Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Snow Scrooge

It's snowing again. And I'm just tired of it! Tired. Effin tired.

The ice from 2 1/2 weeks ago still graces my yard. At least the snow on top of it will add some traction for the daily traverse back and forth to my car.

But better yet: some warm days to melt it all away.

The forecast says not till the end of next week.

Back in the day, when I was a small child in Texas, I yearned for snow. But I lived in Milwaukee for six years in order to become a doctor of sorts. That was snow enough.

A little snow now and again is ok. I can deal. But I didn't sign up for this! Mild winters--that's what I thought I was getting. I had never even bothered to buy a snow shovel until two weeks ago, when we got six inches or so on top of the ice. Now that snow's gone. But the ice remains. (I know: salt. But not on the grass, I think?)

So bah. Bah. Bah.

And humbug, too.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The search for verbal ingenuity

I've rarely blogged about searches that have brought people to this blog, but it's a thing to do, isn't it? So let me tell you that since I wrote the entry entitled "Cool words with diminished use value," I've had quite the surge in folks who are looking, via Google, for "cool words."

And now I've done it again. I guess they'll be redoubled.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Missouri iced

Remember when Anne asked in my comments if I had power? (Because, it's true, we had several inches of ice coat everything just before classes started, and a humongous tree branch just one house down from me fell smack down, almost into the neighbor's house. And the ice is still around, though it's 48 degrees right now, so please please let it all melt.)

And remember how I said, yep, we're ok here in Columbia, but I don't know about the folks in Springfield?

Wow. Take a look at Lanette's latest blog entry. Classes at Missouri State were out for a full week. Lanette had no internet access during that time, and, for two days, no power. However, she did blog, and so has a chronicle of what was happening.

It's sobering. Glad to see you back online, Lanette.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What, ho? Web 2.0

Don't ask me. It's late, and it rhymes.

Anyway, what it really is referring to is the change, seemingly in the space of just a year or two, in students' awareness of Web 2.0 kinds of things. For example, all the graduate students in my pedagogy course had heard of blogs. Last time I taught this class, exactly two years ago, blogs were clearly outside most people's radar.

And today in class, someone mentioned seeing a word cloud of Tuesday's State of the Union speech. Whoa! That's never happened before. And, so, of course, I began to rhapsodize about the coolness of tag clouds. Which wasn't, maybe, to the point.

Nice to see things starting to filter through. And so I'm reporting that here. Over and out.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Too much blogging?

Well, no, not here.

But this semester I find myself teaching two grad classes, which isn't the usual situation. (Not that I'm complaining.) One is the required pedagogy course for new teaching assistants (new MAs here get to/have to take it before they teach for the first time), and one is a seminar called "Rhetoric, Composition, and the 'Social.'"

In both classes, I ask students to contribute to a class blog at least twice a week. And I also ask that they comment at least as much.

What if, as looks like may be the case for one student, you end up in both classes? Well, then you need to contribute four blog entries plus as many comments per week.

Still seems not so bad to me. Seems doable to me to blog four times a week. But, then, no one's asking me to do it, so if I let it slide, nothing particularly bad happens to me.

This gets back--doesn't it?--to the question Scot asked at the beginning of last semester, if blogging *should* be taught. That is, doesn't it fundamentally change blogging to make it part of a class?

And, sure, it changes it--no doubt about it. But, at least for now, I'm willing to risk that it might affect the way people think about blogging, that it might make them think of it as something assignment-related rather than writing and pleasure related. After all, isn't that the risk we take in assigning anything? I would like students to take pleasure in any form of writing I assign. But the very nature of it as assigned is sure to diminish at least some of the pleasure because it carries with it a demand, a necessity.

Because it's true that KR is the only person from last semester's blogging class, as far as I know, who is still blogging regularly. But it's some good blogging. So there's that.

At any rate, just something on my mind. Because this is the first semester I ever had a student in two blogging-heavy classes in the same semester. So I'd never given the question of blogging overkill much thought.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Such an icy and busy week, this last one.

This afternoon, getting in a workout at the ARC, I found myself listening to the otherworldly beautiful and thoroughly jazz music of Alice Coltrane's Translinear Light. It begins with organ melodies that hint at classical Indian scales, moves through a stunning rendition of John Coltrane's "Crescent," and concludes with Hindu bhajan singing. It's an album cut through with her many links: she was married, of course, to John Coltrane, and replaced McCoy Tyner on the piano after he left the quartet, complaining he couldn't hear himself play anymore as John Coltrane moved into ever more discordant, busy and--yes--loud improvizations. Her sons Ravi (named after Ravi Shankar, the great sitar master, and Norah Jones's father) and Oran play saxophone on the CD. And since her husband's death, she's become Swamini Turiyasangitananda, the leader of an ashram in California. Coltrane and India: two motifs with a long, beautiful history together.

Listening to this revival, this bringing forth again of these motifs, I remembered that I hadn't commemorated Alice Coltrane's passing last weekend.

The jazz community actually lost two in the space of a day: Alice Coltrane, on Friday, January 12. And Michael Brecker, "considered by many to be the most influential tenor saxophonist since John Coltrane," on Saturday, January 13.

And an ashram lost a teacher.

I mention them here, in tribute and gratitude.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Jeff posted last month about The Wisdom of Crowds, which got me thinking about what might happen if "leaders" act more as aggregators than as traditional "buck stops here" sorts of directors. The idea, as I understand it (cause, I'll be honest: I haven't read the book yet), is that the increased diversity of information that arrives via networks of "crowds" yields to better decisions. What's needed is not someone who tries to distill everything into some "consensus," but to make the information available, in all its thrilling messiness.

So maybe you've already heard about the research reported yesterday by a Washington Post columnist, featured on NPR? That part of the value of workplace diversity isn't just that you get new information: it's that the very makeup of the crowd (if you will) causes everyone to think differently and to be more creative:
"It is not just the minority group members who are responsible for the diversity -- something happens to all the members in a group when the group is diverse," [Tufts University psychologist Sam Sommers] said. "White people behave differently and have different cognitive tendencies in a diverse setting than in a homogenous setting."

This really got Steve Inskeep of Morning Edition all worked up. What? he cried. Give me an example. There were a couple of examples. Here's one:

Sommers asked all-white and diverse groups to read short passages and then asked them to answer SAT-style questions about the passages. When the topics touched on race -- affirmative action, for example -- whites who were part of diverse groups answered more questions correctly than people in all-white groups.

Again, the groups had no verbal interaction before answering the questions, so it wasn't that people of color raised issues that prompted whites to remember the material more clearly. Rather, the mere act of sitting around a table with a diverse group of people seemed to improve the performance of white participants.

Interesting, huh? That crowd logic can infect people, can make people smarter, just by virtue of the crowd being more diverse. This makes total sense to me, and it's why it's much more fun to be in a diverse (diverse in all kinds of ways) department, for example, than a homogeneous one. Just being in a certain environment pushes your thinking. Or doesn't. Depends on the environment, how rich it is.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Belatedly: Trimbur and "writing studies"

I don't know about you, but I can't keep up with all the journals I subscribe to. They arrive, I look at the tables of contents, I skim articles that appeal to my current interests/questions, and I read the occasional whole article, when it seems especially relevant or intriguing. And then it's off to some purgatory for them, because I have this idea that I shouldn't put new journals on my shelf (I'm trying to get over this habit), otherwise I'll forget about them. What happens instead is that I don't put them on a shelf, and subsequently not only forget about them but also more often than not lose track of them.

So I've been on a journal recovery mission over the break (which involves recovering not only journals that have been floating about in purgatory as described above, but also journals that I've used for one reason or another and that haven't yet found their way back to their appropriate places on my shelf. Those poor creatures--they seem to need human intervention to get there.)

At any rate, the nice part of this recovery mission is that I do pause to read things that catch my eye, things that I didn't read the first time around. This morning, it was John Trimbur's "Changing the Question: Should Writing Be Studied?" John Trimbur's name always catches my eye, so I almost certainly skimmed this article when Volume 31, Number 1 of Composition Studies arrived in 2003. But I also recall thinking, oh, I know this argument already--it's an argument for the "writing major." And feeling myself in complete sympathy with the argument as I imagined it, I decided there was little need to actually read the article. So I didn't. (Please understand that I'm not defending this logic of mine. I'm just reporting it.)

What I discovered in actually reading the article this morning is that I didn't quite get some of the nuances implied in the title, and that those nuances (which, in fact, I also agree with) help me to think about a question I was asking back in 2005 when we were carnivalizing with Fulkerson's CCC piece. (And I thought that was a particularly good time, folks. Let's do it again, maybe a little later in the semester?)

The question I was asking, as suggested in one of the archived entries linked to above: What is writing? Not that I was asking it to be answered, but, rather, I was asking it as a question worth investigation, a question that has received (somewhat bizarrely, I say) short shrift in rhetoric and composition studies. Here's how I put it back then:
Why do books designed to introduce new composition teachers to composition (like the two Fulkerson compares) actually deal very little with writing itself? With, I might say, rhetoric? . . . it makes for a curious discipline, no? A discipline in which the question, pace Fulkerson, is "what is good writing," as if we all already had decided what writing is.

In other words, the thing that was irritating me is why we in the field have tended to put so much emphasis on pedagogical questions (which are, of course, important) at the expense of questions about writing itself.

For Trimbur, "there is a tension between the participial and noun forms" of "writing":
[D]o we mean its participial form that refers to writing as an unfolding activity of composing or do we designate its noun form to refer to the material manifestations and consequences of writing as it circulates in the world? (18)

Trimbur suggests that not only composition teachers but also composition students are overly attached to the participial form. He describes students responding negatively to a shopping list in his textbook The Call to Write ("they felt insulted by such a mundane text"), and concludes
It is precisely because these students expected so thoroughly to be taught how to write, they could not imagine writing in its noun form or the shopping list as an object of inquiry.
. . .
In other words, the students provide evidence that what Lynn Worsham has called the "pedagogical imperative" operates from below as well as above--that students, as much as teachers, hold an overriding desire to convert writing theory into classroom practice. The students believed that the goal of their required first-year course was to improve their writing, and for that reason my effort to pose writing as a subject of analysis was misguided at best and at worst impertinent and irrelevant. (20, 21)

This entry is getting long, so I'll just wrap up to say three things:

(1) I realize many people in the field are further along the writing as study path than I am--that's why I'm increasingly interested in new media studies, where such inquiry seems to be happening more than in other pockets of the field.

(2) Trimbur's emphasis on the noun somewhat troubles me, since I think the emphasis can still be on a verb form, but a verb form differently inflected, perhaps, or with a different subject,

(3) I plan to invite graduate students in my "Theory and Practice of College Composition" class to engage in writing this semester at least as much as in the study of pedagogy.

OK, one more thing: really, let's do another carnival. On an article, which seems to maybe be easier than books. I know we're all busy right now, so think about late February/early March.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cool words with diminished use value

(1) Demoniac.
In my youth, sitting in the pews of a rural Southern Baptist Church, I would hear a sermon now and again that took the story of the Gadarene Demoniac as its point of departure. I've always kind of liked words whose accent changes when suffixes are added (more of those to come). I remember always loving to hear a preacher say that word. Especially a southern preacher. Da-MOAN-ee-ac. I came across it the other day, and had the startle of recognition that comes when you encounter something formerly familiar that you haven't thought about for a long time. Demoniac.

(2) Onomatopoetic.
Of course, onomatopoeia is a pretty cool word all by itself, and I don't get to use it nearly enough these days. We don't seem to talk about onomatopoeia in student compositions much. But I remember hearing a professor say "onomatopoetic" when I was an undergraduate, and I remember loving it. It's like "poetic," but with "onomatopeoia" attached. How cool is that? But, yeah, I can't remember the last time I had occasion to use it.

(3) Antediluvian.
Actually, I like all ante- words: antebellum, anteroom. Who would have thought that "ante," which seems so negative, really just means before? But antediluvian is especially cool because "deluge" gets transmogrified into "diluv." And it's also Biblical. This one maybe comes up more than the others I list here. But not really that often.

(4) Penultimate.
When studying poetry, I often heard my professors refer to the "penultimate" line. At first, I didn't know what they meant, but figured it out soon enough. How much lovelier it is to say "penultimate" rather than "next to last." How exciting to realize "ultimate" simply means "last." Alas. I have little reason to ask my students to take a look at the penultimate--what? Paragraph? Sentence? No, I never say it. But it's a word I remember treasuring. It seemed like secret poet code.

(5) Bildungsroman.
Another word from my undergraduate literary education. It's German, you know? And yet, just as I had it mastered--both its pronunciation and meaning--I had little use for it. Even in my first graduate school incarnation, I didn't do much with novels. And who talks about bildungsroman in rhet/comp? Though maybe we should--it seems like the idea of growth through education is fairly unquestioned assumption in the field.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Something I learned today: "wiki" is Hawaiian for "quick."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Random Monday

A person might ask on which day this blog is *not* random. A person might.

What I initially meant to post, a juxtaposition (à la "Dr. Fabulous" ):

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today (well, besides Van Halen): Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Grandmaster Flash came up with the technique called cutting:
"The Quick Mix Theory", which encompassed the innovative technique of "cutting", is the technique of using duplicate copies of a vinyl record and scientifically and percussively rearranging the arrangement of the music and extending the break parts of songs.

And then there's Foucault:
knowledge is not made for understanding, it is made for cutting (from "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History")

But that was before I saw that Michael Bérubé really *is* retiring his blog.

And to think I complained about those acute accents. They really aren't so hard to remember to put in.

In addition to a few of my favorite rhet/comp blogs, Michael's was among the first blogs I lurked on (back in the day before I blogged myself). I never really stopped lurking there, I have to say. I can't recall whether I ever commented over there (goodness knows he wasn't hurting for comments). But I did link to something over there now and again. So that's something. And I always read.

When bloggers say good bye, I just feel sad. So no matter how strange it is, I'm mixing cuts and tears. So it is, on this random blog.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Tao of blogging

In a recent entry, after acknowledging that blogging "is, in part, a way of looking outward, not inward," Ken Smith suggests that another "part of blogging's appeal is meditative, reflective, perhaps even a sort of spiritual practice."

Ken draws from a Jesuit practice in which a person calls to mind the events of the day, good and bad, and reflects on them as an analogy for some blogging practices.

For me, there's something of the paying attention aspect to blogging that does resonate with a meditative practice. Blogging (or at least the kind of blogging I'm drawn toward) requires an openness, a willingness to begin again, over and over. And blogging is never about judging so much as it's about practicing. Doing. Seeing what happens. Witnessing what happens.

For example, I titled this the Tao of blogging when I started writing because I wanted to gesture toward eastern meditative practices, and I understand that Zen (or Chan, as it was originally called in China) was influenced by Taoism. However, I have no real knowledge of Taoism. I read some of the Tao Te Ching years ago. And I was told, when hanging with practioners of T'ai Chi Ch'uan in Bloomington, Indiana, that the practice derived from Taoist philosophy. But in Toronto for MLA some years back, a taxi driver told me about the Tao and gave me a business card with the address of the local Tao center, and when I told him I had studied T'ai Chi Ch'uan, he said--Yes, that's a good exercise. But that isn't the Tao.

So this is not the Tao. But remember all the Tao books in the 1970s and 80s? The Tao of Physics. The Tao of Pooh. Maybe they're still doing it. I haven't checked.

And now I notice I've gone far afield. What's this post about? And so I decide it's time to end. I've noticed enough. Have I made a point? Don't know. Is this a very helpful representation of anything? Don't know. Here it is. A blog entry. I move on.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


On Monday, New Year's Day, everything seemed open, like I was swimming in limitless time. Be careful, I said to myself. You know it isn't limitless. Keep a steady flow of work going. You don't want to feel surprised by the start of the semester.

And so I did keep a steady flow of work going, and it felt good, good, good. But you know what? I hadn't opened my appointment book all year. This afternoon, I did, and I started filling in appointments. Remembering some, starting next week, that I had forgotten. And I felt that contraction in the heart/stomach area, that old familiar pulling in of the body. Oh, no, the body said. Time is closing in.

Then there's yoga,and I went to class tonight, even though it isn't my usual night to go. Yoga. It's all about opening. Letting go of the contractions. So, even as I notice that internal itch to close down, there's a different feeling there.

And so I say: yoga. Yoga. Yoga! I commend it to you. May all your semesters' beginnings be bright.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Ringing in, blogging out?

I must do a New Year's post, because this day is not just the first of 2007 but also the second anniversary of this blog. (More or less. Beginnings, as Foucault tells us, aren't cut and dry.)

And as I enter the third year of my blogging life, I find some blogging anxieties circulating here and there, especially, it seems, among some of the members of the big blogging panel at MLA Saturday morning. Last Friday, at The Valve, John Holbo posted a pdf of his MLA talk, but not before noting,

Damn, this place is quiet. I would be a bit embarrassed if the Valve died of neglect at the very moment I am talking it up at the MLA. Wouldn’t I look like a fool?

And then there's Michael Bérubé,, who berates his own quite good blogging paper at the MLA (he had easily the most memorable line of the panel, as Collin reports [though my notes read "content" where Collin's read "value"--hmm, which is it?]), talks about 2004 as being back "when blogs were still cool," and ends with something ominous:

And also feeling like I’ve been trying to write way too much for way too long, so that my prose has been getting flabby and weary too. You know how it feels when you think you’re just repeating yourself over and over again? Well, I made my mouth utter the words I’d written for my MLA talks, but I had no idea how to end either paper, and I think that was kinda obvious. There was even a rumor going around the MLA that this here blog is in its last throes, and since I started the rumor myself it may actually be true.

Goodness knows that if I was writing as much as Michael Bérubé, I would feel quite tired, too. It makes me wonder, though, if there's greater sustainability for blogs that don't rely on a strong persona? That rely, instead, on the kind of "sounding out" that Jeff talks about in "The Making of Ka-Knowledge: Digital Aurality"? In fact, let's go back to that quote that Collin and I both noted from Michael Bérubé's talk--

intensity comes to function as a value [or is it content?] of its own

Although Michael (and I feel weird referring to him as Michael, since I cited him back in the old days under his last name, but I'm tired of doing the acute accent thing) is referring to blog spats, it might be said of blogs overall, mightn't it? In fact, I feel as though that's something of the very argument I was thinking of making in the "Affective Blogging" paper I might be giving at Computers & Writing next year. And I don't know that I thought it was a bad thing.

But there are different ways of generating intensity. If it's always mostly through one's constructed persona, though (and Michael is, I think, something of a genius in this regard), then weariness is bound to set in. A person can be intense for only so long before it starts to be a matter of diminishing returns. Or something.

But there's a different kind of intensity that comes from "sounding out." Jeff's example is BoingBoing--a blog that has no agenda except the one of connection, "showing off" what the contributors have found in their own travels on the web. What matters isn't the voice of the writer, but that there's something "found," connected.

Much to think about there, as Collin suggests. But I'm signing off. And in celebration of my second anniversary, I'm changing my background color. Woo hoo. (But seriously. This blog is way overdue for a serious facelift. Maybe the layout features of the new Blogger will make it happen? Then there's my academic website, too...)