll, so I recommend them, too.

And a few of the folks from the class are still blogging, even.
KR, now in Philadelphia where she'll be doing graduate work at Penn, has been the most active. Megan is blogging on her original site, which preceded the class. (She's archived the blog she kept for the class, and she has a cool page that provides a timeline of changes to her blogging.) Amy also has blogged a bit, and another person or two has added a random entry over the course of the summer. So that's 3 or 4 out of a class of 14, which isn't a big percentage, but better than nothing. And I have no idea how many might possibly be like Marissa, who is blogging elsewhere. (But I gotta beg you, Marissa, blog somewhere else!)

One of the things about the class that I felt never got off the ground as well as it might have was commenting. I just finished teaching a summer literature class, and we had a class blog. Everyone was required to post to it about three times each week and to comment in response to at least four other posts each week. Of course, some comments were meatier than others, but for the most part this strategy worked really, really well. I found them referring to each other's blog entries even in their own entries, and often the comments became cumulative, as each new respondent commented on the previous comment. Getting the commenting going is absolutely crucial to effective blogging. So in order to get back into blogging, Marissa, I highly recommend doing what you did here: comment! Comment a lot. It oils the gears. Eventually, you'll realize your comments could just as well be entries on your own blog. There you go. You're blogging again!

And something that I admire in Debbie's blogging practices and that I don't do enough of is commenting in response to other's comments. (I blame my lame computer or browser or something that I could probably fix: I can't comment on my own blog while I'm at home!) Michael Bérubé does this nicely, too (the commenting, not the lame excusing), as do any number of my fellow bloggers. It keeps the conversation a real conversation. Very Burkean. I think next time I assign blogs (which will, no doubt, be the next time I teach), I'm going to build that feature into the requirements, too.

And that, Marissa, is what I have to say about getting back into blogging, even though it's a little off the topic of what you actually asked for.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A tiny encomium on gadgetry

My home computer is old. I bought it in Dec. 2000, at the end of my first semester at SIU. It was a reward to myself for my new job there.

So it has no USB ports on the keyboard or monitor. (In fact, I was so habituated to the idea that USB ports are *only* on the back of CPUs that I hadn't noticed my office computer, circa 2004, had ports in both alternate locations until, oh, last week. I had been plugging my jump drive into the back of the CPU, which is, truly, a drag.) I've got an extension cord for plugging in gadgets on my home computer.

And just now, as I was unplugging a jump drive and plugging in my camera (thinking I might blog about my cats because I was feeling bad about my contribution to the quietness of the internets and I had been considering a post about Clyde, who has recently turned 20), I felt the same surge of wonderment and pleasure that I always feel when plugging in some gadget or other to a USB port.

Because, you know, it's just cool. I feel it when I open the little port of my MP3 player (yeah, sorry: I opted for the lesser coolness of a Creative Zen Nano Plus because for the same price as an IPOD Shuffle I could get a player that will display what I'm playing) and transfer audio files. Really. It's like I'm Miranda in The Tempest: O brave new world, that has such gadgets in it.

And the length of the cord that connects my 2000 Dell to my gadgets seems like a nice synecdoche for the technological distance that fuels that wonderment.

So this small encomium is my contribution to a noisier blogosphere. The entry on Clyde will have to wait for another day (I know my readers will hardly be able to contain their anticipation). And since I turn in summer grades tomorrow and won't be teaching again until January, I plan for a more steady stream of noise.

Update: Isn't it strange how I typed iPod in all caps above? It's like a visual throwback to IZOD, the totalizing brand of the 80s.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

In praise of four week classes

It's the final week of my summer class. I almost always enjoy summer classes. The focus that comes with four intense weeks can be quite wonderful, both for me and for the students. In fact, it makes me sometimes wish that I could teach only summer classes, that is, that I could teach only short sessions. At Cornell College, where my friend I. went to school, they basically do just that: they call it One-Course-at-a-Time

In the FAQs, the question of why more colleges don't use this system is posed. The answer:

The OCAAT calendar makes great demands on faculty. They must reorganize their course plans, their use of time, and their way of thinking about teaching. This is a challenge few college faculties are willing to consider. OCAAT also makes great demands on classroom space because rooms are not shared. Each professor has exclusive use of his or her classroom for the entire day. The college bookstore orders books nine times a year, not just twice. The registrar's office handles registration on an ongoing basis, not just once a year. Few colleges are willing to make these commitments.)

But the demands on faculty sound ok to me: rethinking use of time and space. I like that. In fact, I think it might be the shortness of the four weeks that made me feel ok about trying out something new: if it bombs, I thought, at least I only have to live with the fallout for a few weeks.

Still, I think the professors teach eight or nine classes a year at Cornell College. That's a lot of start-up. But what about importing it to a research university? Just four to six classes a year? Wouldn't be so bad, would it? And that would leave six to eight months for full-time research. Wow.

Back to reality: it's the last week of my summer class. And, of course, it's always a nice thing to come to the end of things. But it's been a good time. Thanks to my students, thanks to my fellow bloggers.